Some new relief for some old headaches with Hydro Quebec appears to be on the horizon. A draft agreement between the Crees and Hydro-Quebec is now undergoing consultation rounds in the Cree communities.
“The Agreement Concerning a New Relationship between Hydro-Quebec/SEBJ and the Crees of Eeyou Istchee” is the result of the mediation process that began under former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard in May, 2002.
The purpose of the agreement is to resolve all outstanding issues from the signing of the JBNQA (1975) and the LaGrande Agreement (1986). Some issues were resolved when the Paix des Braves was signed, such as the Apatiisiwin Agreement that reiterated and extended H-Q’s objective of having 150 Crees employed at the La Grande Complex by 2017.
It states in the mediation report that “it was vain…to attempt to settle individually all the particular problems that together constitute the Cree/Hydro-Quebec litigation. Accordingly, the members of the committee agreed to consider the matter as a whole.”
Grand Council spokesperson Brian Craik says the idea is to have a new relationship with Hydro-Quebec that is similar to the one that is set up under the Paix des Braves, one that’s “built on mutual respect, partnership and cooperation.”
The Agreement is structured around five main components:
• H-Q will work with the Crees to ensure that more contracts respecting the operation, maintenance and repair of the complex are awarded to the Cree.
• Regarding the safety of the La Grande Complex, H-Q commits to monitoring the retaining structures and to building and maintaining a road to high ground in case an evacuation of Chisasibi is necessary. An additional $2 million will be given so that this area can be used for cultural or tourism purposes.
• A “Cree and Hydro-Quebec fund” will be established with $7 million a year from Hydro-Quebec commencing April 1st, 2004. Indexed to the standard of living, it will continue for as long as the La Grande Complex is in operation. Under the control of the Crees, the fund will be used for accessing employment, addressing social and psychological impacts of the La Grande Complex and improving relations between the Crees and H-Q among other things.
• Once the agreement is signed, any outstanding legal disputes against H-Q and the SEBJ will be settled “without admission and prejudice.” All proceedings against the federal government are unaffected.
• Finally, a Standing Liaison and Conflict Resolution Committees will be established to act as forums of communication between the two parties.
Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees, supports the agreement.
“There is no expiry on the agreement,” Namagoose told the Nation. “The only way to expire the agreement is to dismantle the dams. In the past, there have been time limits on compensations or benefits agreements, where as the benefits of the companies continues to go on forever. So this is the first where an Aboriginal group and a developer – not the government, but a developer – must provide to the Aboriginal people as long as they are present in the territory. I hope it can be beneficial to other groups across Canada.”
Members of Waswanipi, Chisasibi and Mistissini have endorsed the agreement in community meetings. In spite of concerns expressed by his community, Waswanipi Chief Robert Kitchen said, “It was understood that there was still room to open another table to discuss all these other issues. The door is not shut.”