The sight of paddles held high in defiance by Crees was not a response that Thierry Vandal, Hydro-Quebec’s Executive Vice President-Generation, was likely hoping for. The assembled crowd of Crees in the Waskaganish Gathering Place stood and applauded loudly as thirty of the community’s members paraded through the facility’s gymnasium. It was an obvious and resounding “NO!” to HQ’s proposed multi-million dollar partnership deal. Said Cree Grand Chief Ted Moses, “these people expect to see that youngster,” referring to a young Cree child dressed in traditional Cree garb that followed the paddle-armed protesters, “to grow up and enjoy the land, and the fruits of the land.” With that, Moses summed up the feelings of the Crees towards HQ’s latest offering.
Following Vandal’s presentation to a who’s who cast of Cree politicians attending the Cree Nation Natural Resource Development Conference, the group filed into the gymnasium to show their disapproval of the proposed diversion of the Rupert River. The protesting ensemble included Crees who have traveled the Rupert River, retracing historical trade and travel routes used by their ancestors for millennia. Following a distinguished Cree Elder were a number of those he had guided on an annual 400 km expedition up and downstream the free flowing Rupert. The act demonstrated that the possibility of any deal being struck would be almost impossible. When requested to step into a canoe that had been carried in by the protesting group, Vandal reluctantly obliged. Local Cree Trapper’s Association Program Officer, George Katapatuk then made it obviously clear that the end result of the Rupert River diversion would be equally comparable to Vandal’s present circumstance. “You cannot paddle that canoe,” Katapatuk said “because there is no water. ” The effect and implication was very clear.
The deal itself, Vandal explained, involved an estimated $110 million in direct payments from HQ to the Crees over a ten year period and upwards of $900 million in spinoff revenue over a 60 year period. Some of this would include: direct compensatory payments to the Crees most affected by the proposed diversion scheme; spinoff contracts and employment; the creation of a remedial work fund; and revenue sharing.
Under the JBNQA, HQ must seek the consent of the Cree people before proceeding with any new projects within Cree territory. The proposal involves the partial diversion of the Rupert River into the existing EM-1 Reservoir. Although, Vandal admits, there has not been a full study on the outcome and effects of the project, once Cree consent has been given, a full HQ study would then be carried out.
Cree consent requires the approval of all Crees, especially the tallymen and trappers. Their approval is the key to the deal. It is the tallymen that will be most affected by the proposed diversion and damming activities. HQ estimates that close to 360 km2 would be affected by the new project – land currently occupied and in use by the tallymen and their families. Although HQ did not confirm the compensatory amounts that would be paid out to the trappers, the proposal outlines $60 million in financial compensation to the Cree communities, financial compensation to the trappers, and financial support for the Crees to continue to carry out their traditional activities.
The key component to the deal involves a partnership between the Crees and HQ. The total investment for the Rupert Diversion is $1.25 billion. The Crees 15% investment of $187.5 million would be fronted by HQ in “mortgage-type” financing and would be reimbursed over a 50-year period. The Rupert Diversion portion of the proposal would generate an estimated $149.2 million in revenues annually. The Crees, under the proposal, would be entitled to $22.4 million a year. After their annual repayment of the fronted “mortgage loan” the Cree investment dividend would amount to an annual revenue share of $6.2 million.
Although HQ officials stated that this proposal would revolve around previous discussions that had taken place between the Crees and HQ, Grand Chief Ted Moses was quick to point out that this proposal would not be viewed as part of any previous talks. “This project is a new project. This is not the EM-1 project that is discussed in the JBNQA,” declared Moses. Under the JBNQA the development of any new projects on Cree territory requires unanimous Cree consent. It would appear that, at least for now, the answer is NO!
The Conference not only discussed HQ’s proposal but many other issues facing the Crees such as forestry operations on Cree lands and offshore island negotiations with the Nunavut and Northwest Territories governments.