Rupert's River Reverence Coalition
day I had a call from Eric Gagnon, who told me he was a president and
founder of the Rupert's River Reverence Coalition. Gagnon comes from
Montreal and went north to work for the Cree School Board. He liked the
region so well he decided to stay on in Chibougamau when his contract ran
out. Gagnon says he loves the Rupert's and wants to save it's untouched
Nation : When did your organization start?
Gagnon : It began in the summer of 1997 when friends of mine helped
me to discover this magnificent river. It was love at first sight. I knew
from that day the Rupert and I would be bound for life. My friends and I
began to look closer at Hydro-Quebec’s intentions towards this river.
announcement of the agreement in principal (AIP) with the Quebec Cree
totally startled us. We were shocked, deeply disappointed and felt
betrayed. I was so sure our Cree brothers would have held out longer !
With a sense of urgency we proceeded to set up this coalition. I am
delighted to see how widespread and strong the national network of
organizations is, associations and individuals who are committed to this
river’s protection. We are currently looking for and getting lots of
support from all across America from ecological groups, the ecotourism and
leisure industry, the scientific community, the media, political parties,
native organizations, etc.
operate out of Chibougamau. What is your connection with the Rupert’s
our short summers, I operate a small adventure tourism company featuring
whitewater kayaking as a means to explore the region and transform
oneself. The magic of the James Bay rivers does the rest. The Rupert River
flows less than three hours from Chibougamau, that is almost in my
backyard ! It is so close that half of the Cree communities are
located farther from the Rupert than we are in Chibougamau. We also like
to paddle the Broadback, Eastmain, and La Grande rivers.
Natives join your organisation ?
is one of the best things that could happen to it ! And it is
something we are openly looking for. In fact, flocks of Cree ancestors
are, in spirit, registering by the day and are becoming, in their subtle
way, important members of our organization. Their presence at my side,
which I take time to invoke and acknowledge every day, gives me lots of
energy, strength and peace of heart. They obviously, too, think that money
is not an issue and cannot be eaten.
are also very proud to feel that our work is already benefitting the
little Crees to be born in the next centuries. In the last analysis,
amusingly, our organization is probably Creeer than the Crees… Just
joking ! Living Crees are thus most welcome to join ; they sure
will feel at home ! Some
of them already did contact us, by the way.
Rupert has been identified at first as an emergent, non-native
organization for the following reasons :
1) to clearly identify it as a third player, apart from the Government of Quebec and the GCC, in a deal that seemed to have forgotten the existence of other interests ;
2) for the population of Southern Quebec and the Government of Quebec to know that this was not only Cree interference, as usual and that Hydro-Quebec development policy in James Bay is not approved by all non-natives either ;
3) for the Cree leaders to know that non-natives can also stand up
to defend the land.
protection of the Rupert River is an issue for all humankind, as is the
safekeeping of all natural marvels to be found on this planet. But those
who intimately know the Rupert are privileged and sought-for members of
such a coalition. The broader the representation of a coalition, the
bigger its impact. Truly, by nature, Rupert River Reverence is above
ethnic considerations. From our point of view, the real Iyiyuuschii
is in the heart.
do you see present relations with the Crees and non-Natives in the area?
How would you see them in the future?
could be a lot better in the non-native towns of Northern Quebec, in my
opinion. Public organizations of both our populations are developing too
independently, without much official cooperation. Funding programs
mutually exclude each other’s clientele, based on ethnic identification.
This hampers profitable co-development projects. Some exceptions are
encouraging, but they are to be found in the private sector. The
Fonds de solidarité Nord-du-Québec, for example, sets a promising
standard with its Board balanced with Jamesians, Cree and Inuit
used to be an active member of a non-profit organization called
Intercultural Friendship Comittee, which was devoted to generating
activities of all kinds between Jamesians from Chibougamau-Chapais and the
surrounding Cree communities. After a few good years of great activities,
each passing year saw less and less people participating, from both ethnic
groups, as some political and industrial conflicts poisoned the collective
mind. We finally had to put the organization to sleep, waiting for better
days, much to our disappointment.
I think we have reached the bottom of this low ebb. I know for sure that,
should both cultures join forces and be fully supported by their political
leaders and public organisations in the side-by-side development of James
Bay, we will witness tremendous changes, sooner than you think. Like many
Jamesians, I experienced uplifting hours working, celebrating, spending leisure
time, and talking with Crees – my vision of the future is to, by all
means available, multiply and spread such opportunities across the whole
territory. And to always turn down any manifestations of segregation I
come to witness, on either side, from the top to the bottom of the scale
are some of your plans to save the Rupert’s River?
first action, and by far the most important, is to support the Crees in
making the Agreement more acceptable. In my opinion, the proposed deal is
inhumane. The Crees should never sign a deal that requires them to squash
fundamental values, history and, in the last analysis, their collective
self-esteem and sense of pride. Such excruciating sacrifices shall never
be part of any deal – in fact, such blackmail is a form of violence, and
it must be contrary to the Charter of Freedom and Rights. This deal will
be a good deal. The day it will prove WIN-WIN, without implying undue
sacrifices from either side will be one we both recognize. The Government
of Quebec is already not sacrificing anything, really, so why should the
Crees constitute the best defense against the destruction of the Rupert.
Hydro-Quebec considers their support as a must. If the Crees were to
authorize the diversion of the Rupert,
we are engaging ourselves to a long, costly and painful process. We
would then have to look at current means of saving this river :
political lobbying, pressure from environmentalist groups, petitions,
manifestations, and participating in environmental hearings. The Crees
can, in one single move, do much more than this. This is why we felt so
strongly in our determination to join them before anyone else, aiming at
respectfully but seriously « whip up their pride and wake them
to their senses », as only brothers can do sometimes, over a family
you think you have rights to the Rupert’s River?
course not – we have no rights whatsoever with regards to this river,
only duties. The first duty is reverence, the second is preservation and
the third is promotion and sharing.
about the employment opportunities for the area if the project goes
one is easy to answer. First, Cree and Jamesians will quarrel over low-key
jobs. For a few years, they will cut wood, drive trucks and be involved in
some construction work. Afterwards, as Hydro-Quebec has proven in the past
in hydro-electric development projects in resource regions, we will watch
specialized workers, living in southern cities, coming to the region to
work on the high tech jobs, in and out every week or so. The low key jobs
will have lasted 3-4 years, at most, and the devastation of the territory
will last forever. Furthermore, if Hydro-Quebec and the Government of
Quebec play their cards well, the Cree communities will find themselves
more divided than ever and also more isolated than ever from the rest of
the province. You can imagine what will happen next.
of direct and indirect economic benefits related to hydro development are
just a vast mirage (illusion). On the opposite, the history, the
ecosystems, the ecotourism potential and the beauty of the Rupert are a
reality. I do not know of any place in the world where hydroelectric
development contributed to a sound, sustainable development of communities
and their environment. A quick tour of the small, artificially maintained
locality of Radisson will tell you all you need to know about supposed
only things that run smoothly, once a dam or a reservoir are built, are
are your alternatives for building up the area?
a project development consultant, I had the privilege to help a few Cree
promoters to prepare business plans and feasibility studies leading to
very original and promising projects. The ones I like most combine the
best of what both nations can offer. As you understand, I am bound to
professional confidentiality, but some of these projects are of public
knowledge. Take for instance the whole new concept of James Bay Road and
the specific multi-service facilities projects at KM 372 (Eastmain) and KM
257 (Waskaganish), to name only those. And I have heard great ideas in
Mistissini, Waswanipi and Oujé-Bougoumou.
is also the development of ecotourism. Should the international tourism
market know more about what is offered here, we would soon run out of
guides, of hotels and time to host the tourists.
also the potential for homeopathic remedies that the Crees know about.
This is a vast untapped market. There are the Wellness journeys that we
have heard about. I know many Quebecers who would pay to go on them and
the European market would be huge if we all worked together to develop it
for the good of the region. These are all good examples of joint,
sustainable, sound avenues of development, adapted to local cultures and
threat that is facing the Rupert River is providing unprecedented
opportunity to join efforts in sound and sustainable avenues of
development we could be so proud of.
there anything else you wish to say?
many more things could be considered. The lucrative energy market, of
which very few people knows who is pulling the strings, in whose or what
recent scientific discoveries about disastrous impacts caused by dams and
reservoirs, thought of in the last century as a clean energy production
source… Let us keep the highest perspective for the moment and avoid
these not-so-cool details.
are two orders of river protection pitches: the lower order and the higher
order. Lower defense pitch is interesting and you probably
know it already, for it is being used every time there is a river, a
mountain, a valley, a lake, a community or a sea to save from disaster. It
involves the necessary battles about numbers, economical considerations,
environmental impact evaluations, cultural and anthropological aspects to
take into consideration, technical and scientific givens, political
questions, direct and indirect benefits to question. And, of course, we
will have to fight on all these battlefronts, our weapons being studies,
statistics, demonstrations, documentation, expert advices, projections,
protests, petitions. You can easily imagine the amount of work needed here
– with no guarantee of success.
higher river defense pitch is much subtler, but definitely
more potent. It involves the kind of speech that Natives usually
understand more easily than anyone else. It calls for noble, fundamental
values. Reverence for Nature and its plentiful graces. The intent of a
Spirit behind all things. Preservation of collective memory, the
ancestors’ memory, who wrote history on the banks of a river in which
every meander, every rapid is witnessed and recorded as a piece of
collective memory. The Rupert River, like every big virgin river (and very
few are left) is a universe unto itself, with a fragile balance. In no way
should we destroy that which we cannot create or reproduce. This whole
defense pitch has nothing to do with studies, figures and experts. It must
appeal to the most noble part of our being, to those invisible and
unmeasurable things which are probably more real than things to be found
in the visible realm.
the best pitch is still the one that is not necessary. The Cree Nation has
the possibility to avoid all of this painful struggle. The Crees can,
without much effort, prevent the devastation of the land, the negation of
their past and their roots, by killing the project in the egg.
truly wish the Rupert River Reverence to dissolve, as the threat
disappears. Should the Cree majority fail us, we will be ready – our
decision is already made. But to tell you the truth, I would rather invest
my time and energies into sound and sustainable co-development…
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