It was the Matthew Coon Come of years gone by. When the former Grand Chief and AFN National Chief took centre stage at the EM-1A panel hearings in Montreal last week, he didn’t mince words.
Coon Come gave an impassioned speech aimed at Hydro and their strong-arm tactics. He warned Federal Review Panel Chairman Bernard Forestell that to allow Hydro-Quebec to oversee the rules and regulations of the hydroelectric project once it’s finished would be like hiring a “fox to guard the chicken coop.”
Coon Come is worried that the rights of the hunters and trappers would be infringed on once Hydro completed its mega-project, and with a Hydro-friendly mediation process, it would be much of the same.
“We do not want to repeat history,” he said. “We’ve learned from the La Grande project. You need an independent body to do a thorough follow-up.”
When asked who should do the follow up, Coon Come was firm. “We’re always suspicious of Hydro-Québec, a crown corporation of the Québec government. I’ll go even further to say that the Crees should not even be on the board because we have a direct interest in the project.
Coon Come ended by suggesting that the Crees and Hydro-Québec should be advisors to the board, but that the real power should lie within an independent body.
“Our people do not trust Hydro-Québec,” he continued. “It’s not a far-fetched idea; its time has come. We strongly recommend that the committee accept these recommendations.”
Coon Come’s intervention came as the Federal Review Panel, Hydro-Quebec and Comex, the joint Cree-Quebec examination committee, met with the public for the last hearings on the hydroelectric project May 1-5 in Montreal.
A highlight from day one was when Brian Craik, a Comex member representing the Crees and a consultant to the Grand Council, reminded Hydro that the talk about benefits and impact on the fish is fine and dandy, but what about the social impact on the Crees?
“The project has integrated the local communities in the carrying out and planning of it,” said Pierre Fortin, Chairman of the Canadian Hydro Power Association. “There will be minimum social impacts in Quebec.”
Things started to really heat up on the fourth day with a presentation by the Grand Council of the Crees.
Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff dedicated the GCC’s presentation to Sam Awashish, who was a well-respected Mistissini hunter, trapper and fisherman. He passed away in an unfortunate snowmobile accident the week before.
The presentation outlined the past misdeeds of the crown corporation as well as those of Quebec and Canada.
It probably didn’t help the crowd’s mood that Hydro ate up the first hour-plus with three long, repetitive presentations on Cree health trends over the years and the effects the La Grande project had on the communities to open the afternoon.
At one point Hydro pointed out that the Cree are in such poor health that one in two pregnant women smoke regularly. Their overall message was not flattering.
Bill Namagoose also pointed out that although Quebec has been slow to live up to obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Canada hasn’t even tried.
“I’ve been a negotiator for 18 years,” said Namagoose. “Since the Paix des Braves was signed, Quebec has been paying for housing, which we see as a federal responsibility. We are using Quebec’s money to implement Canada’s obligations.”
When asked by the Chairman what the solution is, he replied, “We want an agreement similar to the Paix des Braves Agreement with the federal government.”
The day wrapped up with a presentation by the Cree Health Board and the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association.
Sylvain Théberge, a Hydro media representative, welcomed the public’s comments and looked forward to the end of the year, when, he hoped, the Rupert River diversion will start.
“If something (to better the project) has to be done it will be done because of new questions or investigations that the (federal and provincial) commissioners are going to ask us,” Theberge said in an interview with the Nation. “A lot of works of this nature were done because of the almost 400 extra questions we received from the commissioners on top of the draft design phase.”
He was confident after the public hearing process wraps up in the summer that the “project of the decade” would go through. “All those questions have been answered and that’s why the federal and provincial commissions gave the green light for the public hearings. After the public hearings, the commissions will make their recommendations to the governments and it will be in their hands to tell us whether it’s yes or no.”