They didn’t, as promised, bring the water from the Rupert River, but three Cree chiefs were able to make a big splash anyway.
Up to 300 people attended the environmental festival Echofête April 18 at Cafe Campus in Montreal, and at the same time, gained a better understanding of the Cree fight to save the Rupert River from hydroelectric development.
The festival originates from the small Quebec town of Trois-Pistoles.
The “Cabaret de la Rupert” is seen as a way to get all Quebecers behind the fight to stop the EM IA hydroelectric project and the Rupert River Diversion. And they did it in a way that encompasses the traditions of the Cree and the French and English: through laughter, music and spoken word.
Poems of adoration were read about the river and a slide show demonstrated to the crowd what would be lost. Beautiful images of one of the four remaining virgin rivers in Quebec flashed behind presenters.
All the major environmental players in Quebec were present – including the Sierra Club, Rupert Reverence and La Fondation Rivières – to show their solidarity with the three affected Cree communities. Actor Roy Dupuis also put his clout behind the festival.
Each chief made a brief presentation, followed by live acts and short musical sets which included the Inuit-French duo Taima and the Cree band Cer
Waskaganish Chief Robert Weistche talked about saving the Rupert River by getting the message out in any way possible. He called on the audience to spread the word of the river’s importance and beauty and to tell their friends by blogging on the Internet.
“We need your help,” he said. “Tell your friends how beautiful the Rupert River is. You saw it on the screen; don’t you think it’s worth saving?” Weistche said as the audience roared their approval.
“It’s not too late. The more people fighting to save the river, the stronger we will be,” he said.
Rupert Reverence spokesman Nicolas Boisclair reiterated his stance. “The battle has not yet been lost! A common front will
Bottom Left: Chief Robert Weistche, Abraham Rupert, and Josie Jimikenperhaps save the Rupert River in extremis, just as the people of Trois-Pistoles, with the help of Mikaël Rioux, managed to save their own river even though destruction work had already begun in 2002,” he said.
In fact it was due to the success of Rioux’s actions that the Echofête festival was born. It is an annual event to educate people with knowledge of environmental issues and a chance to join the fight. Échofête attracts thousands of people in the Lower Saint-Lawrence region every summer.
Chisasibi Chief Abraham Rupert spoke of the devastating effects global warming is having right now in Eeyou Istchee and how polar bears are threatened by the melting ice floes.
He went on to say that his community is also in danger of the unforeseen effects of the Rupert River diversion.
“The diverted water will pass right next to our community,” he said. “It will increase the flow by 80 per cent. That’s a lot and it’s very scary to my people.”
He said that the community has very little time to evacuate in case of flooding. He lamented the fact that his community has already had to move because of hydro development.
Rupert also shared a sad story of a time when the community dealt with the loss of a little boy to what he claimed was global warming’s effect on Mother Nature.
“I remember the feeling we had in the community when a small child went missing one day,” said Rupert. “Little footsteps were followed and they ended in the middle of the half-frozen river. The child was gone.”“When the parents were informed they had a hopeful look at first, thinking we might have found him. But once they were told what happened, they broke down. That was a hard thing to do,” said a visibly upset Rupert.
The three chief’s presentation ended on a lighter note when newly-re-elected Nemaska Chief Josie Jimiken took the mike and compared his navigational skills on the water to Chief Robert Weistche.
“I just wanted to say that I love being on the river too, but I think Robert is a better kayaker than me,” Jimiken said to the applause and approval of the audience. “But I’m a better canoeist: I’ve never tipped over like he has.”