News of the talks to revive the Great Whale hydro-electric project is taking Crees by surprise.
Few Cree officials or community members had heard of the hush-hush discussions until contacted by The Nation.
Crees we spoke to opposed the proposed project and worried about the effects on Cree trappers, hunters and fishers.
“It’s news to me,” said Nemaska Chief George Wapachee. “I’m not aware of it.”
“No, I never heard about that,” said another chief who requested anonymity. “It’s the first time I’m aware of it.”
“It’s news to us,” said Thomas Coon, president of the Cree Trappers’ Association. “We never heard about reviving that project.”
The idea of a 100-percent Cree-owned hydro-project on the Great Whale River was first proposed two years ago.
The proposal was made to Cree Construction president Steven Bearskin by AMEC Inc., a large Toronto-based engineering firm owned by British conglomerate AMEC pic.
AMEC Inc. has already worked on other dams, including Laforge-2, China’s controversial Three Gorges dam and Colombia’s equally controversial Urra dam.
An AMEC official asked The Nation not to print a story about the proposal because he said an agreement could be signed with Crees inside a month or two.
The proposal was to divert the Great Whale at its headwater. Lac Bienville, through a canal into the La Grande dam complex.
The chiefs and band councils of Chisasibi and Whapmagoostui have been secretively discussing the idea since last fall.
Under the proposal, Crees would be full owners once the debt is paid off.
This notion raised questions for the chief who requested anonymity.
“How long is that going to be? Three hundred years? We’ll probably all be dead by the time it’s paid off,” he said.
Whapmagoostui resident Robbie Dick, coordinator and advisor to the Cree Regional Elders’ Council, was one of the few people who had heard of the proposal. But he hasn’t heard much.
“My personal position is I’m against hydro-projects – even if I’m alone,” said Dick.
“It doesn’t matter who owns it. I don’t want to be part of it.”
Dick said the project would make it difficult for community members to navigate on the river, would hurt the drinking water supply, and damage animal and fish habitats.
He said AMEC officials came to Whapmagoostui last September to discuss the idea at a community meeting. But the meeting was held during goose break and many community members were in the bush. “There were hardly any people at the meeting,” he said.
The proposal was to be on the table at a community general meeting last week.
Thomas Coon agreed that trappers would have many concerns: “The Whapmagoostui trappers were very con-cerned about the (original Great Whale) project. I’m sure they are still very concerned.”