Elders from all nine Cree communities arrived in Nemaska January 15 to discuss the AIP. Even though there were only six official delegates invited from each community, many more showed up. By the end about 100 were registered.
Chisasibi, which provided more delegates than any other community, shared what they experienced when their river was developed by Hydro Quebec in 1975.
The message was on the negative impacts on hunting, fishing and trapping that they experienced since the development. They were not for this AIP because they said that the diversion of the Rupert River would increase the flow of their river and the riverbanks were already eroding. They did not want anymore of this happening on their river.
Some of the other comments they made were that Hydro Quebec will tell you how much they will affect the land but what happens is that there is more damage than what Hydro Quebec says. They were warning the other communities that will be affected to take this into consideration when it is time to decide.
Some of the other delegates showed support for the AIP, but there were very few of them compared to the number that spoke against the deal.
The Grand Council arrived January 11 and made a presentation on the final draft on the AIP. The presentation took about six hours and the elders appeared very tired.
Grand Chief Ted Moses told the elders that this was a deal that every Aborignal nation across Canada was dreaming about. He said he was convinced that this is the best deal for the Crees to sign.
When talking to some of the Elders individually they said they were not sold on this AIP. They mentioned that it was not a good deal for the Crees on the basis of the damage it will cause to the land, and to hunting, fishing and trapping.
A community feast was organised for the elders and the Grand Council after Friday”s presentation.
Meeting Chairman Smally Petawabano’s opening remarks January 12 startled the crowd when he announced, “If there should be anyone to speak up concerning the AIP, that would make you confused or play with your mind. Let the Grand Council know and they will be taken out.”
Bertie Wapachee, the Chairman of the Cree Health Board, got up after the opening remarks and spoke to the elders. His message was that he was sad to see how the leadership was using or abusing the elders’ role on issues surrounding the AIP.
He spoke to the elders from the heart and some people in the room broke down. Some had tears in their eyes.
He told the elders not to worry too much about the youth concerning the AIP even if it does not go through. He told the elders that he had a lot of confidence in the youth and that they will find ways to find employment or create employment even if the AIP is not signed.
He told them of his own experience. He did not just sit back to find employment but looked hard and eventually found work. He didn’t tell the elders not to approve the AIP, but to decide from their hearts and think about his message, the message coming from a youth, or a young man.
The elders have not finished their meetings and will continue on to Whapmagoostui when the Grand Council is there to complete the tour.
Overall, most elders did not support the AIP. The elders who spoke up were very passionate about the land, saying that it was a gift from the Creator, and that the land was entrusted to us and so should not be sold. Approximately 75 to 85 per cent of the elders appeared to be against the AIP.