Community engagement sessions surrounding the Grande Alliance project are underway in several communities, with further plans for community engagement expected in the next few weeks. The delayed engagement projects virtually ensure the project won’t meet its own timeline. The Cree Development Corporation announced a $4.4 million contract for a 12-month process in April 2021 to involve stakeholders in the co-design of the project.
La Grande Alliance was first announced as a $4.7 billion infrastructure agreement signed between the Cree Nation and the province of Quebec in 2020. It includes several proposals for a new 700-kilometre highway and other roads, a deep-sea port, a series of protected areas, electrical lines, among other infrastructure and upgrades.
The Cree Development Corporation also committed to hiring 10 community information officers (CIO) to organize consultations with community members for each of the Cree communities, including Washaw Sibi.
In Nemaska, CIO Bran Mianscum said that he had been meeting with tallymen to conduct studies, and the week of March 28 would be hosting interviews with tallymen to look at culturally important areas along traplines.
He said that while the community originally planned to hold engagement sessions before the Christmas break, those were postponed due to Covid outbreaks. Now, the plan is to wait until after goose break, because past engagement sessions held during moose break or goose break have had low engagement.
In Chisasibi, CIO Christopher Herodier said that a youth engagement session was organized, but nobody showed up. No more engagement sessions were currently planned. In Whapmagoostui, CIO John Shem said that they planned to hold engagement sessions during the community’s business conference the week of March 28.
In the remaining seven communities, CIOs either have not been hired or did not respond to inquiries from the Nation about their plans for community engagement. Speaking on behalf of the Grande Alliance, Samuel Lessard said they were developing a calendar of events for the spring, which would be posted to the newsletter section of their website, www.lagrandealliance.quebec.
Newsletters posted to the site also indicate that Cree Development Corporation President Davey Bobbish met with Waswanipi tallymen and land users on March 16 to answer questions about infrastructure under study, and it was agreed that a follow-up meeting would be held in the next few months.
According to the Grande Alliance’s Facebook profile, a public online meeting was also held February 11 for residents of Matagami, where they received a presentation on the ongoing process and Phase I feasibility studies, as well as Phase II and III pre-feasibility studies.
The project was criticized when it was launched, with nearly 900 people signing a petition launched by Cree youth, saying there was a lack of consultation by Cree leaders and chiefs.
On the Grande Alliance website, it is indicated that Phase I feasibility studies and Phase II and II pre-feasibility studies are to be finished by the end of 2022, with funding estimated to start in 2023 for individual projects, and environmental and social impact assessments for individual projects estimated to start in 2025.