Crees should debate how far they want to go in opposing the proposed Eastmain-1 hydro-electric project, say members of the Cree steering committee dealing with the project.

“How far do you go? Let’s have that debate,” said lawyer James O’Reilly at a meeting of the committee on Dec. 9 in downtown Montreal. “I have yet to meet a Cree who says, ‘I am in favour of EM-1.’ Where there may be a bit of a difference is in what happens if the police come in smashing people’s heads. How far are people willing to go not to have an Eastmain project?”

O’Reilly said the legal avenues of challenging EM-1 are drying up. “If it was a hard hill to climb before, it’s a mountain to climb now. From a legal point of view, it’s a very, very difficult road to overcome.”

O’Reilly made the comments as committee members discussed a resolution passed by the Cree Youth Council opposing all new hydro-electric projects on Cree territory, including EM-1. Hydro-Quebec’s most recent development plan envisions bringing EM-1 on-line by 1998. The EM-1 reservoir on the Eastmain River would generate 465 megawatts of power.

“I’m not suggesting one form of action or another, but you have to weigh the alternatives,” O’Reilly said. “There should be a discussion with the Youth Council members. It’s easier sometimes just tosay, ‘no,’ but it’s harder to come up with a follow-up.”

Kenneth Gilpin, chief of the Eastmain band council, said he would send the Youth Council a letter explaining the steering committee’s stance on EM-1. He also plans to invite Youth Council members to Eastmain. “I was wondering to what extent they had an opportunity to hear an explanation of the EM-1 court case and the position we have taken.”

Thomas Neeposh, deputy chief of Mistissini, said the Youth Council resolution, passed before the recent annual general assembly of the Grand Council of the Crees, took him by surprise. “They need more information. They’re not fully aware of the past agreements.”

Grand Chief Matthew Coon-Come, who attended part of the meeting, said Crees have lost some of their leverage in battling EM-1. “We don’t have the leverage any more.”

But O’Reilly suggested the Quebec government is in disarray, and may be in no position to proceed with the project in any event. Policy decisions are on hold until Daniel Johnson takes over as premier on Dec. 15. Afterwards, a cabinet shuffle is expected that may turf Energy Minister Lise Bacon out of her portfolio. In a recent public slugfest between Bacon and Hydro-Quebec over whether the utility should promote more co-generation, the utility didn’t back down, O’Reilly said. This suggests even Hydro officials suspect Bacon’s days are numbered.