Five Cree chiefs have sent a letter to Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come saying they – and not the Grand Council of the Crees – are the ones who will negotiate with Hydro-Quebec on the proposed Rupert River Hydro Project.

The May 5 letter – signed by chiefs Kenneth Gillpin, Kenny Loon, Billy Diamond, Violet Pachanos and Walter Hughboy – sent shock waves through Cree political circles.

Nemaska Chief George Wapachee’s name was also on the letter, but it didn’t carry his signature. Wapachee said his community has to remain neutral on this issue between the other chiefs and the Grand Council/CRA.

Hydro’s proposed EM-1 reservoir would be just 40 kilometres north of Nemaska.

“Our position is we are not happy with the project. We still have unresolved business with Hydro-Quebec over the last time they wanted to do the NBR project,” said Wapachee.

Wapachee said the Hudson Bay Co. used the planned NBR hydro-electric project as an excuse to move out of Nemaska, forcing residents to move to Mistissini and Waskaganish. NBR was later put on hold. Wapachee has said the Rupert Diversion would harm the community of Nemaska.

The five chiefs’ letter says they will appoint a “negotiation team” to talk to H-Q. Its mandate would include information-gathering, desidon-making and, if Crees give consent to the project, negotiating the deal.

It’s not clear from the letter who is to give “Cree consent,” the chiefs or community members.

The six Cree Nations of Waskaganish, Eastmain, Chisasibi, Wemindji, Mistissini and Nemaska would have the complete authority to extend or end the mandate of the negotiation team.

The letter says these six Cree Nations are the ones that would be affected, and that the chiefs are acting in the best interests of their members by excluding the rest of the Cree Nation and the Grand Council.

Kenny Blacksmith, former deputy grand chief, has written a letter responding to the chiefs (see p. 6). He wrote that the five chiefs don’t have a mandate to shut out the Grand Council and that Crees have gotten little information about project impacts.

The five chiefs’ letter says each of the chiefs got “a specific mandate from our members” at the time of Hydro-Quebec chairman André Caillé’s vist to the Cree communities last year. They say the mandate was to “oversee the file, find and obtain the complete information” and report back to the communities to see if Cree consent is there to become partners with Hydro-Quebec.

The letter goes on to say the Grand Council will not be excluded altogether. The five chiefs say the Grand Council is to provide funding for “independent advisors as well as the legal representation for the preparation of future negotiations.” The chiefs promise to discuss with the Grand Chief the extent of the involvement of the Grand Council.

The letter ends with the chiefs telling Coon Come they sincerely appreciate his commitment to the Cree Nation and “your willingness to recognize our own autonomy.”