The Grand Council of the Crees

Le Devoir Errs in its account of the Review of the Eastmain-1A �Rupert Diversion Project

Le Devoir Errs in its account of the Review of the Eastmain 1A-Rupert Diversion Project

Posted: 2006-11-02

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View the Devoir Article in English

Nemaska, Quebec, November 1, 2006

The Grand Council of the Crees wishes to clarify that Mr. Romeo Saganash does not work for the Grand Council as legal counsel, and secondly, he has not been mandated by the Council as a spokesperson on the Eastmain 1 A- Rupert Diversion Project or for the review process, but has spoken out in his personal capacity. The Grand Council recognizes Mr. Saganash's right to speak out as an individual voicing concerns over issues important to him, these statements were not in his official capacity and do not reflect the official position of the Grand Council which is to support the spirit and implementation of the New Relationship Agreement.
The Agreement Concerning a New Relationship signed in 2002 created a new relationship between the Cree Nation and the Government of Quebec. The Grand Chief and the Premier have met and decided to build upon this relationship for the benefit of both Nations. As Mr. Saganash indicates in his statements there is a history of failed implementation and relations, and a host of socioeconomic conditions resulting from developments; however, the New Relationship was designed to address these relations, and work towards implementation of commitments under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975.) The Grand Council is committed to working together with the Government of Quebec and Canada to fulfill implementation of past agreements and work on new stronger relations.
There were some inconsistencies in Mr. Saganash's comments on the review process, and composition of the membership in the article of Louis-Gilles Francoeur in Le Devoir today entitled "Un vent se leve contre Ie projet de la Rupert." For instance, there are in fact two bodies federal and provincial, with a total of 8 members that have been mandated to undertake the review of the proposed project and not one of six members as the article seems to indicate.

However, the Grand Council believes the review committees themselves are better suited to clarify their process, mandate and timelines. It is our understanding that the committees are still in the process of fulfilling their mandates.
For further information please contact:

Grand Chief Matthew Mukash Telephone: (819) 673-2600
Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff Telephone: (819) 673-2600
Bill Namagoose, Executive Director Telephone: (613) 761-1655

Movement forming against Rupert Project; Romeo Saganash's remarks crystallizes Cree opposition

The Cree community was still reeling yesterday from the storm of opposition created during in the US over the weekend, by the Grand Council of the Crees legal counsel and negotiator of the Paix des Braves Agreement, Romeo Saganash, who spoke openly against the Rupert diversion project, thus legitimizing a growing opposition to this Hydro-Quebec project.

PHOTO - Within the Cree community, it is feared that diverting the Rupert will postpone for many years development of major wind farms in the best locations in Quebec.

The statement by this well-known figure in the Cree community, and particularly in Quebec's French milieu, was made at a time when the six members responsible for this project are scheduled to submit their respective reports. To be more specific, the two Quebec members of the tripartite Environmental and Social Impact Review Panel will table their reports today before the administrator of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Claude Bechard.

The fact that the two federal members and the two Cree members refused to sign and submit a joint and unanimous report to Minister Bechard indicates a difference of opinion on important issues. According to people close to the organizations involved, the federal members adopted a more critical approach than their Quebec counterparts and their verdict could establish that the ecological impacts of this project exceed the benefits anticipated, for which a greener alternative exists, namely wind. The findings of the two Cree members, whose report is also not yet finalized, could tip the scales either way, putting a lot of pressure on them.

The four federal and Cree members could even take into account findings that they will soon receive regarding new analyses on mercury levels, carried out by Rivers Foundation at the end of September. During the hearings, federal experts questioned Hydro-Quebec's methodology, which they believe underestimated the issue of mercury in future reservoirs where the head of the Rupert will be diverted towards the watershed of the Eastmain, further north, then towards the turbines of the La Grande Complex, thus requiring four dams, two generating stations, one tunnel, canals and more than 70 dikes.

In addition, following the hearings, opposition to Hydro-Quebec's 880 MW project is taking shape in a number of Cree communities. The chiefs of the communities of Waskaganish, Chisasibi and Nemaska have stated their opposition to the diversion project and have decided to hold a referendum on this project to be undertaken on their territory. The timing and question of the referendum have yet to be determined. This displeases many members of the Grand Council, who dream of getting the $250 million in compensation resulting from this diversion project.

Finally, a number of communities, including Chisasibi, are working on wind-generation projects with private developers such as Sky Power and Vestas. In Chisasibi, people dream of using wind generated by the vast reservoirs of the La Grande Complex, and of selling the power to Hydro-Quebec, before the Crown Corporation decides to optimize its own structures. Many fear that diverting the Rupert will postpone for many years development of major wind farms in the best locations in Quebec. Some even believe that opposition to the diversion of the Rupert is being fuelled in order to accelerate the Crees' wind-generating projects, thus allowing them to sell this green energy in Quebec and especially in Ontario, which could pay more for it.

A hearing that reveals much

Reached yesterday by phone, Romeo Saganash said that, in Burlington, he simply stated verifiable facts that came out during hearings on the Rupert diversion, in addition to expressing his personal point of view as a citizen. He did say that if he were a member of one of the three communities that will participate in a referendum, he would clearly vote "No".

Le Devoir tried to find out yesterday how the Grand Chief of the Crees, Matthew Mukash, was reacting to these remarks, but our calls were not returned. We did find out that, if some members of the Grand Council were pleased to read Romeo Saganash's address before American environmental journalists attending a conference in Burlington, extracts published yesterday in the Journal de Montreal outraged many in Val-d'Or and Nemaska, home of the Grand Council's head office. The remarks made by Romeo Saganash also created a commotion at Hydro-Quebec and at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife (MNRW), where they said tersely that, last spring, Grand Chief Mukash had publicly renewed his support for the Paix des Braves Agreement.

In his speech - obtained by Le Devoir - Romeo Saganash painted a very negative picture of the James Bay Agreement, similar to that of his community before the Paix des Braves Agreement. He stated that the James Bay Agreement had not brought about the economic welfare and growth promised in exchange for Cree support of the first mega-projects in James Bay. He fears the same will happen with the Paix des Braves Agreement, the 2002 treaty meant to settle decades of legal proceedings against Quebec by means of an out-of-court settlement. The Paix des Braves Agreement also includes separate agreements with financial compensation for the EM-1 dam project - under construction - and the EM-1-A-Rupert dam project, which requires the diversion that is presently undergoing an environmental assessment.

He is up in arms particularly because the impact assessment of the Rupert diversion failed to extensively analyze the more than 40 years of cumulative effects resulting from Hydro-Quebec projects on 16 water courses in his region. In all, he said, more than 12,600 km2 of Cree land have been flooded, approximately twice the size of Prince Edward Island. Not to mention the two villages that were relocated.

It is true, he admitted, that the Crees voted 70% in favour of the Paix des Braves Agreement. But it was in the context of a more general agreement aimed at creating a new partnership between the Crees and the white people. That is the context in which the Crees consented to an "agreement in principle" regarding the Rupert Project, but, he stated, it was subject to the findings of an environmental impact assessment, a process deemed valid last spring by Quebec and by Grand Chief Mukash. If the findings are negative, they need to be taken into account, he said.

In Burlington, Romeo Saganash said that the Rupert is an exceptional river, one of the last virgin rivers of James Bay, of unique heritage and historic value - the river where the white people and the Crees met. It also includes a trout species that is unique in the world, which the diversion project may threaten.

During the public hearings, he said during his address, federal government experts contested both Hydro-Quebec's minimalist assessments on mercury contamination, as well as their impact on local communities. In addition to noting the lack of rigorous analysis of the cumulative effects of the planned diversion on the ecosystem of this vast region, he added that other experts contested even the models used by Hydro-Quebec to determine the seismic fragility of soils were certain dams and dikes will be built. As regards the project's social and environmental justification, Romeo Saganash disputes it, saying that Quebec does not need this energy for the province. In fact, he said, Quebec plans to fiddle with his Nation's land to increase sales to the US, without being sure that this clean energy will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the eastern part of the continent.