My name is Andy Baribeau and I work for Hydro-Quebec thanks to the Horizon 86-96 Program, which was born after negotiations between the James Bay Crees and Hydro-Quebec. The program permitted a certain number of Crees to be employed by Hydro-Quebec. To some of you, this may seem like a contradiction in terms—that a Cree would work for Hydro. Let me just point out that I am not alone in this situation.
I am more at ease with other non-Cree Hydro employees, who accept me as an equal—a feeling other Cree workers will echo I’m sure. True, some of the non-native workers may not agree with some of the advantages accorded to the Cree employees, but it is the situation they contest and not I as a Cree. Rather, we search for common ground and not dividing lines. I have my identity and they theirs. Oddly enough, we are not only able to co-exist peacefully but we are able to work together just fine. For the first time in a very longtime, I feel I am an equal, not to be judged by the colour of my skin, but to be judged only as a human being. These workers are not much different from me—and you, I’m sure. They work for a living, to feed themselves and so on. They do not work for Hydro-Quebec simply to irritate the Cree Nation.
I cannot say I have felt equal very often in my life, even in my home community of Mistissini. Discrimination and prejudice are far from being a monopoly of white society—they are a form of hatred all too common in all parts of the world, even within the Cree Nation. I may not be a “pure breed” Cree (my father is Metis), but I have a great amount of pride when it comes to my native heritage. And pride is something that urgently needs to be rediscovered among First Nations. Crees are not excluded from this, some of whom are ashamed of our ceremonies—ceremonies which are neither “satanic” nor “pagan,” but Cree ceremonies. Yes, I am proud to call myself Cree. Are you?
Yet, I work for Hydro-Quebec, the great enemy of the Crees. Why? because I choose to. I was given the opportunity to work, an opportunity I am now very glad I chose. Work within our communities is scarce and I do not wish to recieve social welfare unless I am left with absolutely no choice. I refuse to become the stereotypical drunken Indian on welfare—I like to defy stereotypes. I cannot live off the land because I was never given the chance to learn how to. However, I do plan on giving my children, when the Great Spirit sees it fit to see me become a father, the choice of life they wish to pursue. Unless I am able to give myself some form of financial security, I doubt this will be possible. Aspirations not much different from yours, I’m convinced.
I cannot say I am always at ease with my present situation. There are times when I will not readily admit I WORK FOR Hydro-Quebec. This is not Hydro’s fault, but that of the Cree leaders. The leaders who would like to see all Crees that wish to work do so; the leaders who fight for Cree jobs; the leaders who negotiated the Agreement which gave me this job. The leaders who constantly pit the Crees against Hydro-Quebec; the leaders who use me and other Cree Hydro workers as a pawn; the leaders who make me feel like a traitor…
I am not a traitor. Neither are any of the Cree workers here. Loyalty is one of the greatest qualities I feel I can possess, and I will fight if I must to defend what I believe to be right. Courage is the other quality. I have the courage to work for a living, even for Hydro-Quebec, and I still have the courage to assert my pride when it comes to my heritage. As a Cree.