A special ceremony to inaugurate the Eastmain-1-A and Rupert Diversion project was held at the powerhouse on June 28.

Many high-profile guests attended, including Premier Jean Charest and cabinet ministers Pierre Corbeil, Geoffrey Kelley and Clément Gignac, as well as Hydro-Québec president Thierry Vandal and the mayors of Chibougamau, Chapais and Labelle sur Quevillon.

Representing the Crees were 34 trappers from Mistissini, Nemaska, Waskaganish and Eastmain whose traplines were directly impacted by the diversion.

Also in attendance were Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, Chief Matthew Wapachee of Nemaska and Deputy Chief Johnny Tomatuk from Eastmain.

The following are excerpts from Coon Come’s speech made at the inauguration:

“This project was negotiated by my people. My people participated in its design. My people participated in the construction. My people participated in establishing and monitoring the environmental standards. And my people will even participate in its operations. And we, as Nations, will benefit from the electricity it generates.

“I am here today also to honour the tallymen who sacrificed parts of their lands for the project and gave meaning and value to ‘Cree consent’. It was our trappers who came up with the idea for the 3-km tunnel that connects the Rupert Diversion Bays. This tunnel prevented hundreds of hectares from being flooded while ensuring a land bridge for hunters and trappers to access the other side of the flooded area without risk. It is only fitting that this tunnel bears the name of the late Tommy Neeposh, who, despite the flooding of his land, to the very end insisted that we all work together to share the wealth of the land.

“This project has broken new barriers in terms of environment protection: when the construction phase is completed, we will have ensured that 15-20% of the total cost of the project will have gone to environment protection and enhancement measures, this compared with the less than 1% for the entire La-Grande project. This standard is something we can be proud of and hold up as an example to other developers.

“Indeed, I had mix emotions in coming to this inauguration. We have come a long way from lack of recognition of Cree rights, and lack of recognition of Cree hunting and trapping way-of-life. We are now working together, using former agreements as foundations to build better relationships with Quebec.”