The Grand Council of the Crees

Cree Trappers & Hydro Quebec Conference: Val d'Or, September 14, 2006 Welcoming Address by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Cree Trappers & Hydro Quebec Conference: Val d'Or, September 14, 2006 Welcoming Address by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2006-09-14

Welcome to the Cree Trappers & Hydro Quebec Conference, it is an honour to be asked to give the opening address to this gathering of great importance for our Nation. Our people have had one of the most profound and public experiences with hydroelectric developments in our territories. Today, at this conference, and at the activities throughout the week, there is an important opportunity for all of you to share with us, the voice that needs to be heard. I will pay great attention to what has been said here at your gathering, as I have requested a complete record of this event be prepared for me. I believe depending on the level of your participation, it has the potential to provide great insight into the effects and benefits of hydroelectric development in our territories, and your ideas and experiences can influence decision making processes in the future.

There have been many books, articles, papers, journals, reports, studies, newspaper pages, television episodes, documentaries, and other forms of works made about the Cree people and the impacts of hydro development on their society, environment and lifestyle. While these in the past have provided some insight, and painted a picture in the perspective of the author of such works, today we hear from the people. The collective knowledge, experiences and information contained within this room today, of our tallymen, trappers, land users, and workers can paint a much truer and more complete picture of the reality of the impacts and benefits of hydroelectric development than anything else to date. All of what you say here today has great significance towards the relationship we hold with this form of development and its impacts on our uses of the land.

The purpose of the conference is to reflect on our experiences as a Nation, people and as traditional users of the land in light of experiences related to Hydro Electric Development on our lands. There have been many other recent and significant developments on our lands, but today we are here to speak out hydro electric development. Most certainly the access roads they have built throughout the territories have allowed other peoples with development interests to enter our lands and engage in exploratory or exploitation activities. I noticed this week the themes are past, present and future, in hydroelectric development we do indeed have a past with the La Grand Complex, a present with the EM1 Project, and a future with the proposed EM1A Rupert River diversion and Sarcelles project.

For those of you who attended the Annual General Assembly in Ouje-Bougoumou or heard my remarks on the radio, I made a statement following discussions on development coming to the territory in many forms. It is important that the Cree be involved in all stages of development from its proposal to design to realization to monitoring its impacts. We have to ensure a healthy balance for our people, in that development will provide sustainable employment and economic activity for our people, not just temporary or contractual work. However, the development we engage in needs to respect the Cree way of life, and must be sustainable in providing our lands are not compromised in that they can still provide for future generations. Some opportunities have not been opportunities for growth of our Nation, but only temporary solutions. We need to build together a strong regional land use plan that will incorporate the uses we continue with our lands, and also enable us to develop a strong economy for the current and future generations of Cree who need jobs and opportunities to provide for themselves and families.

Our participation in the management and shaping of development in our lands needs to be stronger than it was in the past. Although the many efforts in the past to establish recognition of and protect Cree rights and interests in our land, traditional lifestyle and culture have contributed to a foundation for us, we need to build an even stronger Nation now. The tallymen, trappers and traditional land users have been the cornerstone of our Nation since well before contact with other peoples. The land is our library of our language, culture, history, way of life, beliefs, and provides us with animals, fish, birds, plants, water, shelter and medicines. We give great respect and reverence to what the Creator has given us. As such, as a people we decide together what will happen with our lands. Today, we hear a more complete picture of what has happened, what is happening now, and predictions of what will happen in the future with more development. If future projects go through, we all will have to carry it together as people, and for generations.

We know from the past, forms of development in our territory have left long term impacts on our environment, society and resources. We cherish and respect the land, value the food, water and natural resources it provides us daily, but we must also remember to respect each other despite our personal views. We are a much stronger Nation when we as a people come together to make decisions. In the past, it has not always been the case where our people felt free to discuss their concerns, views or experiences without fear of being ostracized. Today, I encourage you to be open with your concerns, to share your views, and to provide us with the gift of your experiences. I know I look forward to hearing of the experiences of our people with the first project, as it is something many have lived and carried with you for years. These stories need to be shared with our people. I have lived my whole life under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the presence of the La Grande dams, but have a need to understand from the people what the effects have been of this large project in our territory. To me, the story can only be told by the people in this room, they are the experts of the Cree lands, as for generations they have had, and continue to have the closest relationship with it. I thank you for that.

I am optimistic that today, and the other events this week, will produce much for our people to consider, and think about. As Deputy Grand Chief, I am encouraged by your commitment and participation to this gathering. Together we can find a balance for our people for the future. Meegwetch.