On Sept. 11, in a historic visit, the top management of Hydro-Quebec visited Chisasibi and addressed the many problems caused by their hydro projects.
Everyone listened politely for over two hours, as five top Hydro executives-including the president, chair of the board and finance director-spoke of a “renewed relationship” with Crees.
However, when it came time for the people to ask questions, Hydro’s big guns only lasted about 20 minutes before beating a quick exit by helicopter to Radisson.
“Don’t leave us cold,” shouted one young man as Hydro-Quebec President Andre Caille tried to close what was starting to become a heated meeting.
“You can sleep over in our hotel,” shouted another. “We’ll drive you to Radisson. Stay and listen to us.”
The president and other executives hesitated for a moment. “I will be back,” said Caille to the crowd, finally making up his mind to leave. “I don’t know when, but I promise you I will be back.”
Most of the “historic” meeting consisted of Chief Charles Bobbish reading out the community’s complaints-polluted drinking water, safety of the dams, mercury contamination, re-naming of the “islands” in Caniapiscau, environmental and social effects of the project, lack of access for hunters to the James Bay coast-to name a few.
Caille promised that Cree concerns would be dealt with “directly and quickly,” unlike in the past.
“I think we have to renew the way we relate with your communities,” said Caille. “We have to have direct dialogue, so that we can become partners.”
He did not provide any ^ concrete solutions at the meeting, however. According to Caille, the community’s concerns will be dealt with by a new task force, where Hydro-Quebec and Crees would be represented.
“They’re not saying anything,” said one restless Cree in the audience, to murmurs of approval. “Why are we even sitting here?”
During question period, several Band Councillors tried to get Hydro-Quebec to understand how serious the water-intake problem in the river had become, so serious it might deprive the town of water this winter. At one point, one resident walked up to the shocked executives and started yelling at them about the polluted water.
Charles Bobbish also tried to explain the community’s anger at paying hydro bills.
“We have felt the most impact because the dams are right in our back yard,” said Bobbish. “That’s why people here are so upset about it (hydro bills). Try to understand. Because you are getting everything from our river. We think we should not be asked to pay for electricity.”
A big round of applause erupted. Bobbish went on, “You’re making too much money from our community and our river and not considering the impacts on us.”
The audience appauded again. At that point, Hydro-Quebec began to wrap up the meeting. But many questions remained and one participant asked, “Do you think we could speak with anyone higher up, since you don’t seem to be able to answer any of our questions?” When Caille didn’t know how to respond, she asked: “Are you here just because you want another Phase 3 or 4 on our land? Is that why you have come?”
Caille answered with one last promise: “We will deal with your concerns, whether or not there are any new projects.”