Premier Lucien Bouchard promised to plant the Quebec flag in Iiyuuschii and occupy the North during his historic first visit to James Bay this month.

Bouchard was the first Quebec premier to visit a Cree community in 20 years. He came to Waswanipi for a meeting with Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and the other chiefs.

He also attended the grand opening of Waswanipi’s new sawmill, where a group of protesters was on hand to speak out against Quebec’s forestry policies and any new hydro projects (see sidebar).

Later, in Chibougamau, Bouchard uttered these words, as quoted in Le Sentinelle newspaper: “More and more, the Quebec government has the obligation to have its flag well planted in this land of destiny. To do this, we will inevitably have to populate this territory and give its inhabitants the means of developing its riches in harmony with the Natives who also live there.”

Provocative words for a guest in your home, you might think, but Bouchard was politely received by the Cree leadership while he was in Waswanipi.

According to our reports, the meeting started off “on a nervous note.” But the Grand Chief and Bouchard managed to break the ice by agreeing to disagree and engaged in a frank exchange of their views and principles.

A breakthrough came when Bouchard turned to Resources Minister Guy Chevrette and told him to move ahead with revenue sharing. Also, the long-stalled Quebec-Cree talks led by Chief Billy Diamond may now get unblocked. The talks were announced to great fanfare by Jacques Parizeau, who promised Crees long-awaited funds for community projects. The talks are now stalled after two years with no results. As of April 1996, they had already cost Crees $229,576 in various expenses.

Chief Abel Bosum was hopeful things will now change. “We weren’t always that sure about Parizeau. To some extent it was a political statement. But now would be a good time to test it to see if they are sincere. I think we allowed things to drag and drag. And as a result Quebec gained time. It kept the Crees quiet for a time.”

There was some confusion when the southern newspapers came out with their reports on Bouchard’s visit. “Crees hail Bouchard,” said a bold headline across the top of The Montreal Gazette’s front page. “Crees favourable to the development of their territory,” said La Presse.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reported that Crees have no problem with HQ’s latest idea to divert the Great Whale and Rupert.

“They (Crees) have no objection to discussing partnership proposals or joint ventures on other (new) types of hydro-electric projects. One such project is the diversion of the Rupert River and the Great Whale River into existing hydro-electric reservoirs.”

How did The Globe get this impression of the Cree position? We don’t know. But we do know Crees have strong views on any new hydro projects.