Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau brought a clear-cut message to Mistissini January 11: billions of dollars of heavy industrial development is coming to Eeyou Istchee. Left unsaid but certainly understood was that the Crees can either jump on board or get out of the way, but either way the environment of Eeyou Istchee is in store for further upheaval.
About 150 Crees, Grand Chief Coon Come and several other community chiefs met with Normandeau and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Pierre Corbeil January 11 in Mistissini to discuss Quebec’s plan to develop the territory above the 49th parallel.
It was one of many meetings that Normandeau will be participating in throughout the north to talk directly to the 64 communities that will be directly affected by the Plan Nord. Most of the communities are Cree, Naskapi, Innu or Inuit.
In Mistissini, Normandeau explained what industries Quebec wants to see develop and how much the province might invest. There were few specifics, however.
For the Cree territory portion of the Plan Nord, Normandeau said that Quebec is particularly interested in the energy development sector with mining and tourism development also part of the mix.
“I confirmed to the Crees that over the next few years that we are going to be investing $50 billion in the energy domain in the area that the Plan du Nord is slated, to develop 300 megawatts in wind power energy. Because they already have an interest in this, I told the Crees that there is an opportunity for your communities to develop projects in wind power,” said Normandeau.
She did not elaborate when it came to discussing new hydroelectric developments but implied that there was certainly interest in it. She also said that whether the developments were in hydroelectric or wind power energy generation, these would be opportunities for the Crees to improve their current situation.
Normandeau claimed that the projects in the Liberal government’s ambitious Plan Nord follow sustainable development principles with respect for land and its ecosystems.
How a proposed massive uranium mine in the Otish Mountains region north of Lake Mistissini would be respectful of the land was not explained. Normandeau did note that she heard of opposition to this project during the question and answer period of the meeting in Mistissini.
Though Normandeau confessed that she was no expert in the area of uranium mining, she reiterated that no project would happen within the Cree territory that the Crees did not want to proceed.
Mistissini Deputy Chief Kathleen Wooten said at the meeting that she felt like the Cree had been caught with their pants down as people are trying to catch up with the government’s desires. Wooten said many people told her that the deal just sounded too good to be true and therefore they are approaching the controversial plan with caution. This rang particularly true after reading the government’s documents that talk about turning part the land in the north into protected park while developing a significant portion of the same region.
“I was sitting there thinking that Mistissini is negotiating the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish national park project as a protected area right beside an area that is slated to be developed for uranium mining,” said Wooten. “They are talking about uranium mining, diamond mining and all of that kind of stuff but there is no buffer zone between these two areas.”
Grand Chief Coon Come spoke of how the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the Paix des Braves provided blueprints for future development deals with Quebec. But he noted that there is still the danger of falling into previous patterns of paternalism and marginalization, and the resulting social conflict, mistrust and litigation.
“The message which I have today for you, Madame Normandeau and Mr. Corbeil, is that the Cree Nation and the Government of Quebec have a special relationship – a relationship which flows from our ground-breaking and historic agreements,” Coon Come said during his speech. “Let us together reaffirm that special relationship and let us return to a principled nation-to-nation approach in a spirit of mutual respect, a spirit of good faith and a spirit of mutual trust.”
The full details on what Normandeau and the government are looking to develop have yet to be revealed.