[These interviews with hunters, trappers and other residents of Chisasibi were recorded for the Grand Council of the Crees/CRA, by Douglas Nakashima and Marie Rou?, and published in a Final Report in August 1994, from which they are extracted. They give the most telling account of the dramatic effects of the James Bay Hydro project on the lives of the Cree people, and also are a treasure-house of information about Cree culture, and Cree attitudes to the land, animals and nature. [This document deals with Eeyou traditional knowledge, commonly called Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK.]
[Note: The line between paragraphs indicates a new speaker].
There is still a lot for us to learn from those people who still survive from the land. Those that have been on the land for most of their lives. They hear and see a lot from the land, especially from the animals that are on the land. They can see the future from seeing what is out there on the land.
I don't know how I will say this in Cree but the flesh does not have the same quality of texture it used to have.... (says quality of texture in English). It seems to break apart so easily. The flesh seems very soft and weak. This is what the fish we get from the Bay is like now. The white man does not understand when we talk about this quality of the fish flesh. It is a long time ago, when X was still working here, that we tried to make the white people understand this. When they came fishing, they didn't understand this. They didn't know what we meant. I don't think that the white man will ever understand this as long as he lives, when people talk about this.
He will not be telling the truth if he says he knows animals. He does not know animals. The Cree person knows the animal, he lives right on the land, he survived on the land. The Cree person knows what he needs from the land, the land he walks on
It was mid-winter and we saw signs of beaver who had tried to make new dams against the water. This must have been a pathetic effort for the beaver. This must have been the same for all animals who live in the water and land.
Every year we see flooding in the south, we see houses floating in the water and people who have to sit on top of their house. This must have been the way it was for the beaver. He suffered because of the white man. The white man never expresses regret for making the animals suffer this way. When a Cree says something, the white man does not believe him because he feels he knows everything through his studies. I can tell him he is not telling the truth.
When the work first began here I was always in the bush and I am still always inland. I have kept track of everything that I survived on. These are the things that helped us live. When the work began the game was affected. I don't understand when I hear someone say that the Cree people were not affected and that "they" are trying to conserve game. I always hear people say this. I don't understand this at all. Myself, every winter I watch what happens to the game, all kinds of game including fish. I find out about everything and this includes all the small game. The large game now has changed a lot and is very different from what it used to be. This is why I say this when I hear "him" say that the animals are not affected. The game is not nice to look at. This is the game that was given to the Cree people. When the Cree people were given this land to live on, he was given everything that he could use to live on and also for his children to live on for the future.
When everything started happening, nothing was spared. Even the things that are in the water have also been affected, everything that is related to hunting. Nobody can say that there is nothing wrong with the game. The one called a Cree hunter and trapper knows everything that is going on with the game. This is how it is. This is what the people know. That is one thing that I often think about, when I hear some say that things are all right. I am one who watches the land and at my age, I have always lived off the land. I was born and raised inland. The doctors didn't find anything wrong with the things that were given to me to be raised on, when I was a child , before the land was worked on by the white people. This is how it was in the past.
As long as the white man works on the land, we can see that every day he destroys something, that the Cree people used to live on. How can he say that everything is going well for the Cree people? What is he talking about? Everything that was given to the people to survive and live on has been destroyed by the white man. How can he then say what he is saying, that the game is not affected? I have watched and know about everything that grows, everything. I always hunt in the winter. When I talk about this, I am telling the absolute truth. Every day the white people destroy what the Cree people used to live on. He still says that the Cree people were not affected. How can he say this? Especially when he has destroyed so much. He breaks up the earth. He has done so much to harm the Cree people and that which the people used to live on.
I know everything that a person who hunts all over has experienced.
Of the people that are here, someone who did not see the land for himself would not know exactly what happened. The person who saw this, whose own land was flooded could tell others exactly what happened and how things were affected. He could tell so much about this. He could tell how pitiful the state of the game is now today. I think that he is flooding too much land, from what I can see.
I want to go very far back before the Cree people were "found" by the white man, before they knew of the White man's medicine. The Cree people were also given skills pertaining to how they would raise their children. They also knew how to help their wives when they were having their babies. Only some people had this skill, there were not very many of them. They had the same knowledge as the doctors. This is what it was like before the Cree people were "found" by white people. This skill existed. In the past, that is what people practised. This is how we had the skill and knowledge of how to take care of each other. The Cree people had a skill like that of a doctor. This is what people used. Today, a Cree person knows that when he hears that they don't know how they will help a certain sick child, he can think back to what he saw, of the skill and knowledge that the Cree people of long ago had. He thinks that maybe he can remember enough to use it too. Today, some Cree people still have this skill. Some still know the different kinds of medicine that were used in the past. This still exists. The Cree person can still go and get this medicine if he doesn't feel better from medicine they give him at the hospital. He remembers that his parents used this particular kind of Cree medicine so he goes to get it so he can use it. This is why when some people are sick they can use the medicine of long ago. This is the skill that his family knew. This is how it is. When a woman wants to help her fellow-woman when she is not well with what happens to a woman, she had a certain knowledge how to help her fellow-woman, even if doctor did not tell her how to do it. Today, some still have this skill and knowledge. They still keep this. When a Cree person knows that a certain Cree medicine used to help him, he goes to get it right away. This is how it is.
He gets this medicine from the earth. The Cree peoples medicine is in the earth. This is what he understands was given to him. He knows that he must look for it. There are certain willows that contain medicine. There are certain boughs and certain trees that contain medicine inside, like the tamarack. That is one tree the people used. There is a lot that the people knew. He does not yet want to let this go, this knowledge that people had long ago. He still wants to use it. Some women have this skill. Today, since the radios now exist, someone can call for help if one of his children are sick. He calls the hospital. He does not use the medicine of long ago yet. He is told what to do from the hospital, that is what he uses, like the medicine he is given to give to this child. When the child is not getting well, sometimes the doctor will tell him to try his own medicine. This is what I have heard, since the people use radios now. People talk to the nurse or doctor on the radio. This is when the Cree people know that this knowledge is still beneficial to them. This is what happens. When someone uses this medicine, he can remember that in the past, people got medicine from all different sources. This is why the Cree person is sorry for what he is losing. He has lost a lot of what he used to use to heal himself. This is how it is. That is why a person thinks of this when he is wondering how he help someone, so he looks for something he can use in the bush. He does not use the medicine he was given by the hospital, if it does not work. There is something else that he can use then, if he still lives in the bush. This is how things are right now.
Cree people got so much from the land that he could help his fellow Cree people. He could help them get better if they were sick. He could heal them. Today, every day, these things are destroyed, that which the people used to use to help each and heal each other. He got this medicine from the land. He cannot used these things that were given to him to use. The Cree people have lost the things that they used so well as medicine in the past. People used to get so much from the water to help or heal others. They used fish for this, too. They cannot use these things anymore because they know that they are sick. This was the medicine that they used to use to heal their brothers and children.
The Cree people never wondered what they could use to help their fellow Cree people. This was before there was other medicine available. This is how much the Cree people used to get from the land to help each other. There were ways to help women who were expecting and ways to help their babies if they got sick, even if there were no doctors. They used their own knowledge. They could use this also because it was given to them to use. They were given this knowledge. The people still know these ways that were used to help others and so they cannot be happy when they know what is happening to them. So much has been ruined fqr the ones who are not yet born. If "he" can go ahead and do what he really wants to do, just how much will he destroy?
The Cree person knows what he needs from the land, the land he walks on. He got a lot from the land in the past such as medicine to heal himself. He got so much from the land and trees and water, to use to heal himself.
There used to be a lot of game animals where we used to hunt, lots of moose and beaver. We used to kill lots and we were happy. And now we have nothing. Everything is scarce. It's all Hydro's fault, he doesn't give us anything in return. We are not the only people affected by this. There are a lot of people here in Chisasibi. Their hunting grounds are destroyed. It's all under water, even in places where they didn't spoil the land, it still affects the animals and everything around it. It looks as if Hydro is trying to bury us alive.
(...) It is true in what I am saying; the animals that we used to hunt are getting scarce and the beaver too. There used to be lots of beaver and now it's all gone and its all because of this Hydro project. Everything is affected by it.
(...) Life was very hard for people to survive in the past and today it's still very hard because everything is so scarce. I can say that everything is scarce. If it wasn't for the caribou I don't think we would have anything. The animals are gone. Where there used to be ptarmigan or rabbit, there is none. Even in places where there used to be lots there is nothing. Everything that's happening to us comes from these Hydro projects.
I am talking now about the loss of land. The animals of the surface of the land will not always be so plentiful. The caribou will become less numerous too. It will be like for the moose, too and also small game. I have seen a lack of animals in the past, on the surface of the land, food that could have been eaten.
Every kind of game including geese and those animals that are on the ground, this large game, like caribou, moose and caribou and every kind of fur like the beaver, otter, mink marten and fox, also the small game like rabbit and ptarmigan there are more than one sort of ptarmigan, has all been affected from what I can see from the destruction of the land. Today, there are hardly any rabbits. I know why this happens, since so much land has been destroyed. It is the same for the beaver, it seems that there are hardly any now. It is the same for the porcupine, it seemed that it started to disappear almost right away. It seems that there is hardly any game now. It is getting more and more scarce, even game that used to be plentiful. That is what I have seen. This is why I am talking about this.