[These interviews with hunters, trappers and other residents of Whapmagoostui were recorded for the Grand Council of the Crees/CRA, by Douglas Nakashima and Marie Rou?, and published in this Final Report in August 1994. They were recorded in the context of the proposed Great Whale river project, strenuously opposed by the Crees, and later abandoned. They give the most moving account of the anguish felt by the Cree people at the idea of the building of a Hydro project on their land, and also are a treasure-house of information about Cree culture, and Cree attitudes to the land, animals and nature. This document deals with Cree perceptions of the land.]
[Note: The line between paragraphs indicates a new speaker].
This Land Which Was Given To Us
Now it is my turn to talk. The place where we go to hunt is just beautiful. We always remember who created it all. Whenever we look at the land, and where we made our living. The land has been there, long before we were born. It was like this even the ones before us. God made the earth before he created humans. He also made what they need to live on for health and for their children. They had to raise then in a healthy environment and have enough to feed them.
The Creator gave the native people animals to live off. He gave the white people a different means of making a living.
This is why we are unhappy. We keep saying this over and over again. It even hurts us to hear on the CBC radio when they announce about the Great Whale River Project. "The plan to dam the river". I don't feel so good. Even my wife feels this way. Because we know our Creator gave us this beautiful place, not to be destroyed.
The thought of us as people to live on this earth. This is how he created it. He also put fish here which the Cree could use. But now we hear that the fish is not good to eat. This is the work of the dam builder (Hydro Quebec).
The first thing Jesus created were the fish for first food. But now I hear it has disease. I don't believe this, not at all, that the disease comes from the water. Yes, it gets it from the water because the dam builder put it there. There was never a time when fish would swim in contaminated water where everything is mixed, only in fresh water and where the things can grow at the bottom for food. This is what he has created (Creator) and he did this for the animals.
I have now began to tell you a lot about this matter. Also on the land, for the animals that feed on land, this is where he created, where no one would have shortage of food. Even on an Island, he created food for those animals he wanted to put there. The animals grew very healthy because they were eating the food that was meant for them to eat. These are the reasons why we are not happy and because the Cree used it a lot.
These islands I have mentioned were extremely important to the EEYOU because that is where caribou could be found in the past when the caribou were still abundant in those days. When your namesake was still hunting, before there were any caribou around, when the winter comes, he would go there to hunt caribou. That is where he got the caribou when he would go hunting. It was known for countless of years that these islands were known to be caribou islands and therefore they were also important to the caribou. So, how many years did the EEYOU know about these islands? I have never heard your namesake mention that the EEYOU used to camp on these islands. In those, as far as he could remember, these islands did not have any trees on them. Today, there were just a few trees starting to grow on these islands.
We did not find any old campsites on these islands but we found some signs of where a hunter had slept there for the night. We found the campsites with very small dwelling skeletons which means that only one person or two might have spend the night there while hunting. We did not find any old campsites. The only thing I heard your namesake mention about these islands was that they were better known as NTUUMAANAN. I heard him speak of these islands as such a long time ago.
When we worked there, when we looked for old campsites, dug for old campsites, we found them in this deep in the sand. There were many, many campsites there long, long time ago. From this, I gathered that the EEYOU had killed many caribou there long time ago over time. Whenever they killed caribou there, they would camp there until all the caribou were fixed. We found many hearths underneath the sand. There is sort of a hill there and that is where the camps had been. That is where we found many old, old campsites. Your namesake did not mention any of this even though he was an old man [meaning, these campsites were way before his time which establishes the EEYOU occupation of this area and the importance of these islands.] He must have known about this.
Long time ago, before there was any contact with the WAMSITKISIU (white man), the EEYOU had made something like an spearhead/arrowheads out of a stone. The EEYOU had fashioned these arrowheads out of stone for their arrows. These arrowheads are very old. It was about this deep in the earth/sand that the WAMISTIKUSIU had found them.
(...)It was long before the WAMISTIKUSIU ever came around this territory is when the EEYOU occupied this island and where the stone arrowheads were found. After this stone period, then the EEYOU started using bone arrowheads on their WIIPS [arrows]. You must have heard of this. This bone arrowhead period is closer to us. It is thought that the stone arrowhead period is from about five thousand [?] years ago. After that, the bone arrowhead period is from about two thousands years ago. Therefore, the island I am talking about had been a very important place for the EEYOU for a long time. I am certain that this island will be completely submerged in the water after the flooding.
When we worked there, there certain signs that the caribou still comes to this island for whatever reason. There were signs that the caribou has been feeding by the signs of the white moss.
(...)This island will be destroyed, for example.
As far as I can see, if we were walking here during the summer and if anyone were to walk around here, I am sure one would see a great number of campsites, some dating back to the time where there were no wood stoves. One would easily spot the campsites where only a rock was used as a fireplace. Do you know where the place is called the leaning Island (up the river)? There we can still see my grandfather's campsite NatacheQuan (NO-DA-GE-GOW). The rock is still visible. The one he used for fire place. Also, the last portage (first rapids), as you go over the mountain, on the south side, there is another campsite. But I don't know whose it is. I only saw it.
From way back, man has used the land, when this land was created. He was already placed there to live there. Now this is the reason why he keeps saying what he is saying because he does not want the land to be destroyed.
When I was taught in the bush, when I was taught how to survive and hunt, my father taught me a lot about the ntuhuun-animal life, land and about life. There's everything, when you look at the earth, how it is enjoyable and beautiful to look at. It is even more beautiful when being viewed on a very nice day in the spring, when it is not cold or when the snow is melting away and the soil comes in view. That is when people really enjoy it.
In the winter-time, it was different from the spring, summer and fall. They are all different from each other. The people enjoy each season in different ways. As for me, I really enjoy the spring and I really thought about the land, the way I see it on a very nice clear day in the bush. One goes on top of a mountain, there is so much land one can see. It is a very nice view to look at the land.
I have really thought about it and I have seen a lot of what I have thought about, what I have seen on the land, in my bush life and not very many people probably have thought about it the way I have. Ever since I learned how to hunt from my father, I have thought about what I would do. And I thought about what I will do in the future if I lived that long. I really thought about the land, the way I see it and my hunting grounds. There are special areas of land, rivers, lakes, even the mountains, even the falls and small rivers. Falls, small rivers and streams, the sounds they make, it'slike they're singing all the time.
I was raised out on the land, inland. The land sustained me. I didn't have to pay for anything. I was better off, at times, in the bush. The fish and ptarmigan was plentiful, and the rabbit as well. It was long ago but I remember my father and how beautiful the land was. I think of how the land will be changed and it disheartens me. I think of the lakes at MADAWOW and how happy I was during the spring. Where the three rivers meet is where we would spend our spring while my father was still alive.
The fish were plentiful. They like to spawn at the river's outlets. That is where we used to fish, where the fish would spawn at river's outlets. All kinds of fish like the IDKIMAKUH (whitefish) and the KOOKIMASH (lake trout). When I recollect, I feel negatively towards what the dam builder wants to do. The dam builder is persistent and it seems that no one can stop him in wanting to destroy the land.
I am sorry that I cannot show the video tapes that I have taken of the land. You would see first hand how beautiful the layout of the land is. One of the other reasons I video taped the land was for those [Cree youth) of you who have not seen this part of the land. You would have seen how beautiful the scenery is on the entire length of the river and all the way to IPISIKIMISH. I was able to video tape almost the whole of IPISIKIMISH. I wanted the people to see that part of the country, those who have not seen it. They will see how beautiful the land is, the land that we are trying to hold onto and keep safe. This land was where our grandfathers survived from. I was hoping that the young men and women would be helped to see how beautiful the land is, to think more deeply about the land. That was my purpose.
It is not only what will happen to the animals that will have impacts to the EEYOU. Many things that grow on the land will be impacted which in turn will have effect on the EEYOU. Aesthetically, we are very happy and feel good when we see the trees and flowers growing on the land. We feel good and happy to see the trees growing. When we reflect deeply upon the beauty of the trees as they grow and the flowers, we, the EEYOU know within ourselves that the Creator has given the trees for our benefit while we live in this environment. Everything that will happen here will have direct consequences on us.
From the hill tops, in our hunting territory, you can see everything and see very far. This is even more so, on clear sunny days. Ever since I heard about the proposed project, I have been wondering what will happen to the area where we have been for so many years. One of the first things that came to mind is; where will we go now, because we love this area so much? I often look over the land, as far as I can see, and wonder if all this beauty will really be drowned.
We have a good idea of where we used to be when we sit down, looking from inside our tent out, we look and see how beautiful it is outside. And we talk about how beautiful it is. And we thank the Lord for letting us stay there again. If this is complete (the damming of the river) we will not see this again. Where we saw how beautiful everything grew.
After a forest fire, everything grows so well. The plant life is rejuvenated. The flowers, trees, and willows grow so beautifully. This a renewal of nature. When I consider the beauty of the full grown forests and compare it to the area deforested by a forest fire, I find the area that had been deforested by a forest fire to be more beautiful. When the trees start to grow, the berries, and everything else that grows there. Creation at its earliest stages is beautiful.
When I stop to think about the area that will be flooded, from Whapmagoostui to Ipisikimish (Lake Bienville), areas where the reservoirs will be, where the rivers will be diverted, and where the land will be flooded, the regrowth of nature that I am talking about, and its beauty, all this will be drowned. All of it will be under water, most of it will be under water, and what little can be seen, will be seen sparsely, bits and pieces of it, here and there, and the rest will be under water.
The animals that like to eat the flowers and whatever else that grows, like it best when creation is at its peak, or when it is just starting to grow. This is how I know that there will be such a loss of nature, when all of this is drowned.... After a fire and everything is growing again, it all looks so beautiful and even tastes better. We also know in the areas where there has been a fire, which previously had no growth of berries, will have some after the fire. It is as if everything grows in greater magnitude.
People think about the beauty of the land, the trees and all the other things that grow in the land. When they remember how these things look they become very happy when they are ready to go out hunting, trapping and fishing. They remember how beautiful things look when they start to grow in the summer time. They know these things will be gone in the area where the land will be destroyed. None of these things will be seen due to the high levels of water. They will all be under water.
I think of the children as well. I feel sorry for the ones still growing up. They will become men and when they do there will be nothing. They will not be able to hunt. It seems the dambuilder is the only owner of the land and if successful will be very powerful in doing what he wants.
In everything that happens here, we all know that we don't have the elders that we used to have. We waited too long to ask our elders about what they truly knew about, the things that we want to find out about now. They died before they had the chance to tell us certain things. We were the one who did not ask them these things. It is very regrettable that this has happened. They knew so much of we ourselves don't know. We still can't think that none of their knowledge exists, since it does exist. We are the ones who didn't ask them for it. If we try to find knowledge, we will find it. We will find answers to what we want to know. We will sometimes find answers to what we want to know. You will know the answers eventually when you are asked certain things, if you understand and know what you didn't know before. You will find answers and you have to help each other. That is how it is.
Today, it is very difficult where we are. Even if things are difficult, you still must not say that you cannot do certain things. You will get help from something. There is something watching over you, in your fight. That is what is going to help you. We are still trying to find out things that happened so long ago, over 1000 years ago. That is why you cannot think that you can do things right away. You have to talk a lot about these things first. You have so much to think about. When you do see what the people who are seeking knowledge see, this is when you can learn so much again. You will learn about how much the Cree people looked after that which helped them survive for so long. This is another thing that you would learn. People of the past lived exclusively through hunting. This is how they even dressed their children, from what they got from the land. Today, we don't use these things that the people of the past used for their children. Everything they used was so good and the clothes that the people used were so warm. It is affected by something... the things that people used to keep....
It is like we are just starting to talk about these things....
Maybe we can get this same knowledge and understanding back again. If you look at things in a proper way, maybe you will understand them more. Things will be written down and maybe one day everybody will be saying the same thing. Those who will lead in the future. They will look at the things that have been written down at how the Cree people looked at certain things... this way what they have to say will count for a lot. It will be strong. No one should think that this can't be done. Even if it is very difficult, you will one day have the knowledge of what the Cree people knew what to do in the past. He was given a different way of life and a different way to survive.
When you look outside, you can see everything that the Cree people used to survive on. You will know where he got the things he needed before any of these he needed were available from elsewhere. You can see it all when you look outside. The Cree people know that when certain things that they used to use are ruined, they will never be able to use them again.
This is how things have been affected. The Cree people will continue to talk about how much they miss these things they have lost and how sorry they are to lose them. This is how it is for everything. The Cree people are so affected by everything that has happened and they are not happy about what has happened. We were given this culture...to live this way. We don't know how things will turn out in our fight. The elders are helping you. You will see that they have helped you in the future. That is how you will be able to make yourselves heard and understood.
For the older people, their disagreement with the proposed project comes from a deeper level of their being. For them and I feel empathy for them, they know that it is not good to destroy the world as they know it, O.K., it's the only world they know. They see other "worlds" on TV but this is the world they know and they have known. Now they have not grasped that industrialization is almost destroying the whole planet anyway, but what they know of this part of the planet is a good functioning environment. Why change it? Why destroy it? Can we see other ways of using it so as not to upset the way it is functioning and not make massive changes to it? If you can satisfy my distress, maybe we will go somewhere with that. What about the children in the future? I mean, this is the basic Cree thinking about the future, what about the Cree children in the future? What can we, apart from destroying their history, their legacy, can we give them what will sustain them for all time in return for destroying the land their ancestors left behind for them? If the Cree people can be satisfied in that sense, I think they would agree to this project.
But for man, he knows where to go for survival. You see where the lands have been flooded. They always talk about it. Luckily other trappers decided to share their traplines with them. This is the only way they can continue their hunting activities. Myself, I'm getting old. I will not be able to go hunting where I used to hunt. I think of my grandchildren, this is why I am so worried. They will not be able to use the land as I have during my hunting days. Even when I am hungry when I settle here at my camp, I never thought of selling my land for money so I wouldn't be hungry. It never occurred to me. I knew there was a reason why I was put there and I just had to find it. Sometimes I was lucky and was not always poor every winter. This was always the area where we camped. This area that will be destroyed.
Maybe my grandchildren will not know where to hunt if I should die. My grandson, who I live with and teach, his father does not have a trapline. This is not where he was born. He was born on the Hudson's Bay coast. But for him, he wanted to grow up and learn on this part of the territory. To know about the cultural activities.
Those people that hunt, trap, fish all the time, think of all the things they love to do in the bush and know that they will no longer be able to do these things once they have been destroyed. Especially those whose traplines are located in the destruction area. They are very sad to know that it will not be health that will prevent them from doing these things they loved to do. He thinks of his children and grandchildren that would continue to hunt in that area, when old age prevents him from hunting in the trapline he was assigned to.
There is so much one can really think about.. .how much one can get, so much to survive from that was given to us Cree people to survive from, hunting, taking what we need to use. The land that was given to us to hunt from, that is all that we have. When one is hunting, or whatever one may be doing, there is nothing that has to be paid for. He's not being ask to pay for certain things. That's the only thing we have, the land The land, where our fathers, grandfathers and past generations hunted from, we're taking care of it, the way they took care of it. The work they did, the work we do now, passed down from generations. When we are in the bush, the kind of work we do there was given to us, passed down from generation to generation. The way it will look if they ever build the dam on this river, it will be like destroying everything that we had. It's like the whiteman destroying the land that we had. I know that the damage that will be done will never be able to be repaid with money. Even, if he gives us a lot of money, he'd never be able to pay off the damages done to the land.
What we have been told so many years ago, how for so many years now we have been using the land, never in that time have we run out of things to use, to survive from, even when there were a lot of people hunting from the land.
If our land is destroyed and money is given to us, it will be like only having money for one day only and it will run out within that day. That is why I really believe that if we were to take money instead we would be really getting nothing in return. For all we know and believe we will never have the money forever, as long as we live and the way it will be when our land and river is destroyed.
When we tell the whiteman, how we respect the land, they don't listen to us. I'll never say I agree to damming the river. I'll always thought like this all the time about our land, to keep it instead of taking something else. If we think to get something in return for our land, what we are going to get will only last for one day. If we lose the land, we will lose it forever. We will never get it back. It will never look the way it does now, before it is destroyed. When we look at the map, the way it is drawn, how it will look after the damming of the river, it will be like one big lake going from Ipisikimish Lake to here, where we are. That is the way it will look.
I don't know, nor have they ever explained to my satisfaction, what these so-called benefits are. I mean, look at the Agreement. We gave up our land or at least we gave up rights, certain rights to our land. There's an extinguishment clause in the Agreement. We were promised policing, health, education. When you go into the communities today, although those services are there, they are far below, they are at a level far below what they are in the rest of Quebec or Canada. Our health conditions are deplorable, to say the least. Education is a problem. We are still expected to leave our communities and travel hundreds of miles or thousands of miles, to get an education. Funds are limited to fully develop the resources that we need to educate our children, not only in the White culture but in the Native culture. The issue of funding has long been one of the problems within the Cree. The funds that we are given access to are far from adequate in meeting all the needs, even the immediate, basic needs of our communities in every aspect of our lives. We were promised that we would be cared for, that our needs would be met at a level that was at least adequate, to ensure at least a comparable standard of living to the rest of Canada. That has not happened. Every time that we've gone to the governments to ask them to fulfill their obligations, we've been tied up in long negotiations which accomplish little or nothing or we end up in court. As a matter of fact, we even had to go to court to get them to recognize the status of the agreement itself. So I ask, "What benefits?" We certainly didn't get any from the first one. If we did, they're just enough to ease the conscience of Hydro-Quebec and those in government. Little else was given to us. In return, what did we give up? Take a look at LG-2. Take a look at the La Grande River.
Even when there had been hearings and discussions, the dambuilder deceives us in saying we will be given the money we were promised. The compensation money is being spread thin. I've heard that today each person would get only three hundred dollars if what is left were to be distributed. If the dambuilder diverts the river, sure people will have money, but it will be gone in a blink of an eye.
I don't like what they're trying to do to the land. Everyone here in Whapmagoostui will be affected. The water will cover all the land and all the people will be poor if there isn't a place to hunt. The hunting way of life, the way people help and support themselves, would be lost if the project went ahead. No matter how many times the people are asked, they will most likely give the same answer, here in Whapmagoostui. Those Inuit that think differently should not be listened to because they only hunt out in the Bay and don't know how it is to hunt inland. The people who hunt inland will know what will be and know about the suffering due to the effects of the proposed project. We oppose this project very much. If the project goes ahead, the people will feel the pain and suffering because we have been hunting on this land for many, many years in the past.
We have heard that the Inuit signed a deal with Hydro Quebec. They are agreeing to see the Cree land flooded. They shouldn't be listening to the Inuit. The Inuit have not spent as much time out inland as the Cree. They don't have a close relationship to the area where Hydro is proposing to build their destructive dams. The Inuit have no rights in the traditional hunting territories of the Cree, therefore; what they have to say about those areas are useless. They had no right to sign away Cree land. They have no business telling Hydro it is fine to build dams on Cree lands. This especially true of the rivers inland and the lakes.
Hydro has no business to make a big deal of what the Inuit are saying because the Inuit have no rights inland. The destruction of the territory will take place in the traditional hunting territories of our people, not the Inuit. The Inuit only hunt along the coast. Still we hear about what the Inuit did. It is as if they gave permission to Hydro to build these dams. But Hydro must not think that they now have a right to start building these projects. They must realize that the Cree will not sign any land away, anymore. It is the trappers who must be heard, above anybody else. They are the ones who hunt in these lands. They must listen to what the people are saying.
The project has been fought against for many years now and I wonder why I've heard the Inuit signed an agreement in principle to their approval of the project. I've heard this on CBC radio. I thought, don't they want to help the Cree in their fight. My grandson in Chisasibi told me, grandma, I've heard that the Inuit signed an agreement approving of the project. I told him this is so because their leader is self righteous and power hungry. It's as if he's helping the dam builder succeed in wanting to dam. This is not right of them. Only when they feel the impacts first hand will they realize the mistake they made. I told him this is true. The Inuit does not know what is at stake inland because they do not hunt there. They only hunt on the coast. They have different hunting habits. But they will feel the effects as well. My grandson was surprised of this agreement.
The Inuit, they don't know the interior of the land as the Cree do and they are, the ones making deals with the government. They and the governments do not know anything about the proposed flooded areas and surrounding areas like the Cree do, and yet they're the ones who are making deals with each other. I'm thinking any person who knows this land like the Cree, like the elders and middle age people and the younger Cree who are being brought up on the land, they cannot in all honesty, say, "Sure, go ahead", you know, "Flood this area and change the whole geography". Can anyone be expected to take this attitude amongst the Cree which more so for the older people?
Q: The other thing I wanted to ask about is when you were was staying in the Lake Bienville area and would come down to Great Whale to the post to trade. Would you use the river? Would you come down to the post on the river itself?
A: Yes, that is what we used. Lake Bienville and the river as it goes down to Great Whale. It took us all the way here to Great Whale.
Q: When they went inland, I heard that some people used another route. I know some people go up the Great Whale River inland to Bienville, but there are some people who take another route. And I was curious when you would go back inland in the fall to Lake Bienville, would you follow the river? Go up the river or is there another route you would take to Lake Bienville?
A: We sometimes stopped following the river and we would take all our belongings across the land to a nearby lake so we would get to Lake Bienville faster.
Q: It wasn't the only route. Along the river were there places where people would gather together, like gathering places or where people would meet? Either meet and gather together or the other thing I heard about was places where they would leave messages for other families who were travelling on the river.
A: When they came toward the coast, they did that. People would leave messages for their fellow men to see. They would leave messages1 like how people were doing in the community or they would leave tea for others since they were close to the community. The ones who would travel last would pick-up what was left for them.
Q: Were there special places where they left these messages and food where they knew about, so they could check?
A: No. Wherever it was convenient for them to leave a message hanging along the river. That's where they would hang it.
Q: How would the people know that a message was there? How was it visible?
A: The message was left where they had to see it. Along the portage route or where they had to land on shore they would hang it to the side. Also trees that have been cleared of lower branches would be a good place to hang something. Sometimes wood or bark was used to write on if paper wasn't available. Then they would hang it where it would be seen. They rolled the paper with a string and tied it to the tree.
Q: So it would hang in the tree?
The other thing I will be talking about is... As far back as I could remember, the EEYOU did not use the plane for transportation. They used only the canoe. Therefore, this river [Whapmagoostusipiy) was the waterway they used to travel on to go inland. There are only few places [rapid/falls portages] where they did not travel on this river, up to the place [IPISIKIMISH Outlet] I mentioned which is one hundred eighty miles from here.
What about the consequences when we are directly affected from the dam? The water will not be drinkable as it is in the other communities. The dambuilder has diverted almost all of the rivers and ours is one of the only ones left untouched.
There are effects already. The fish were most beautiful at Lac Bienville. People would give me fish from there and they tasted different. From the outboard motors the gas leaked into the lake and this is where the pollution comes from; from the dambuilder's workers. The lake is ruined from the gas, oil barrels and outboard motors. Soon people will not be able to sustain themselves as they did before. The fish aren't as healthy. Even from skidoos. Even if a little gas manages to pollute a lake, the fish are polluted as well. I told this to my sons, as well. Just imagine the damage when the dambuilder blows up rock from the land. The water which is very good to drink will be undrinkable and the pristine lakes, as well, will be no longer.
I'd rather the government be provoked so people can see with their own eyes how much land the government has destroyed already. For example, in the Chisasibi River the fish can't be eaten and the water is undrinkable. I've never seen in my lifetime someone who has caused this much destruction.
I never thought that I would face true hardship, but if the dambuilder is successful, there will be nothing. The water will be polluted like that in Chisasibi. Only when they go in their automobiles to get water from the earth is when they have water. That may be our fate as well.
When the people of Chisasibi say you are not affected, it is quite the contrary. We are affected and no one can say we are not. When it is hot, the water isn't recommended to drink and in the spring, the water is undrinkable for a certain period of time. Imagine the effects when the river is diverted.
As for the currents, there is a purpose for these water movements. For the water, like the falls and currents, that is where the life of the water is for us, where we survive from. Here on this earth, there is a lot of what we survive from. As for the ntuhuun-animal life, they, too, have that, living off the land. Even the fish, they, too, have it. They have air to breathe. It's like, taking a live fish, putting it in a pail full of water. It wouldn't stay alive very long. Keeping water in a pail for a long time, is like dead water, the life of the water is not there. That is why the fish could not stay alive in the pail very long. The same thing would happen if a man-made lake is built and fish were to be put there. The same thing would happen. That's what I realize when I really thought about it. Many things will be destroyed, even the land, too.
As with the other places, the spawning areas of this fish will be lost in the flood. The places where the fish that spawn in fast moving waters/rapids will be lost, too. The AIICHAAUCH like to lay their eggs/spawn in APAUSTIKUWICH [rapids] even if it is very shallow.
When it was like that, some people came from far away to hunt/trap there, where they call it Ipisikimish. Even the people from Chisasibi used to go there and other people, people from the East and the Naskapis, they used to come and hunt there. I, also, saw one time we were there, when I was still living with my father, I saw wooden traps that had been hand-made. I guess this was when they were still using them. Where they call a place Beyagawkemeech, I don't know where it is, I don't know what they call it in English. That's where this man was from Beyagawkemeech, who left his wooden traps there. He had made them very differently from the way people from Whapmagoostui make them. That is why I believe it. People came from far away to hunt there at Ipisikimish, where it will be flooded.
If they ever build a dam on the river, there are so many ways it will be affected. I have mentioned the Ipisikimish Lake, where there are many fish. It won't be likely to fish there anymore. Where the river starts from the lake, I have seen it many times. In the springtime, fish go to these areas, to the falls, when it starts to get warm. These were the fishing spots, this will all be destroyed once the dam is built.
I saw all of the lake (Lake Ipisikimish). We fished all over that lake and further. That's the main reason why we were there. There wasn't much else over there to eat. Fish was the main diet for the people who hunted there. They wouldn't always go to the community each year because they wanted to hunt instead. That's mainly what they ate. They would try to come to the community in early summer, around June, to travel back here where we live today. They would get in their boats around June which would mark the end of one year spent on the land. The Cree people knew thoroughly the travel routes and how it was to hunt.
In those days, when an EEYOU leaves here [Whapmagoostui] without any food or credit from the post, the only thing on his mind was to get to IPISIKIMISH as fast as possible so he could make his survival from IPISIKIMISH. My mother used to tell me that they used to spend the whole winter at IPISIKIMISH because my father did his NTUHU [practice his survival/sustenance] there. My grandfather also NTuHU there. Once they reached IPISIKIMISH, they NTUHU there and spend the fall freeze-up there [because their survival was certain then because of the fish]. Many families of EEYOU would spend the freeze-up there. They would stay there.
After the freeze-up, when the lake was frozen over, they would disperse to set their traps in different areas near IPISIKIMISH. The families did not venture too far from IPISIKIMISH. In those days, IPISIKIMISH was the most important source to get your food from because IPISIKIMISH would always give fish to the EEYOU. That is the reason why the EEYOU deemed IPISIKIMISH to be the most important source to get fish from. There were times when a man would leave his family [wife and children) there while he went to set his trapline which would take many days. There are numerous spots in IPISIKIMISH which are know to be very good fishing spots. I know many of these spots/areas. It is near these areas where the man would leave his family to go and set his trapline leading inland. Having set his trapline, he would come back to his children. He would keep on doing this through the winter [to check on his trapline] but they did not stay in one spot all the time. There is one area where the EEYOU used to spend freeze-up and deemed very important for fishing is the place called KUKIMAAU PICHISTUWAAKIN. After the freeze-up, the family of EEYOU would start travelling around the shores of IPISIKINISH, whether they started travelling north side or the south side. They would just move their campsites all around the lake.
In the spring time, they would gather at the AKUPITACH IPISIKIMISH [outlet of Lake Bienville]. They would all end up at this place where they would spend the spring break-up and waited for the geese and ducks to arrive. It is also here [at the outlet) where there was open water much earlier and would put their nets in the open water. [Since it is the outlet of the lake, the water is fast moving, therefore, the ice is thin and melts faster.] This place I am talking about, [the traditional spring gathering place of the EEYOU], there is no place where an EEYOU can make camp because Hydro has taken over this place. Their tent frames are all over this place. That is where Hydro had built it's tents. Hydro does not want any EEYOU to come near this place or make their camp near there even if it is for a short period of time, like fishing there for a week or two. That is what the Hydro workers told me. Some of my fellow workers have told me some of the things that Hydro has been saying, what Hydro wants to do while it is in the process of building the dams/reservoir. As it is now, while Hydro's tents are there, it has already devastated the place that was most valued and deemed most important by the EEYOU for the purpose of spending spring break-up there. There is not one spot where an EEYOU can pitch his tent/tipi [in the place which has been used for thousands of years by the EEYOU. There is a peninsula-like spot there and Hydro has destroyed all the trees there. There is a road there, an airstrip, a garbage dump and a sewage is there. That fish will be contaminated and will not be good to eat. It will be like it is at Chisasibi. The fish can not be eaten that comes from the reservoir [because of mercury].
When one reflects upon these things and I have just mentioned only one lake, imagine the length of the river, all one hundred and eighty miles of it, how many, and I am unable to tell you, how many places there are along this river where the EEYOU valued greatly for it's fish yielding potential? How many places/areas are there that the EEYOU valued and knew that is place was good for fowl hunting and others that are good for trapping fur-bearing animals. Also, the place which were inhabited by the porcupine. There were only some certain places where porcupine could be found. It was not found in many areas. The porcupine has not been seen at least twenty years. But today, since two years now, it is starting to come back and seems to be multiplying. It is thought that in the future it will become numerous again. The marten is the same way. It was plentiful in the past. It has been quite some time that the marten was not seen much but today, the marten making a comeback. It is starting to get numerous. It also can be found here in Whapmagoostui. It is more numerous at IPISIKIMISH, appears to be more numerous there, the marten.
A lot will be affected, the animals that travel on land and the fish as well. When the water rises, the fish will be inedible. That is where the fish are the most healthy and beautiful, at Lac Bienville. The lake will double in size and don't believe that there will be minimal impacts. The newly born wildlife will surely die from the water.
Where we used to travel from Lac Bienville to the Seal Lakes, it will be unrecognizable where we would canoe and portage.
We think about areas where we used to fish such as IPISIKIMISH (Lake Bienville) which will be greatly affected once the water levels have risen. We remember all the good fish that we used to get from Lake Bienville. The place at Lake Bienville where we used to camp and where I used to set up our camp will all be under water once the project is under way. We will no longer be able to depend on the fish that we used to get from that lake because they'll be affected by the high level of water and their food will be affected and they'll be full of illnesses that will prevent us from eating them. The fish will be sick because plants that they eat underwater will be disturbed. Lake Bienville has many islands and we are told that once the project is built and the water level will start to rise, a lot of the islands in that lake will disappear, they will all be under water. We are also concerned about the significance of those islands. Some of those islands contain the bodies of our ancestors. Because they are so old, the graves are so old, it is not possible to identify which islands contain those bodies and once the project goes ahead, those graves will also be under water. It becomes very frustrating to know that there's nothing we can do for those graves and it is especially more frustrating knowing that they'll go under water without any kind of consideration.
And there's another thing I was thinking of. All societies have their own histories and their own spiritual beliefs and all that, but the western society has decided that we should know and follow their religion, customs, and everything else and we have done so. They have told us some very unusual stories you know, to do with their religion. I'm just thinking of the visions or manifestations that we have heard about that come from the religions, especially the catholic religion. They have shrines where they have had the spiritual visions and all that, like Fatima and Medjugore and all the others. They build shrines at these spots. As Cree people, we have places like that ourselves, where our people have had these spiritual visions through our cultural background. These visions and manifestations had to do with animals, the spirit of the animal. Maybe that is how the Great Spirit made contact with us, because the animals were very important to the Cree for their only means of survival on this part of the land. There are number of places like that which some are along the Great Whale River. We even have a place which can be compared to Lourdes in France where healings have taken place. The stories exist in our past where some Cree people were healed miraculously in the same way as they do at Lourdes. One of these places is right on the river. These stories are passed down and the relatives of these people are still living today. For us these are our spiritual and sacred places where we can go for healing. These healings happened long before the whitemans religion ever came to our part of the territory. Why did these things happen? Why did Cree people get healed in those places, you know? And why do people get healed at Lourdes? Can Cree people go there and build something over it? It is not the way the Cree people do things. It is enough that they know that these places exist and know their location. It is not in our culture to build big structures on the land to claim ownership of the land but to keep it as unspoiled as we possibly can, whenever we go out on the land, so as not to disturb the production of the animal and plant life that sustains us, whether it is for nourishment, mentally or spiritually. What would be the outcry if we were to destroy the holy places of other religions? That is what Hydro is going to do to our holy and sacred places. I want to further explore these stories in the future.