What started out as filming footage for a seemingly innocuous Niskamoon video project has turned into quite the debacle.

On October 28, Pearl Weistche and her camerawoman headed out to a meeting hosted by the Société d’énergie de la Baie James (SEBJ) at Smoky Hill. The meeting was between some SEBJ employees and the local tallymen in preparation for the final closing of the gates on the Rupert River, which happened just days after the meeting. SEBJ was looking to give the tallymen information on the partial diversion, the water levels and how to change them for the Km 314 area of the river.

Weistchee, an education consultant for Cree programs in language and culture, decided that the meeting would be an ideal place to get footage for her project, a Niskamoon Corporation-sponsored video project on traditional knowledge at Smoky Hill and the fishing activities there.

Seeing as how all of the local tallymen were to be in attendance and that the closing of the gates on the Rupert would be a historic moment for the Crees, Weistchee asked the tallymen at the meeting if they would grant her permission to film them. She was looking to get their reactions to the closing of the gates.

However, when the man who was conducting the meeting, Michel Traversy from SEBJ, came on the scene, he informed Weistchee and her project partner that they had to turn off the cameras, that recordings were not permitted during SEBJ meetings.

From there things spiraled a little out of control, according to Weistchee. Initially Weistchee and her partner became very frustrated as Traversy would only address them in French.

According to Weistchee, when he finally did respond in English, he told her that this was SEBJ’s policy.

“Why, I asked him? The tallymen had all agreed that we were going to record them, and  we didn’t have to record him if he didn’t want to be recorded,” said Weistchee.

After that, Weistchee said Traversy made a “fuss,” and they began arguing as to why she was not allowed to film only the tallymen and their reactions to the gates closing.

At that point Weistchee went to Waskaganish Chief Steve Diamond to get his take on the situation. She explained that it was only the Crees who she wanted to film and that, if necessary, the SEBJ employees could be edited out of the footage.

According to Weistchee, Diamond agreed with her provided that she didn’t film anyone from the SEBJ at that moment. After her discussion with the Chief, Traversy then went and spoke to Diamond, who then changed his mind.

Diamond informed Weistchee that she would no longer be allowed to film the meeting.

Ryan Erless, a band council employee who acts as a liaison for the tallymen, then got into the argument with Weistchee. He insisted that she could not film anyone who did not want to be filmed, despite the fact that Weistchee said she wasn’t filming the SEBJ employees.

“He (Erless) would not allow us to record so I told the camera girl that we had to go. As I left I told Ryan that ‘you guys are just a bunch of f***-ups.’ They went against the tallymen who actually wanted to be recorded and then we were booted out,” said Weistchee.

According to Erless however, the incident was just a big misunderstanding that could have been remedied.

Erless said it was he who had organized for the tallymen to be at the information session with SEBJ and that if Weistchee had wanted to film the tallymen, she should have made such arrangements on her own.

“We were told that every SEBJ employee needs permission to be on film or else they lose their jobs. It is as simple as that. I was not trying to protect the SEBJ employees; I was trying to explain to Pearl how the chain of command works. I was not protecting anyone. I do protect the tallymen, not SEBJ,” said Erless.

Though Weistchee is still quite angered by the situation, it was Erless’ perspective that if Weistchee had requested permission in writing prior to the event for filming, there would never have been a problem in the first place.

Though the SEBJ was contacted in regards to this matter, they did not provide a comment to the Nation magazine by press time.