Hydro-Quebec must be tiring of the federal review of the EM-1A and Rupert Diversion projects. The directives of the environmental impact statement said the utility must take into account “the ways of life of the local communities and the conditions that are essential for their preservation and development.” But a new report says Hydro-Quebec failed miserably to do this and that they have little understanding of the Cree.

The report’s author, anthropologist Harvey A. Feit, writes that while the impact statement provides a lot of information on the Cree in affected communities, it is at best fragmentary and “fails to give a clear understanding of Cree society or of Cree culture.” Feit says a clear understanding by Hydro is necessary to assess impacts and mitigate them. “A non-Cree reader has no sense of how the Crees as individuals and as a nation are different from the reader, how the project could impact them differently, how the Crees might react differently, and that the responses might have to be different than their own milieu,” Feit observed.

“As this is a basic omission that runs through the report,” he says it “negatively affects the credibility” of Hydro-Quebec’s “identification and assessment of the impacts.”

Feit’s biggest problem is that Hydro sees the Cree as an urbanized society that has a few hunters. He says that while Crees may have aspects of that type of society there is much more to consider.

It is important to realize the roles of family, kinship, friendship and marriage in Cree society, Feit insists. The small daily community life of the Cree makes for more intense relations in all those roles. The report stresses the availability of jobs and increased income but not how it would affect several households which might be one economic unit or the ties between people.

While the report describes the changes that may affect the Cree communities in terms of shifts in sources of incomes, education and health, it says the EIS has failed to give an integrated and systematic history of the effects of earlier hydro-electric developments.

“The material on the changes to the region is contradictory, the conflicting processes are not analyzed, and the proponent’s conclusions are insufficiently explained.”

Feit’s conclusions also say the EIS fails to understand Cree traditions and knowledge. “For example, there is no systematic account of how Cree hunters think of the land and animals as living persons to whom they have responsibilities and moral relations. There is no clear account of how Cree identities are tied to understandings about the land. There is no account of the spiritual ideas of Crees, or how they affect their relationships to the land. There is no sense of how changing the land can create a sense of loss and anguish for Cree hunters who have nurtured it throughout their lifetimes and inherited it from their kin. So the account of Cree traditional knowledge and ways of living is substantially incomplete.”

The full text of Feit’s analysis can be found at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website.