After news spread that the Great Whale project was shelved indefinitely, the people of Whapmagoostui were overjoyed. Everybody was jumping around joyfully or shaking hands. Some people couldn’t sleep for two days they were so excited. A celebration was planned.
We contacted Chief Matthew Mukash for his comments.
The Nation: You must be excited over Parizeau’s recent comment that Great Whale had been put on the shelf indefinitely.
Chief Matthew Mukash: Yes, I was. I kept on asking myself what does he want? What next?
Do you suspect ulterior motives?
Yeah, I do. But I think that because he was very clear in his statement, I tend to think he’s bound by his comments.
Do you feel this is a victory for your people?
Indeed it is. It is a big victory.
This was part of your election platform. Do you feel that it’s finished as part of your election platform and you’re ready to move on to new mandates?
You know, there’s still a lot of questions that have to be answered, I think, before our people can really be convinced this project has indeed been cancelled indefinitely.
Because we’ve heard remarks from a minister that the environmental assessment process for the project is going to continue.
To us, if the government is shelving the project indefinitely, they have to also cancel the process, and until we see that we’re not going to be convinced that this project is dead.
The review committees made over 300 recommendations on the Hydro-Quebec study, and they said it didn’t meet the guidelines. What are your comments on that?
I have to commend the review bodies for their work. I think they take their work seriously, and I was very happy to learn that there were 300 questions thrown back at Hydro.
Seeing that there has been a lot of money spent on the studies, over 11 years, I said to myself 300 questions is going to cost a little more. I’m sure there will be a reason for the government to ask questions of the Crown corporation. So I was very pleased that the report was thrown back at Hydro.
How do you react to Parizeau’s attacks on the Grand Chief, Matthew Coon Come, when he said there was a racist double-standard being applied to the Crees?
I was not surprised. But we should remember what the government did in the early 70s when they pushed forward the idea of building hydro-dams in the north.
They started with building a highway right to the heart of Cree Territory without asking the Crees to begin with. And then they maintained in the courts that we have no rights and so on.
If you read the testimony of the lawyers for the province, there are a lot of racist comments in there. One of the comments that was made was that Native people are war like and when they kill their enemy they eat their Hood. They quoted Jesuits to state this.
When you think what was said in those days, we are right in saying the government does have racist policies against the Native people in the north.
Do you see any signs of that changing?
Not at all. When you hear a candidate for the PQ saying we’re going to use the army to suppress the Crees if they don’t agree with the idea of Quebec secession, what kind of a comment is that? Is it not a racist remark? Is it not looking down at people who’ve lived in this area since time immemorial?
You have to look at it from the perspective of the spiritual realm. We were put here for some reason. We know that the Creator provided us with everything we needed to survive on this land. And it was true for everybody. The Creator created four or five races. There was a means for each race to survive.
When you think along those lines, it is wrong for any race to try to step all over another race. For me, when I look at what’s been happening to the Crees, there is indeed a lot of racism in the hearts of the people who run the government of Quebec.
Are you speaking specifically of people like Richard Le Hir?
I’m not speaking of any particular official in the government. Because in any government we faced, there’s always been people in there who have hatred, who hate the people. What can I say? That’s a fact.
We’ve always been called the “maudits sauvages.” And I’ve heard many government officials using that term.
How did the community react when they heard this?
I was not here. I happened to be travelling to the north, to an Inuit community, at the time on Friday when it was announced. But I called in right away when I learned of the news. I didn’t learn of the news until I got into Inukjuak that evening. And immediately I went on the air to congratulate people.
What I learned was that everyone was jumping around joyfully and shaking hands. Everybody was shaking hands with everyone. People were just going wild.
A lot of people told me they started to cry when they heard the news. And I think a lot of people were in that state. A lot of them told me they couldn’t sleep for two nights because they were so overjoyed by this whole thing.
Is your community planning celebrations?
We are planning celebrations for next Friday in this community.
Do you think this was overall a much-needed victory for all the Crees?
Yes, it is a much-needed victory for everyone. You have to remember Crees are not the only winners in this case. I think the people of Quebec are the winners as well and everybody who was concerned. You have to understand that these projects have an impact on the global climate. They have an impact on international waters.
When a project of this scale has an impact on the global climate, it affects everyone on this planet. I think we have to say everyone is a winner in this case. You have to stop thinking it is the Crees or the Inuit who are the only impacted people when you’re talking about hydro-projects. So I think in this case everybody is a winner.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I’d like to thank everyone for their support, the Crees and we had a lot of Inuit who supported us. Of course, everyone outside the Cree Nation. I think we had support from the four corners of the Earth.
I would like to thank all those people. Their efforts will be remembered in the hearts of my people.
PHOTO: Chief Billy Diamond (leaning forward, left) lights up some copies of the Report of the Federal-Provincial Task Force inquiring into the Environmental Aspects of the James Bay project, in Rupert House, February 1972.