Battle for the Rupert 





Giving away the river 10/29/01


Commentary: Crees surrender their great river Rupert

  . Commentary: 25 years of force-fed acculturation

Cree deal a model or betrayal? 12/10/01


$3.6 billion deal unraveling 12/10/01

  . Hydro Quebec's hidden agenda 12/15/01
  . Cree leaders may have deal in a week 12/19/01

Grand Chief Moses Quebec's hero 12/19/01



AIP  Agreement in Principle signed on the Rupert River, Oct. 23/01


CRA  Cree Regional Authority, the administrative government


Eeyou Istchee  Cree homeland. Meaning:  People's Land


Eeyouch  Cree people


GCCEI   Grand Council of the Crees, governing body of Cree Nation whose members are chiefs of the nine communities


JBNQA James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975), the first agreement


NBR   Nottaway-Broadback

-Rupert Project, to be phase III of James Bay Project


Agreement in Principle

Consultations with the communities

Consultations in Nemaska

by Brian Zelnicker

The first day of November hung heavy and grey as the car skidded along the icy Route du Nord. We arrived in Nemaska in time for the feedback session of the Grand Council’s Agreement-in-Principle consultation. Nemaska, the most centrally located Cree community was the middle stop of a tour that had already rolled through Waskaganish, Ouje-Bougoumou, Mistissini and Waswanipi. This was an opportunity to see the political process at work.

The meeting hall was filled to capacity as the afternoon session began just after 3:00 p.m. Those who couldn’t find seats stood in the wings, anxious to get a reading on the future of their community and the Cree Nation. Seated at the Grand Council’s head table were: Robert Weistche, Chief of Waskaganish; Sam Bosum, Chief of Ouje-Bougoumou; Bill Namagoose, Executive Director; Ted Moses, Grand Chief; George Wapachee, Chief of Nemaska; Abel Bosum, Head Negotiator; Robert Mainville, lawyer; and John Paul Murdoch. Facing them was a Nemaska audience consumed with apprehension.

The residents began stepping up to the microphone to address the Grand Council. the first to speak was tallyman Freddy Jolly, who introduced himself and his trapline number, R-21. Mr. Jolly, who was visibly concerned, would address the Council members a number of times that night to emphasize the need to protect the rivers and the land. He also expressed disapproval over the secrecy that shrouded the tabling of the Agreement-in-principle.

Once the ice was broken, the trickle of speakers turned into a flood. If the residents were shy about public speaking, it didn’t show. The line behind the microphone was five-deep at times. There was a sense of urgency that filled the room. The more people that spoke, the more that others wanted to add their voices. As the meeting progressed, things became more heated. The community pressed the Grand Chief and his team for answers, their biggest concern being the environment.

At one point, one of the youth approached the head table to present Ted Moses with a laminated poster and quotation, attributed as a Cree Indian prophecy, that he had signed in the past. The Grand Chief read the quotation aloud: Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

Another demonstration of disapproval occurred when some youth paraded into the room displaying a spray-painted sign that read “Let Our Rivers Flow Freely.” This was a community looking hard at its past, present and future. The room was filled with all segments of Nemaska society: elders and youth, mothers and fathers, students and teachers, trappers and policemen. All there were trying to grasp the information being presented. They were there to be counted, to voice their concerns, to have an affect on the shape their world would take, to make themselves heard by the leadership.

After one of the non-Native teachers added her voice to the proceedings, Grand Chief Moses informed her that this was a Cree matter to be decided solely by the Cree. The crowd turned its anger upon the Cree leader, chastising him for what was interpreted as racism and a show of disrespect for the teacher. The crowd’s anger over the remark illustrated just how sensitive the community is to the Agreement-in-principle. They demanded an apology. The Grand Chief did offer that he hadn’t meant any disrespect and apologized if his remarks had been taken as offensive, maintaining they weren’t intended to be so.

Roger Orr talked about the loss of spirit with the sale of the land. “My mind is confused, but my spirit knows what my answer is,” said Orr. Lindy Moar stood up to speak about finding uses for the land other than mining and forestry. Using Algonquin Park as an example, he pointed to the possibilites for eco-tourism as a source for Cree revenue. He suggested that Crees could create their own job opportunites without the help of Hydro-Quebec or the forestry companies. Many talked about the need for self-sufficiency, viewing the Agreement as yet another example of a government handout.

On behalf of the Grand Council, lawyer Robert Mainville pointed out that, while the outstanding Cree court cases are very strong, there is never a guarantee of getting desired settlements out of the courts. He informed the audience that legal cases are always a risk and that the Agreement provides certainties that cannot be assumed in a court ruling.  Abel Bosum addressed the crowd, referring to the Agreement as a tool to be used for the benefit of the Cree. Bosum said that the Grand Council is basing the Agreement on two main principles, the preservation of traditions and cultural identity and the need for the Cree world to keep up with modernization.

While the adults discussed the weighty issues at hand, the very children whose lives would be most affected by the Agreement wandered in and out of the room, bored and blissfully unaware of the world of politics. One particularly energetic wee lad, in a bright red sweater, kept buzzing past the head table emitting engine noises – the envy of us all. Only a child could get away with it.

The session carried on into the night and finally finished around 11:00 p.m. The majority of the speakers were against the deal. Loss of the Rupert River and development of the land were major sources of concern to the community members. The issue of whether they could trust the government to follow through on its promises was another major stumbling block for the people of Nemaska.

Whether or not the Council members liked what they were hearing, they did listen. While they might not have been able to provide the kinds of answers the community was looking for, the residents of Nemaska were able to join in the political process, to address themselves to their leaders and their fellow Crees. However the decision may go, as tough as it might be, one thing is certain . . . Nemaska is involved, concerned, and very much awake.

GCCEI Report on Community Consultations

November 7th, 2001

The Agreement in Principle was signed on October 23rd, 2001 in Quebec City, immediately thereafter the entire Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/Cree Regional Authority flew to Waskaganish to begin explaining to the people of Eeyou Istchee the content of the Agreement in Principle. This was done as the GCC(EI)/CRA was also well aware of the need to explain the process of negotiations that had led to the AIP and the reasons for holding the discussions with Quebec.  It was important to get the most accurate information out as soon as possible in order to answer the peoples’ questions.

In all communities the members expressed surprise at the announcement of the signing of the Agreement in Principle.  The Council explained the reasons for the discussions with Quebec, gave a detailed account of the content of the Agreement in Principle and reviewed the next steps.  The negotiators and the Grand Chief answered questions and provided details on the discussions and Agreement. 

Waskaganish Community Consultation (October 23rd, 2001) – Present: GCC(EI)/CRA  Board-Council, and negotiators.

The community consultation in Waskaganish was spread over two days as the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/ Cree Regional Authority had arrived late on the first day. The James Bay Communications Society broadcast the meeting live to the other Cree communities. Initially emotions were high in the community as people tried to come to terms with what had been announced. The initial questions from community members related to whether by signing the AIP the Council had already consented to the diversion of the Rupert River.  After a lengthy discussion it became clear to the members that the Crees still had the power to decide and that the diversion was not approved.

Billy Diamond asked questions with regards to the nature of the Agreement in Principle.  He stated that although he was unsure as to the future of the Rupert River, he was sure that if the Crees rejected the offer they might save the River but would never see an equivalent monetary settlement.  

The community members then began to reflect on the content of the Agreement in Principle and less on the process that led to it.  Trappers who would be directly affected by the proposed Rupert diversion stated, that they could not think only of their own interests and that they would take the Agreement in Principle and other information from the meeting and when the time came, make a decision based on the future of the Cree people as a whole.

There were some youth from the community who had great difficulty with the Agreement in Principle as they did not want the River to be diverted and who apparently did not understand or value its financial aspects.   Other youth stated support because of the economic and community development potentials of the AIP.  There were also those who expressed a dislike of the proposed Rupert Diversion while stating that there were elements in the Agreement in Principle that were very positive.

The Waskaganish consultation ended with a general commitment to reflect on the information that was provided and to be provided in the future, and to make a decision that was appropriate for the Cree People  when the time came.

Oujé-Bougoumou Community Consultation (October 29th, 2001) – The following members of the Council and negotiators were present for the meeting: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief John Longchap, Chief Paul Gull, Abel Bosum and John Paul Murdoch

The community had to deal with not only with the announcement of the Agreement in Principle but also with the release of results of a study that demonstrated that the water in the area had been severely contaminated with toxic substances.  The questions from the community members therefore related to the ability of Crees to hold organizations that polluted the environment accountable for their actions. Community members were assured that the right to hold individuals or organizations accountable through the courts or other means was not negatively affected by the AIP. Further, it was explained that with the AIP funding the Crees would become developers of the territory themselves and would be more able to influence forestry policy to make the cutting practices more respectful of the land and Cree needs.

Some members of the community expressed support for the Agreement in Principle, however all wanted more information on the impacts to the land of the proposed hydro-electric development project.

Mistissini Community Consultation (October 30th, 2001) - The following members of the Council were present: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, Chief John Longchap, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief Paul Gull, Abel Bosum, Bill Namagoose, Robert Mainville and John Paul Murdoch

As at Waskaganish, there was much concern over the confidential nature of the process that had led up to the Agreement in Principle. After thorough explanation the community understood the reasons for the process and the importance and number of the issues involved. Questions were also asked as to how the communities would express their consent or rejection of the final agreement. Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses stated that as the Agreement in Principle had already been concluded and the need for a referendum on the Final Agreement would be an issue to be decided by the Cree Chiefs at a special GCC(EI)/CRA Council/Board meeting to be called for that purpose.

At the meeting it was evident that some of the documents that had been circulated in the community had created false and misleading impressions of the Agreement in Principle. This required the community consultation team to correct misapprehensions about rights, indexation formulas and what had been consented to.  There was also misinformation with regards to the nature and extent of impacts on Mistissini traplines and whether Lake Mistissini would be affected by the Rupert Diversion Project. The information in the possession of the community consultation team demonstrated that there would be no effect on the water level of Lake Mistissini.  The team however undertook to obtain more complete information and to have it presented to the community so that members could make an informed decision.

While they had concerns for the land, community members also spoke in support of the Agreement in Principle, as in their view it contained opportunities that would benefit future generations. The need for more employment opportunities was seen as a major reason for supporting the Agreement in Principle.

Waswanipi Community Consultation (October 31st, 2001) – The following members of the Council and negotiators were present: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, Chief Paul Gull, Chief John Longchap, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief Robert Weistche, Abel Bosum, Bill Namagoose, Robert Mainville and John Paul Murdoch

In the community of Waswanipi one youth who spoke very well and expressed what has been the reaction of many people throughout Eeyou Istchee. He stated when he first heard the announcement of the Agreement he was shocked and angry and that when he read the Agreement in Principle and tried to substantiate his anger, he was instead surprised to find that Agreement in Principle contained elements that would be very beneficial to the Crees over the long term.

The discussion over the proposed forestry regime in the Agreement in Principle demonstrated the differing interests involved and the reason that it is often difficult to find solutions to the many issues.   On the one hand a trapper expressed his approval of the provisions that would make forestry more compatible with the Cree way of life and wanted stricter provisions in the Agreement on forest cutting.  On the other hand there were those individuals employed by Mishtuk and Nabakatuk, the Waswanipi forestry companies, who while often supporting a new forestry regime also expressed concern about the impact of the proposed measures on the viability of the forest operations. 

Nemaska Community Consultation (November 1st, 2001) – Members of the Council and negotiator present: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Chief George Wapache, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief Robert Weistche, Bill Namagoose, Abel Bosum, Robert Mainville and John Paul Murdoch .

In Nemaska there was a small but vocal opposition to the Agreement in Principle. In addition to environmental concerns, this group’s opposition to the Agreement in Principle was also premised on the idea that the Rupert Diversion was approved by the AIP - which was not true.   Second they were under the misapprehension that the Agreement in Principle extinguished rights that the Crees had fought so hard to get.   After the opposing individuals had stated their concerns, many of the trappers who would be affected by the proposed Rupert Diversion and Eastmain Dam  and other trappers expressed qualified support for the Agreement in Principle as it brought the promise of future employment for the youth. The support did however come with the request that every effort be taken so that the employment created would in fact go to Cree individuals, as in the past even Cree entities had had inadequate native hiring practices.

Although it was a long and emotional community consultation, Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses and the negotiating team left with renewed energy and resolve to negotiate a Final Agreement in the best interests of the Cree People.

Eastmain Community Consultation (November 2nd, 2001) - The following members of the Council and negotiators were present: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Chief Edward Gilpin, Chief Robert Weistche, Chief Sam Bosum, Abel Bosum and John Paul Murdoch.

The community of Eastmain welcomed home Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses and applauded his efforts.  Many of the community members expressed support for the Agreement in Principle. Having recently gone through the experience of a hydro-electric project, the trappers of Eastmain offered their support and advice to GCC(EI)/CRA as well as to the communities to be affected by the Rupert Diversion/Eastmain Project proposed in the Agreement in Principle. They stated that they had a great deal of information that would be useful to the GCC (EI) when negotiating with Hydro-Quebec. They added that the affected trappers would be able to adapt to many of the changes in landscape to be caused by the hydro project as the Eastmain trappers have had to on their own lands as a result of La Grande Project. The trappers recognized that dealing with the possible impacts to the land would not be an easy matter, but in light of the potential benefits to all Crees offered by the Agreement in Principle, it would be worthwhile.

Wemindji Community Consultation (November 3rd, 2001) – The following members of Council and negotiators were present at the meeting: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Chief Reggie Mark, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief David Masty, Abel Bosum and John Paul Murdoch

Many of the members of the community of Wemindji who spoke at the meeting expressed support for the Agreement in Principle. Some of the trappers expressed the view that in the future there would not be a sufficiently large land base if all Crees wanted to practice the traditional way of life and that the Agreement in Principle offered hope of employment for those youth who were unable or unwilling to practice the Cree way of life on a full time basis.

As there is extensive mining exploration activity in the Wemindji area, there was concern about opening up the territory to non-native development. This concern however was weighed by many against the financial resources and employment offered in the Agreement in Principle that in their view gave the Crees the opportunity to be developers.  They stated that the new relationship with Quebec would also help to ensure that future development would happen in a manner more compatible with the Cree way of life.

Chisasibi Community Consultation (November 5th, 2001) – The following members of Council and negotiators were present: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Chief Violet Pachanos, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief David Masty, Chief John Longchap, Chief Paul Gull, Abel Bosum and John Paul Murdoch.

Having experienced the effects of the La Grande Hydroelectric Complex, the community members of Chisasibi offered their support and advice to the communities to be affected by the proposed Rupert Diversion/Eastmain Project.  Community members stated that over the years they had a learned a great deal and were more than willing to share it.

Robert Kanatewat, former chief, thanked the Grand Chief and his negotiators for their efforts in negotiating the Agreement in Principle. He stated that he was particularly pleased to see that the Agreement in Principle was a natural extension of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement and implemented rights that so many had fought so long to acquire.

Many in Chisasibi stated that the Agreement in Principle gave hope for employment for the many youth who to date had had few employment prospects.

Whapmagoostui Community Consultation (November 6th, 2001) – The following members of Council and negotiators were present in the meeting: Grand Chief Ted Moses, Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, Chief David Masty, Chief Sam Bosum, Chief David Masty, Chief John Longchap, Chief Paul Gull, Abel Bosum and John Paul Murdoch.

Like in other communities, members expressed their concerns over the confidential manner in which the Agreement in Principle was negotiated and their concern about whether the Quebec government had dictated the agenda of the discussions.  The Grand Chief reassured everyone that the process was kept confidential as without this there would have been great difficulty in reaching a real possibility of settlement.  Complicated court proceedings, frank exchanges of view on the issues and detailed financial proposals made confidentiality important for both parties.  Further, he demonstrated that the Agreement in Principle was based on Cree demands and Cree needs and expressed by Cree representatives.

As in other communities there was a concern for the next steps in the process and a request for more information.

Over View

In each community there are many individuals who support the Agreement in Principle and others who expressed opposition to it, or to some aspects of it. There was a consensus among all people though, that more information would be needed.  The GCC(EI)/CRA committed to provide more information as quickly as it is possible to obtain it.  Individuals were also encouraged to provide any suggestions or to express any concerns that they may have to any of the following addresses:

Agreement in Principle


2 Lakeshore Road

Nemaska, Quebec


Fax: 819 -673-2600   

Agreement in Principle


81 Metcalfe St., Suite900

Ottawa, Ontario

K1P 6K7

Fax: 613-761-1388   

Agreement in Principle


277 Duke St., Suite 100

Montreal, Quebec

H3C 2M2

Fax: 514-861-0760   

Consultations are planned with the Post-Secondary Students of the Cree School Board in Montreal, Ottawa and North Bay.

Reprinted with permission of  The Nation

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