Letters to the editor
read something the other day that startled me right out of my chair. I
read in the 2001 January issue of the Nation it is rumored that some of
our Cree leaders and entrepreneurs are talking of building a dam on the
Great Whale River. Our leaders who have our trust! Holy smokes! Are they
so brainwashed that they think they can put on the shelf all the years
that the James Bay Cree have been battling Bourassa’s government?
Battling them, without bloodshed, against further destruction to the land.
Now I hear that there is talk of dams to be built on the Nottaway,
Broadback, and Rupert rivers. I am shaking my head.
when the Cree and the Inuit of Great Whale built a big boat, combining the
canoe and kayak design? In the early spring a team of Inuit dogs pulled
the boat over the snow and ice to Chisasibi. Two artists, one Cree the
other Inuit, painted beautiful animals on it and then a big truck took the
boat to Ottawa, where protests were already under way. Children, women,
and men, including some chiefs, paddled all the way from Ottawa to New
York to protest the damming of more rivers. That boat even went to Europe
and floated on some rivers there. Now there is talk of damming more
rivers…I think our leaders are out of their minds. I am thinking they
have not lived on the land since a long time ago, maybe since they were
babies when their mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles lived on
many of our Cree leaders can go out and live on the land, by themselves,
the way our ancestors did just 50 years ago and before then? Not all of
them. That’s because our leaders are so busy scheming up ways to make
money so they can live comfortably in a house, surrounded by luxuries and
getting ulcers at the same time from the food they eat.
many of our Cree entrepreneurs can live off the land by themselves with
just an ax, knife, rifle, fire starter, tent, snowshoes, and a canoe? Our
ancestors did. The Cree people of the James Bay region did. Some people
still live like that today. These people LIVE off the land. These people
LIVE with the land. They do not need to change the land. They do not need
to divert rivers and destroy delicately balanced ecosystems. They do not
need mass amounts of money to survive. They do not need television,
nintendo games, fancy trucks and fancy ski-doos, fancy cars, giant
outboard motors, greasy fast foods, fancy furniture, and top of the line
dishware. They do not, because living with the beauty of the land all
around is enough for them. They could pass traditional knowledge and
science on to their families. And how did they learn all that science? By
carefully observing the animals and their interconnectedness with the
cycles of nature.
was peaceful until, Hydro-Quebec and the Quebec government came along with
their ideas and machines to build dams on the rivers, secretly knowing
dams disturb delicate cycles in nature. They came with their lies sticking
out of their briefcases. Their lies to Cree people that everything is
going to be all right and nature would not be disturbed.
dear Cree entrepreneurs and money oriented minds, what does it take to
become like one of them? Them…meaning Those Who Destroy Rivers. The
rivers that help Nature with her delicate cycles. The cycles that support
life. They said that nature would not be disturbed. Mother Nature who fed
you with fish and waterfowl. Who froze water in the winter so we may
easily get to wild game on the other side of the river. Who gave us clean
water to drink. Who gave us a road to travel on in the summer.
does it take for Cree entrepreneurs to become like them? Them. Those Who
Exploit Mother Nature. Those who created hell along the river. The rivers
that were once clean enough to drink from with cupped hands are now
filthy. We get our tap water from the river. Sometimes the water is too
dirty even for laundry and housecleaning. Today we travel many miles to
the fresh water springs for drinking. We travel many miles though we live
right by a river
the winter, because of the turbines in the dam, the river does not freeze,
most of the time, it does not freeze at all. The wildlife on the village
side becomes depleted. We used to be able to walk to the other side of the
river to hunt. We cannot even slide down the river bank on cardboard and
animal skins like we did as children. Because the river does not freeze,
we would have been trapped on the island, so we were forced to move to the
currents are increased and the water level rises when the turbines at the
dams are opened to let water out of the reservoirs. The unnatural
increased flow of water accelerates land erosion. Big clumps of land fall
into the water. Sand deposits and stronger currents destroy ideal places
in the river where people once put fishnets and caught many fish. The
salinity at the mouth of the river has changed, affecting the eel grass, a
main staple in the diet of water birds like the geese. Even paddling a
canoe upstream is impossible during the opening of the turbines. Many
years ago whole families paddled hundreds of miles upstream to their
winter camps. When the turbines are opened the river current is stronger.
So strong it drags canoes that are anchored along the shore downstream,
sometimes banging them against rocks and ripping the canvas.
Hydro Quebec gave us money to compensate for the loss of our land and the
loss of ancients ways of life for many people. We gave up too much for a
small handful of money. Sure we have better hospitals, housing, schools
and arenas. But we gave up a whole lot, a whole lot more than money can
ever replace. We gave up so much, we can’t even drink the water anymore.
And that is a lot, because now a lot of our people drink bottled water
shipped in from some place else. We should be the ones shipping bottled
fresh water out and profiting from it. Now we pay for our water and we pay
for our electricity. Electricity made from the water that once used to be
our very lives. We pay for electricity that should be as free for us, as
free as the river once was.
know, you leaders don’t have to become one of them. They who imprison
beautiful rivers behind manmade dams. You don’t have to become one of
them because you think that’s the only way to make more money. Don’t
be one of Those Who Have Done Enough Damage. Hydro Quebec and the
government have done enough damage. More than enough. You leaders who have
our trust, you must remind Hydro, continually remind and hound Hydro
Quebec that the little bit of money that they did give us does not make up
for the whole lot that we have lost. They owe us a whole lot more. More
than a small handful of dollars.
a full bank vault the size of France will not cover the pain that Mother
Earth will feel when the capitalist industrial machines tear into her
flesh. All her creatures will feel her pain. All the creatures that the
Creator has put on her belly, to walk freely with their heads held high in
the air. The humans who were put on her belly to live as one with
the land and animals will feel her pain.
leaders; I and many others, and those who will follow in your footsteps,
have felt your pain from the beginning, in your battle against Hydro
Quebec and the Quebec government. I know you grow weary and tired. That is
Quebec’s strategy, to kill you with words. Lies and broken promises made
up of words. They want to wear you down and separate the strength that you
have when you remain united as a Cree Nation. United on the earth where
you were born.
have been many nights that you have not slept comfortably in your own beds
on the land you call home, and your people call home. We must not let
Quebec and the others with their obscure insidious methodologies of
controlling the world to sleep in our bed with their lies and false
This Talk of Progress
this talk of progress reminds me of a story that I heard recently. It was
about this tourist who was vacationing in Latin America. Each day he
would watch this aboriginal fisherman go down to the docks and take his
wooden boat out with a net and spend an hour or two catching seafood and
then leave. After a few days, the tourist waited on the dock to talk to
the fisherman. He said to him, “where do you go each day after you
fish?” The aboriginal fisherman said “Why sir, I catch what I need for
my family then I return home each day and relax and spend time with my
children.” The tourist said “You know if you spent another hour or two
fishing each day, you could catch more fish.” The aboriginal said
“what would I do then?” The tourist said “why you could sell them on
the dock and get money” The aboriginal said “what would I do then?”
The tourist said “ well, you could catch even more fish to sell and make
more money.” The aboriginal “what would I do then?” The tourist
“why you could buy a bigger boat so you could go further and catch even
more fish to sell and make even more money.” The aboriginal “what
would I do then?” The tourist “well, you could use the money to set up
an office and hire a captain to catch the fish for you.” The aboriginal
“why would I do that?” The tourist “so that you could find more nets
and boats and set up a fishing operation and make even more money.” The
aboriginal “what would I do then” The tourist “why you could have a
fleet fishing for you and selling your fish first here and then to an
international market – you could build an empire” The aboriginal
“how long would this take?” The tourist “with hard work and many
hours a day dedicated to this, you could do it within 20 years or more.”
The aboriginal “and why would I build all of this?” The tourist “so
you could become rich and do what you wanted” The aboriginal “what is
it that you do when you are rich” The tourist “well, you provide your
family with everything, and you have enough time to spend with your family
and you relax.” The aboriginal “but sir, I already do all that and
have all that now, why would I wait 20 or 30 years to enjoy what I do
think of this story and ask myself what is it that progress or development
really gets us. Is it the security and lifestyle that we already enjoy in
the Cree territory? Is it so we can become rich and eventually be able to
afford fishing and hunting trips with our children or live in a nice area
around beautiful lakes and trees? If we proceed with a progress that hurts
the beauty we already enjoy then when and if we do become rich – will we
have to look for another area to retire in that is not so damaged or
toxic? Who is it that is getting rich from these efforts anyway? It is not
the average person in Quebec or Canada or the United States – it is
large corporations and people that already have millions and billions of
dollars that exploit natural resources for profit and do it without regard
for the aftermath because it would interfere with the bottom line? More
jobs are created for average people with environmentally conscience
activities, should we not be in the position to control our environment to
ensure no harm is done to it or to us, definitely the large corporations
will not look out for us and the land when it might mean slightly lower
profits (and it is only slight).
Cree who wants to keep fishing
with permission of The
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