Go to main menu Go to main content Go to footer

Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Drowning our values

BY Will Nicholls Nov 21, 2019

One must wonder at what is happening with the Cree these days. Everyone talks about the Cree way of life, ensuring that it continues and protecting the land.

After all, this was why the Cree fought Hydro-Québec’s La Grande Complex and, later, the proposed Great Whale Project. Both of those battles ensured that the Cree would receive benefits beyond most other First Nations in Canada. It is something to be proud of considering that when the first set of dams were proposed most communities didn’t have outside road access or other basic amenities – such as electricity – that other Canadians took for granted.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Cree leadership recognized that they would have to take the battle to save the Great Whale River to the United States where Hydro-Québec was trying to pre-sell electricity in order to pay for the development. Quebec alone was too hard of a nut to crack as Hydro-Québec had a monopoly and wrapped itself in the Quebec flag.

The Great Whale battle was won when the Quebec government shelved the project. But the war isn’t necessarily over. It simply means the project has been put aside until the political situation improves.

That moment seems to have arrived for the utility. They have two new sales pitches for the US that have people concerned. One plan aims to sell 1,200 megawatts to New York State and another would put a transmission line through Maine to deliver 1,200 megawatts to Massachusetts. Hydro is aggressively selling both states.

In early November Hydro-Québec President and CEO Éric Martel talked to Maine residents about the utility. For many Cree, if they had heard it, it would have been a flashback to the Great Whale Project. Martel said 99.5 % of electricity generated in Quebec is through water resources, “which we are extremely proud of because it’s clean energy.”

In fact, that was one of the selling points to convince Massachusetts to import more electricity from Quebec – as it would increase its green energy portfolio. Martel claims a lot of the power will come from existing facilities that are underused by 40% to 50%.

At home, however, Hydro-Québec supports proposals for more dams as an internal need by Quebecers. As well, the portrayal of hydroelectricity as green energy is misleading. Large-scale dams can contribute as much greenhouse gases as do coal-burning power plants. Martel also says Hydro-Québec has studies showing the mercury presence in their dams is at an acceptable level in the beginning and disappears after a couple of years when the reservoir has been filled. He adds there is no health risk as a result.

At the ceremony to rename the Eastmain-1 dam and generating station after the late former premier of Quebec, Martel noted that the Cree leadership is very complimentary toward Bernard Landry and the 2002 Paix des Braves Agreement that he negotiated with the Cree. “So clearly the community of the Crees are partners now,” Martel said.

Many Cree will ask how much of Hydro-Québec’s profits are shared with their partners. Being a partner does not simply mean being hired as a temporary contractor or as an employee.

In any case, looking at the 2,400 megawatts being pitched to the US likely means that another river is targeted. Why is the Cree leadership ignoring this possibility? Why have our leaders ignored requests for assistance from activists in both New York State and Maine? Where’s the fire that worked to protect the Cree way of life, the animals and the land of Eeyou Istchee? Are the traditional values about to drowned?

LATEST ᒫᐦᒡ ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.