Battle for the Rupert 

 

 

    NEWS INDEX
 

.

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

 

  DEFINITIONS
 

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

 

Interview

Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

The Nation: What were your first thoughts when you heard an agreement had been struck?

Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff: I had mixed feelings right away. When you deal with Quebec, you know about all the unfulfilled obligations in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. You know they made a commitment there and 25 years past we get nothing out of over 300 unfulfilled obligations. They define this agreement as being a new relationship. Obviously there are going to be concerns because we fought so hard to get the things we were promised.

Were you surprised to learn these negotiations were taking place?

Yes, we were all surprised. Everyone was affected by what happened on the 11th of September, but I didnít think it would go to this extent. At first I thought maybe it was a minor side agreement on forestry, but it ended up being a global settlement.

There are several ambiguities and areas left to be negotiated. Do you fear people are being asked to make a judgment on the agreement with so many questions left unanswered?

The problem I have is people are giving a rosy picture to the agreement. People have to read the agreement in order to understand it. There a lot of things that weíre giving up here in terms of how we deal with our land. Itís so hard to comprehend that people would go ahead and get into discussions with Quebec. It makes me wonder: Are we giving up on so many things we fought for so hard for? And now weíre being looked at from all over the world with mixed reactions. We made a lot of friends when we spoke against hydro development because of the mass destruction that would happen in our own backyards. Now, the Cree leadership gives its consent to a hydroelectric dam. Even the role and responsibilities of the tallyman; the tallymen were not even consulted before this agreement in principle was signed. The tallymen and many families are going to be greatly affected by these potential projects.

How does agreement affect your constituency among the Cree youth?

Itís going to affect our generation and our future generations. We feel we have to speak on their behalf because if we donít, who will? Each time we speak to our elders they tell us, ďYouíve got to protect your way of life.Ē With the land, thatís where you get your culture, your language and your strength. Things come out of the land, and now itís at stake. A lot of people enjoy hunting, fishing and trapping Ė and all thatís at stake because of the potential for poisons entering the water system and the surrounding habitat. Youíve heard the story of Ouje-Bougamou two weeks ago in regard to the mining development there. Now thereís a lot of toxins in their water. Quebec only admitted this after the signing of the agreement in principle. The question arises again: Can we trust them? How many more hidden things are there that weíre not aware of? Why are cancer rates going so high in the communities? These are questions you have to raise.

Ted Moses says we canít roll back modernization and that we have to make our peace with Quebec. How do you respond?

Thatís a hard question. For me, weíre dealing with a sovereignist government. They have an agenda to separate from Canada. The same government said a few years ago they would use all force against the Crees if we were to stand against separatism back in 1995. And now weíre agreeing to their terms? They say we have a new relationship. You wonder whether it is a real relationship.

Would you be in favour of continuing trying to protect Cree rights by means of the legal system?

Thatís another question for me, if we could live with that. The court cases could have gone on for years, we are told. We donít know when they would ever come to a judgment. But I think there should have been other means of negotiating.

Do you think Ted Moses had the democratic mandate to enter into these negotiations?

I remember a resolution that was passed in 2000 at the annual general assembly where Cree leaders were told not to surrender any rights. I believe somehow the rights of fishers and trappers are going to be affected by this. The right of going out to the land and going hunting and fishing is going to be greatly affected. Itís going to be the devastating effects of the mining, the logging, mercury poisoning and whatever else comes with the development.

But wouldnít there at least be more jobs for people?

You have to analyze the true amounts that are committed. Quebec is handing down responsibilities that they were supposed to run. We have to fund, through that $70 million, various regional organizations. I think itís yet to be determined how that will be divided among the communities. Our population will likely double over 25 years. Is $70 million enough to create jobs? Well, how many, and where?

What are you telling people in your discussions of this? Do you say we should oppose this? Negotiate further? How do you approach it?

For me, there has to be more transparent discussions. Two months is a very short time. A lot of our people are still out in the bush and canít come to the meetings that are taking place right now. Even the students down south Ė theyíre greatly affected by it. Iíve gotten a number of calls from students going to school in the south and theyíre very concerned. One student said, ďI feel betrayed. All the things we fought for and thinking that the river would be there for all time and now consent has been given to go ahead on the project.Ē I donít know how greatly Mistissini Lake will be affected. Iím hearing rumours that the lake will rise up to six feet. Will that have an effect on the fish and the habitat around the lake? Definitely there will be. These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. Is it really a fair deal? I donít know how many billions they take out of Eeyou Istchee each year, but weíre being told weíll get 1.75 per cent on an annual basis.

If you were to speak to Ted Moses about this, what would you tell him?

Thereís a lot of concern out there. We really need to discuss this. The question I have all the time is, how can 20 people decide on behalf of the Cree nation what the devastating effects 15 or 20 years down the road all this will have on people? Do you think this agreement is really going to help us? Or will the same thing happen as with the JBNQA? Quebec reserves the right to suspend funding if the audits are not done the way they want to see them. So there are a lot of questions.

Will you be pushing for a referendum?

I donít know. Iíd have to listen to the people and hear what their feelings on it are.

What are people telling you so far?

There are a lot of questions, especially from the young people. Twenty-five years ago, people werenít highly educated. Now we have a lot of young people who are highly educated. They know what questions to ask. A lot of them studied economics. A lot of them studied law. And a lot have studied political science. They have studied the structures of how governments operate. Now we have that knowledge. We have those youth who can ask questions and theyíre asking them right now. There are several questions that need to be answered. And nobody seems to be able to answer them yet.

Reprinted with permission of  The Nation

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