The James Bay Cree of Quebec--as well as the Inuit--have been fighting the controversial and environmentally devastating James Bay project for over a generation.
The La Grande portion, finished by 1979, flooded over 10,000 km of waterways; one dam was as tall as a fifty storey building.
The Cree want to stop Quebec's next environmental juggernaut, the Great Whale project, which will flood another vasr section of Cree territory. Their campaigns, aided by environmentalists and human rights' activists, have been focussed in the U.S. to get rid of Quebec's hydro-electric market.
Bill Namagoose, of the James Bay Cree, discussed their struggle against the dams in a July interview.
"We went to the Americans to ask them not to buy the electricity from Hydro-Quebec and from the Quebec government. Of course we could have stayed here and pleaded with the Quebec government and Hydro-Quebec not to procede with the Great Whale and talked about our rights and our relationship with the land.
"[But] we're up against the perception that Hydro-Quebec is the engine [to progress] and they've used it to whip up the nationalism of Quebecers against the Cree and the Inuit.
"But if you cut off the market there's no point in doing the financing. If there is no financing there is no construction. And so far we have managed to cancel two American contracts.
"There is no economic justification for the project, no environmental, no energy reason why these projects should be built. That is their Achille's Heel -- the economic argument.
"Well our people had been living protected by our geographic isolation until 1960, when in the 1970s the Quebec government announced this project.
"We've been living up there in harmony with the environment. But when the invasion began in 1970, we were totally overwhelmed. The leaders of the time put up a good fight.
"We want to live in the 20th century. But we want our people to arrive in the 21st century with our pride and dignity intact, otherwise we lose our nation.
"We've survived as a nation for many thousands of years and we like to arrive in the future on our own terms and traditions, and living on an environmentally sound land, with all of our rivers intact for thousands and thousands of years."
"Two fifths of our land has already been impacted by the first phase. We know what it's like to live in the middle of a mega-project. That's why we're trying so hard to protect the parts of our lands we still have left."
For information, write:
The Grand Council of the Crees
24 Bays Water Avenue
Canada K1Y 2E4
Fax: (613) 761-1388
- with the next two phases, Hydro-Quebec will generate two-thirds of the electricity in North America
- throughout the 1980s, Hydro-Quebec had so much excess electricity, it couldn't even sell it
- all electricity produced by James Bay II will be exported, as Canadians don't need it
- in 1990, Hydro-Quebec was $26 billion in debt
- rising waters flooded over 83,000 km of shoreline around James Bay
- in 1984, 10,000 caribou drowned trying to cross a dammed river
- flooding caused toxic mercury levels in fish; fish is a dietary staple of over 5,000 Cree and 3,500 Inuit in the area
Source: Electric Rivers, by Sean McCutcheon (1991)