Five of the Cree chiefs have signaled they want to split off from the Grand Council of the Crees and hold their own talks with Hydro-Quebec on the proposed Eastmain-Rupert hydro-electric project. In this letter, they explain their reasons. They thank Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come for respecting their “autonomy,” and inform him that the Grand Council “shall provide funding” to hire independent advisors and “the legal representation for the preparation of future negotiations.” We reprint the letter in its entirety unedited. -Ed.

May 5, 1999
SUBJECT: Proposed EM-1 project, coordination of the file

Dear Matthew:

The present proposed EM-1 project submitted by Hydro-Ouebec to the Cree Nation at the March meeting of Board/Council of the GCCEA/CRA [Grand Council of the Crees/Cree Regional Authority] has the potential, if it is implemented, to affect directly or indirectly our six Cree communities, namely the Cree Nation of Eastmain, the Cree Nation of Nemaska, the Cree Nation of Mistissini, the Waskaganish First Nation, the Cree Nation of Chisasibi and the Cree Nation of Wemindji. The reference made to the direct and indirect effects is in direct relation to the flooding of new land. The first four communities will certainly feel the direct impacts since their traditional land may be flooded. The other two communities as a result of the increase flow in the water levels will feel the indirect impact.

Since 1992, following the judgment of the Courts on the previous EM-1 proposed project, the Cree Nation of Eastmain spearheaded many discussions concerning this project. The fundamental basis of the discussions were to alleviate the most negative impacts, try to find less damaging routes and finally try to negotiate some compensation for the Members of the then three communities to be affected.

Following the first approach made by Mr. André Caillé to the Cree communities during a meeting of June 12, 1998, each of our communities received a specific mandate from our Members. This mandate was to oversee the file, find and obtain the complete information, then report to our Members for a decision to be taken in relation to the possibility of extending Cree consent to the project. Mr. André Caillé has specifically informed us that any potential project must first respect three criteria before any further consideration is given for the realization of the project: namely to receive Cree consent, to be economically feasible and finally to be environmentally safe.

During previous Chiefs’ meetings as well as meetings of the Board/Council of the GCCEA/CRA, It was agreed that the GCCEA/CRA would be asked to coordinate the file in regard to the gathering of the information. We have always respected the expertise of the GCCEA/CRA in this field and had no difficulty in agreeing to this coordination.

Unfortunately, we are now at the end of April, 1999, there has been no meeting called by the GCCEA/CRA for the discussion on the requirements of the file. None of our communities’ appointees were even contacted by the person assigned to the coordination of the file, Mr. Romeo Saganash.

Our members have repeatedly asked for a status report on the file. The answer remains the same, there is nothing to report because no meeting has been called and no discussion was held.

Unfortunately, we have been officially informed that, even though our appointees representing each of our six communities were never informed, consulted or invited to join in a meeting, there has been some meetings between representatives of the GCCEA/CRA and representatives of Hydro-Quebec. What was said? What was discussed? Why was there a meeting? Nothing is known. We are kept in the dark.

At this point in time, we believe that it is necessary and essential to remind you and the representatives of the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Astchee and/or the Cree Regional Authority that there was no mandate given to the GCCEA/CRA to carry on discussions and/or negotiations on our behalf with Hydro-Quebec. The limited mandate given was to coordinate the file for the gathering of the information. Furthermore, the mandate was given strictly on the basis that our own appointees were constantly present during any meeting and/or any exchange of information.

We must express to you our great disappointment in the present situation of the coordination of the file. In our view, nothing was done because we are aware of no discussion, no meeting.

The Grand Council of the Crees and the Cree Regional Authority are delegate entities that must receive specific mandate prior to taking any action or making any representation on our behalf. No mandate to that effect was ever given by any one of our Council or our Members. The General Assembly resolution of 1989 and subsequent resolutions do not constitute sufficient requirement to extend the specific mandate to the
GCCEA/CRA. It is also not the intention of any of the six Cree First Nations to extent such a mandate to the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Astchee and/or the Cree Regional Authority.

As you, yourself, have stated time and time again during the long period of the opposition to the Great Whale project, any discussion, any decision, any action must first be made after consultation with the Whapmag’oostui First Nation and its Members. They were the ones to be affected, therefore their opinion was of foremost importance.

It is our firm belief, and in this subject we share your views, that each Cree First Nation directly affected in any manner whatsoever by the new proposed EM-1 project must be given complete autonomy and authority to make the best decision in due consideration of the well-being of its own members.

On April 22, 1999, a meeting was called for discussion on the proposed EM-1 Hydro project to be attended by the Chiefs of the six Cree First Nations to be affected. Chief Violet Pachanos, Chief Walter Hughboy and Chief Kenneth Gilpin attended the meeting, the other three Chiefs having previous commitments. However, the minutes of the meeting were provided to Chief George Wapachee, Chief Kenny Loon and Chief Billy Diamond. The contents of the present letter evidence the consensus reached during and after the meeting.

On behalf of the Councils, the Members, the trappers of our six Cree First Nations, we are hereby respectfully but also unequivocally demanding the immediate end of the restricted mandate of coordination of the file of the proposed EM-1 project by the GCCEA/CRA. This also includes the immediate dismantling of the financial committee created to review the proposed partnership with Hydro-Quebec. We are also requesting your personal intervention in ensuring that all employees and/or representatives of the GCCEA/CRA immediately cease all discussions and/or communications with representatives of Hydro-Quebec in regard to this file.

An official negotiation team shall be decided and appointed by the six affected Cree Nations. The mandate of this negotiation team shall be effective during the gathering of the information, during the decision-making process of the Members of the six Cree First Nations affected and, in the event that our Members decide to extend Cree consent to the project, during the whole period of negotiations with Hydro-Quebec. The six Cree First Nations affected shall have complete authority to extend and/or end the mandate of the negotiation team as deemed necessary and required by the six Cree First Nations affected.

The six Cree First nations affected shall discuss with you the extent of the involvement of the GCCEA/CRA in the unfolding of this file. We recognize that we share a common future and deeply rooted traditional values with the other three Cree First Nations as well as with the GCCEA/CRA. Our decision is made in the best interest of our Members who are directly affected. There is no question of complete exclusion of all other interested and/or related parties in so far as their specific situation is made in full coordination and knowledge of the six Cree First Nations affected.

In view of the need to gather all information in the coming weeks, we shall ask you to continue the mandate of Mr. McCullough. However, Mr. McCullough must be immediately informed that, from this moment forward, he shall simultaneously report to us, the Chiefs of the six affected Cree First Nations, at the same time and at the same meeting he reports to the GCCEA/CRA. Furthermore, Mr. McCullough shall also receive his instructions from us. Finally, under no circumstances whatsoever shall Mr. McCullough provide any information and/or data to Hydro-Quebec.

We shall discuss the need to hire independent advisors to review the data provided by Hydro-Quebec as well as the data provided by Mr. McCullough and other information. The GCCEA/CRA shall provide funding for the hiring of the independent advisors as well as the legal representation for the preparation of future negotiations. We believe that the collaboration of the GCCEA/CRA in this matter would certainly respect the purposes of the provision of services to the Cree communities by our Tribal Council as it receives funding for this purpose. We shall inform you of the names of the independent advisors and the legal representation as soon as the decision on the appointments will have been made by the six affected Cree Nations.

Each one of us has extended his/her support to you during your past four mandates as Grand Chief. We have supported your commitment to protect our traditions, our values, and our land. We have shared the same commitment. We also know that you will extend to us the same commitment to assure the leadership of our communities and the coordination of the file on behalf of our communities.

We also would like to request a meeting between us upon your return from your holiday. We believe that we must sincerely discuss with you our decision and our commitment. Therefore, we would appreciate if you could contact each one of the undersigned to organize the proposed meeting.

In ending, it would be remiss of us to forget to extend to you our sincere appreciation of your commitment to our Cree Nation and your willingness to recognize our own autonomy. These are two specific criteria necessary in all leaders and we acknowledge these qualities that you have shown so often in the past.

I am certain that you will understand our position and we remain,

Yours truly,

Chief Kenneth Gilpin (signed)
Cree Nation of Eastmain

Chief George Wapachee (unsigned)
Cree Nation of Nemaska

Chief Kenny Loon (signed)
Cree Nation of Mistissini

Chief Billy Diamond (signed)
Waskaganish First Nation

Chief Violet Pachanos (signed)
Cree Nation of Chlsasibi

Chief Walter Hughboy (signed)
Cree Nation of Wemindji