The Cree Trapper’s and Hydro-Québec Conference, held in Val d’Or Sept. 14-16, was set up to get the trappers talking. The question is, was anyone listening?

“It’s a way the trappers can network together and see what they got out of their individual meetings with hydro,” said Glen Cooper, the Cree Regional Authority Representative for the Boumhounan Committee.

“When we met with trappers, they requested a gathering of all the trappers who would be and have been affected by Hydro development. So it was on us as the Boumhounan representatives to request to Hydro to plan this with them. We wanted to take a different approach and get the trappers meeting together and have Hydro-Québec on hand to answer any technical or specific questions.”

Day one was about the past hydroelectric project – La Grande. Day two saw the meeting focus on the present – Eastmain 1. Day three spoke of the unknown and yet-to-be approved project – EM 1A.

Many Crees, especially trappers, have divided opinions on the proposed EM 1A project. Some are afraid of the damage to the fish by mercury or the turbines; others are wary of losing their harvesting areas or the better part of their trapline. Some, however, have welcomed the project with open arms and recognize the economic benefits that can come with it.

“The way it’s working at EM 1, it’s going to flow these rivers into LG 2,” said David Pepabano, a tallyman and outfitter. “All the water’s going there. In my trapline, the water will go higher. I have a fishing camp at Lake Wawa. If it floods, the fish will go over the rapids and flow into the reservoir. I’d lose all my fish and my camp. Americans go there to fish and this summer they told me to save it and not to let anyone destroy it.”

Although Pepabano was upset, he agreed with the intent of the diversions, past and present.

When asked how he voted in 2002 for the Paix des Braves, Pepabano said he supported every part of it. “Yes, I’m with Hydro, I agree with everything they said. It’s for our own good. They want to give us jobs because of that. Nobody will survive trapping anymore. It’s finished,” he said.

During a break in the meeting, however, Pepabano tried to convince a Hydro-Québec representative to come fishing with him in a few years’ time, when the project will be in full swing. The HQ rep agreed, albeit with a smile that seemed to suggest otherwise.

“If it’s flooded I won’t have anything to survive on. Hydro’s not going to hire a 60-year-old man. What can I do? Nobody will come to fish anymore.”

When he was asked where he would go if that happened? “Maybe to heaven, I’ll be starving because there will be no more fish to eat.”

In all, over 200 people attended, including 162 trappers.

Matthew Wapachee told the Nation about the beaver relocation project he helped facilitate over the course of two summers during the construction of EM 1.

“First we do an inventory from the potentially impacted area, we do a beaver survey.” said Wapachee of the beaver relocation project that was contracted out by the Société de l’Energie de la Baie James.

“Once we’ve identified the beaver lodges in the impoundment site, we have these large cage traps that we set and catch them,” said Wapachee, who added that this was done with the help of wildlife officials.

“We do this by helicopter. Then we stage them in the same lake in an 8 by 8 cage. Part of it is in the water, the other part on dry land. We keep them there until we think we have all the beavers from that lodge. Then we move them by helicopter as a family to a different location and release them together.”

The project was a success.

“I relocated about 40 beaver like that. That was three years ago. We monitored them for one year with equipment we installed on their tail. We were able to locate where they stayed for the winter. After one year we lost a few, I’d say it was an 80 per cent success rate,” said Wapachee.

“The monitoring device works sort of like a GPS. It was a transmitter that gave out a signal up to one kilometre. You could follow the signal to within 50 feet of where the beaver were,” he said.

“They were moved to areas that had a high occupancy rate in the past but over the years had declined. So we re-stocked those areas, which were basically three different lakes within my territory. They would have drowned in the EM 1 reservoir if we didn’t do that.”

He also said that just before the impoundment, he and his family trapped the remaining beaver.

“I’m one of the impacted tallymen of the EM 1 project,” he said. “I’m probably the only impacted tallyman from Nemaska affected by the impoundment of the Eastmain River. They wanted me to come and share the experience I’ve had with this past project.

“It’s been almost a year since the impoundment and 10 per cent of my trapline has been flooded,” Wapachee said, somberly.

“Mentally you tend to think about what you’ve lost,” he continued. “The cultural harvesting activities and the memories; the things you used to do with your family and your land users on the Eastmain River… those things come back to you quite a bit after one year. Especially with the impoundment and all I see is a big body of water over a harvesting territory that I was accustomed to going to every fall and spring. It was a very prime harvesting territory for moose and goose, for everything.”

This conference was a good opportunity for trappers to air their concerns, he said.

“I’m just glad that the trappers have an opportunity to participate and learn from experiences, especially from land users that were impacted by past projects,” he said.

Ironically, an open discussion that was supposed to be held on day one concerning past projects and to air Cree concerns was cancelled due to lack of time.

“It was misleading, the invitation,” said Paul Dixon, who was representing his family’s trapline at Windy Lake and the Senneterre Cree traplines near Waswanipi. “It said that Hydro would be there. They weren’t. Only the Cree people were there while Hydro was sitting in the hallway.”

He felt deceived. “If they told me it would be like this, I wouldn’t have come,” said Dixon, who was upset at the cancellation of the open discussion period.

“Hydro made a couple of presentations by DVD, which to some were amazing. But I found them very depressing. I don’t agree to the diversion of the river. I belong to a hunting society and I’d be stupid to agree to it. The trappers are bearing the cost of all this.”

“It’s supposed to be a new relationship, but they’re not around. I can’t believe it. I wish people would take us seriously and listen to us. I feel like no one is actually listening here.”

Wapachee sees it differently. This agreement was a good thing, he says, despite the hardships it has imposed on his trapline and the decline in his family’s annual harvest.

“I really have mixed feelings about it. I see both good and bad. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly how I feel. Yeah I lost big time, but there is a positive side to it too,” he said.

“After the signing of the Paix des Braves, I see in my community funding that comes on an annual basis and there are many projects that are implemented and completed. It’s supposed to continue like that,” said Wapachee.

“In general I lost as a tallyman and my land users were greatly impacted. I lost a lot of land and prime harvesting territory. But the public is benefiting from our loss. I lost, but I think I can adapt,” he said.