The Grand Council of the Crees

Comments on the Occasion of the Inaugural Ceremony of the Eastmain-1 Commemorative Site

by Grand Chief Matthew Mukash

Posted: 2008-10-29

I welcome all who have come to take part in this important occasion. I welcome the members of the Cree communities and in particular the descendents of the families who lived in the areas impacted by the Eastmain 1 Project. I also welcome the members of the SEBJ for their presence on this solemn occasion.

The Eastmain 1 Reservoir covers an area of 600 square kilometres that for generations was used by the families occupying this area. Of course these families continue to use the untouched neighbouring parts of their hunting territories. It must however be remembered that the part of the Eastmain River now underwater was the best of their lands. For millennia it was a communications corridor, a source of fish and its banks were prime habitat for the animals upon which the Cree families of this place depended. This was the place of their personal histories.
There are many ancestors of the communities of Eastmain, Nemaska and Mistissini who are buried in the flooded area. We have the names of those that the living still remember on the plaque that will mark this site and will also mark our commemoration of their lives here today. For some of those among us, particularly those from the Moses, Wapachee, Cannashish and Jimiken families, their memories of this area, each turn in the river, each fall campsite and each place named after the birth of a family member or important event, are things that depict their personal journeys through a familiar place, but a place that they will never see again. For future generations, this plaque will be a symbol not only of their family origins in this land but also of the sacrifices made by the Cree people during this time of change in agreeing to the Eastmain 1 Project for the greater good and for the advancement of their communities.

The Cree Nation has derived its way of life from Eeyou Istchee for thousands of years. The archaeological evidence attests to this as do our legends and ancestral stories. We lived a way of life based on hunting, fishing and trapping. We used the plants and parts of the animals to cure ourselves and to provide shelter. It was an unforgiving environment that required a person to have considerable expertise and endurance to make a living and to raise a family. The land provided what we needed and our people were hardened by their efforts to live on this land. Times change however --- our elders knew they would. The land was not only suited for hunting, fishing and trapping, it was also suited for hydroelectric development, it contains mineral resources and forest resources that in addition to our traditional ways of life will provide a living for future generations of Cree people. No doubt that land contains other possibilities that will only become known in the future.

Just as our people knew how to derive a living from a difficult land, so we now face difficult choices in deciding how to use the forces of change to make a good way of life for our children and for generations to come. When this project was first proposed I had hoped that there would have been public hearings not just on this project but on a combined Eastmain-Rupert Project. I believed that we needed to fully understand the whole project so that we could move forward together. This did not come to pass, but the result is at least that we now face the future as a people united, with new resources to solve our problems and with a shared sense of what our challenges now are.

We have a chance to put hard feelings behind us so that we can focus on the common needs of all of our people: education for our children, continuation of our language and culture, jobs for our young people, and miiyopimatisiiwin --- healthy living for all of us.

We also must move forward with the new respectful and cooperative relationships that we have committed as a People to cultivate with Quebec and Canada. As the next step in this we must have recognition that as Cree citizens in Quebec and Canada we have a large role in the development and governance of Eeyou Istchee. This is after all our land, the place where our roots are found and our stepping stone to the future.

Meegwetch, Merci Beaucoup, Thank You