What is your reaction as a youth on the Hydro-Quebec plans to divert the Great Whale and Rupert rivers into the existing La Grande Complex?
Bertie Wapachee: Over the years listening to the plans of Hydro-Quebec, one of them being the plan to make a big lake out of Iiyuuschii, in the heart of Cree territory, this is something I’ve always kept in mind. Something I never hoped for. I guess though that is something that is slowly coming into the picture. Something that is starting to happen.
But then again I don’t know when this fight will stop, if it will ever end. I think it is a fight that will always be in our backyards because that’s where it is.
Do you as a youth representative think it is premature to fight the project right now? Should we look at the offers or say no way, the last promises haven’t been kept?
Looking at it from a youth standpoint, if we look around in the past 20 years sure it has been wonderful with some of the agreements being partially fulfilled, but there’s always a part that hasn’t been fulfilled by federal and provincial governments or Hydro-Quebec. So on one hand we’re over here with the JBNQA bible.
My position with what has been announced here is that we shouldn’t even allow studies to happen. We are never going to get to the end of getting both governments to fulfill their obligations under the Agreements.
We are sitting with our hands in our pockets thinking everything is working out when we look at the Agreement, but it’s not. The Agreement itself, there’s a lot of obligations that are unfulfilled. Already we’re looking at doing another fight. We don’t even know if this thing is on the negotiating table already. We don’t know that.
It’s hard to say what’s going on from a youth point of view. It’s something I don’t want to see any more of unless I have a pretty good understanding or it’s confirmed with me that all the obligations from the federal, provincial and Hydro-Quebec have been fulfilled. If that’s not the case, then I don’t think we should get into any type of negotiations with these governments or even just allow them to do the study.
When you allow them to do the study, for these people it’s a step closer to allowing them to complete their plan. To go ahead with their plans to divert the Rupert, Eastmain and then Great Whale into La Grande. Basically whatever decisions are made from here will have an impact again for the future generations. This is something we have to really consider now because today what we see in the impacts the first project had on our people, we are still trying to cope with it. How much of an impact will it have on the future generations if we let these people go ahead with these studies? Like I said, once you allow them to do the studies then they are one step closer to actually develop whatever they will.
First things first, no agreement, no study until the first is honoured.
Do you think information on new developments should be given to the people as soon as it happens?
First of all, there’s not a lot of communication in all areas of the Cree Nation, whether it be from one entity to another or from the Cree government to the people. It’s one thing that hasn’t been done is to ensure that the grassroots people are informed of what’s coming up. So far we only get to see it in The Nation and hear it on the radio every now and then.
The leaders have to come out and inform the people on what’s been happening. More like being in close contact with the people in whatever developments are coming up with Hydro and anything else. There’s a lack of consultation, I find, coming from the Cree government to their people. That’s something I would like to see – changes in the communications between the two.
A lot of young people are not informed or aware of what is happening. They might jump to conclusions every now and then, but there’s a need to build our communications within the Cree Nation. We see a lot of things happening. It’s good to have The Nation around because they’re the people who inform us of these things. The stories that come out, if it’s from Hydro or whoever, it’s The Nation that brings it out.
Do you see Hydro-Quebec as the enemy of the Crees?
Back in 1975 I guess so, but now I think we are becoming our own enemies. If we all look at our opinions, points of views on different issues, the activities of Hydro-Quebec and forestry, the trappers have their own opinions and this is to preserve the land. But even there not all of them agree because some of them agree to a $10,000-a-year fee (from the forestry companies) and that’s it.
The youth on the other hand are looking for jobs but at the same time some youth are against any type of natural-resource development. Some people call it economic development. Right now some of our leaders are using Iiyuuschii as a source of economic development.
It shouldn’t be looked at in that way because all we are doing is we’re stopping ourselves from going beyond the Agreement. It can’t be done because it’s not in the Agreement. Right now it seems it has become more than just a book but our new bible. A lot of our people may feel we can’t go any further or beyond the Agreement. There’s a lot that can be done concerning economic development without it being done at the expense of Iiyuuschii.
In a few areas we are sort of a mixed up nation. Just to make it clear, I’m against any further development coming from Hydro-Quebec or forestry or whatever it might be. We have to start looking at the impact it might have on our children and the others who might come. We have to start looking further, not just for ourselves, and I hope that all the Cree Nation will feel the same way.