October 29, 2001
Cree leaders cut a deal and surrender the Rupert
After fighting the Quebec government, and its agency Hydro-Quebec, in its plans to dam the major rivers and log the forests on their ancestral lands, the Cree have surrendered the Rupert River. According to news reports, the Rupert will be diverted north into the Eastmain River.
In return the Cree may receive $3.5 billion over the next 50 years, more decision-making authority over resource decisions on their lands, and a share of profits on resources extracted. The Crees must withdraw lawsuits that Canadian Press estimates are seeking $3.6 billion in damages.
This is a remarkable capitulation after fighting for decades with a tenacity and cunning that would make a politician drool with jealousy. And now the Cree are in bed with a government that has repeatedly failed to honor previous agreements.
The Cree found themselves caught in a difficult situation. Their communities are mostly composed of people under the age of 25 who have no interest in the land. There is no real economic development, no opportunities, with the resulting social problems. Quebec has continued to mine and log their land and the Cree were getting nothing in return, nothing but the feeling of losing by a thousand cuts.
Is the River Dead?
It is a tragedy that the foremost defenders of the Rupert have capitulated. It is equally tragic that they felt they had to. And it is a tragedy, though not entirely a certainty, that the great river may be drowned.
Environmental assessments by the provincial and federal governments are required, and theoretically could reject the dams. But historically neither sets of processes have good track records for killing bad ideas.
Environmentalists are now out in the cold without their biggest ally. Of course, they can still fight the project, but they will likely go up against the Cree who now have billions at stake. An awkward twist of fate.
The agreement, signed by the Grand Council of the Cree on October 23, must still be ratified by the communities. But will the communities approve? Three of the nine communities — Mistissini, Nemaska, Waskaganish — are located in the Rupert watershed. Former grand chief Billy Diamond of Waskaganish was quoted in the National Post voicing his shock at the deal, saying there is going to be "bitter internal fighting among the Crees."
Boyce Richardson's Commentary
Shrewd campaigning. Odeyak paddling past Manhattan on Earth Day in 1990 to protest against the Great Whale River project. The hybrid craft, a cross between a canoe and a kayak, traveled to the U.S. as a joint effort of the Cree and Inuit.
Photo: Chase Roe/Earthroots
|Battle for the Rupert|
Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect.
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice.
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages.
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk.
It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2014 Brian Back. All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.