December 10, 2001
$3.6-billion Cree-Quebec deal unraveling
by Alex Roslin
historic Quebec-Cree deal announced with much fanfare in October has
provoked a bitter debate among Crees, threatening to torpedo one of the
biggest settlements with a First Nation in Canadian history.
$3.6-billion deal, which includes a new 1,280-megawatt hydro-electric
project on the Rupert and Eastmain rivers, has divided friends and
families in the nine Cree communities of northern Quebec and provoked a
backlash against the Cree leadership.
deal's future is now uncertain after several high-profile Crees broke
rank and came out against it.
land is part of creation. We don't have the right to sell it," said
Matthew Mukash, deputy grand chief of the Crees.
Weistche, chief of Waskaganish, surprised everyone with a letter last
week saying: "I have little enthusiasm for going down in history as
the Waskaganish chief who signed the death warrant for the Rupert
last week, residents of Chisasibi, the largest Quebec Cree community,
voted to turf out a chief who supports the deal and elect one who
firestorm in James Bay is in marked contrast to the smiling faces at the
signing of the agreement in Quebec City on Oct. 23. Cree and Quebec
officials hailed the 16-page deal as a breakthrough.
Crees were to get at least $3.6 billion over 50 years for sorely needed
jobs, housing and community infrastructure.
a first, the payments would be partially indexed to revenues from
hydro-electricity, forestry and mining in Cree territory, which covers
one-quarter of the province.
exchange, Quebec would get to build a $3.8-billion hydro-electric
project on the Rupert and Eastmain rivers that would create 8,000 jobs.
The deal also opens the door to more mining and forestry.
also have to drop $8 billion in lawsuits against Quebec over unfulfilled
promises of the 1975 James Bay agreement. The treaty gave the green
light to construction of the world's biggest dam.
new deal would also end an acrimonious battle with Quebec over forestry,
allowing the Crees to make recommendations - albeit non-binding ones -
on how companies log on their territory.
Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees, said
the agreement is a step toward self-government, transferring to Crees
all of Quebec's obligations for economic and social development,
including funding community centres, Cree businesses, trapping, tourism
gains are what justified the Crees' turnaround on dams, making the
Rupert hydro project a difficult but acceptable sacrifice, said
Namagoose, who was one of the leaders of the successful fight against
the Great Whale dam project in the 1990s.
path of the future for native people is to give them the opportunity to
exploit resources and share in that," Quebec Native Affairs
Minister Guy Chevrette said in an interview.
final version of the deal is still being negotiated and needs to be
approved by the Crees. Officials say they hope it will be signed in
the deal, negotiated in secrecy, stunned some Crees when it was
announced. "I was in disbelief. It was the first time I had heard
about these talks," said Abraham Rupert, the new chief of Chisasibi.
was done behind closed doors," said Roger Orr, a Cree
small-business owner in Nemiscau, 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal.
shocked. We feel defeated by our own leaders."
bitter debate has followed.
is politics at its darkest moment," said Bertie Wapachee, chairman
of the Cree Health Board. "It's hurting friendships, it's hurting
families. There are some painful discussions between two generations.
You see it everywhere. It's heartbreaking."
Crees accuse their chiefs of betraying years of opposition to new dams
and brushing aside those who question the agreement.
one side is being heard. If people speak out against it, you aren't a
good Cree. That's my biggest fear, that it will be pushed through
undemocratically," Wapachee said.
are saying they are not being heard. Those people who are opposed are
simply brushed aside," said deputy grand chief Mukash, who is
calling for an emergency meeting on the deal.
deal represents a dramatic turnaround for the province's 13,000 Crees.
They made a name for themselves in the 1990s with a dogged battle
against the Great Whale hydro-electric project, which was eventually
Crees wonder if the new deal will force them to go along quietly if
Quebec secedes. There are also big worries about the impacts on the
traditional hunting way of life, still practiced by thousands of Crees.
lot of people are mad here - trappers, elders, young people," said
Nemiscau trapper Freddy Jolly, who will see part of his family's
ancestral hunting grounds flooded and another part downriver from a
proposed dam dry up.
the Cree chiefs' change of heart on dams? One Cree official, who
requested anonymity, said Quebec strong-armed the chiefs into accepting
the mega-project, making the Rupert hydro-electric project a condition
of settling longstanding Cree funding needs.
an interview, Chevrette acknowledged there would have been no deal on
community funding if Crees had not accepted new dams.
wanted a long-term agreement, but on condition we can develop the
North," he said. "We didn't force them. We didn't scalp
Dixon, a fur officer at the Cree trappers' office in Waswanipi, called
that blackmail. "When people are desperate and hurt, others want to
take advantage of them," he said, adding he was
"disgusted" when told of Chevrette's reference to scalping.
are expected to decide soon how Crees will give their final word on the
deal, whether by referendum, community assembly or other mechanism.
1975 James Bay Agreement was approved by a combination of individual
consent forms and band-council resolutions. The final agreement was
ratified by a Cree general assembly.
not certain how the new deal will be approved, but Cree officials appear
to be shying away from a referendum, arguing it might be too divisive.
referendum process may not necessarily be the best approach," said
Abel Bosum, the head Cree negotiator with Quebec. "Because of the
nature of the agreement - it's very complex - it's difficult for
everybody to understand everything. There is a lot of information based
on fear and playing on people's emotions."
argued that Cree chiefs have the authority to sign the final deal by
themselves, without a vote.
acknowledged Crees have questions about the deal, but was optimistic
about its chances.
is an agreement that every other First Nation across Canada has dreamed
of. No longer would Crees go begging to Quebec."
some Crees say it would be undemocratic not to hold a referendum.
do not have a democracy if we do not have a referendum," said Will
Nicholls, editor of the Cree magazine the Nation.
they are doing is the same thing as (Premier) Bernard Landry saying,
'You knew I was a separatist when you elected me,' and declaring
independence without a referendum."
far, it looks like the deal might be in trouble if put to a popular
vote. The vast majority of Crees who have written letters to the Nation
or phoned Cree radio call-in shows have come out against it. Moses met
skeptical crowds and intense questioning during an initial tour of the
Cree communities to explain the deal in October and November.
summed up the Crees' concerns: "It's the same guys we signed the
deal with 25 years ago. They promised the traditional way of life would
continue undisturbed. Today, the whole territory has been slated for
still squatters and beggars in our own land."
Originally published in Montreal Gazette.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
|Battle for the Rupert|
Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect.
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice.
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages.
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk.
It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2014 Brian Back. All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.