I don’t usually venture into Montreal’s east end because I’ve never in my 15 years as a resident felt comfortable there. Maybe it’s because of my steadfast refusal to speak French or my recurring fear of being surrounded, isolated and severely beaten by skinheads, bikers, or the typical Quebecois redneck.
You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the welcome that Anishnabe hockey coach Ted Nolan and, more recently, a native team from the Maritimes received when they played in front of ravenous, foaming-at-the-mouth Quebec crowds. I believe it was the words “savage” and “dirty Indian” that were screamed in front of innocent children there to watch a friendly game. Such misdirected hatred.
But I chose to finally face my fears and headed for the Dom Polski centre located deep in the heart of enemy territory to listen to Hydro Quebec’s word of wisdom on the proposed EM-1A and Rupert River Diversion Project. Why, I wondered, would they choose to hold the hearings in such an out-of-the-way location? The paranoid side of my personality told me it was so the Crees and others of their ilk wouldn’t be able to make a show of force and ruin things for everyone. Like they did when Parizeau was forced to put the Great Whale Project “on ice.”
If that was indeed their strategy it worked very well. There were not many Cree faces evident when I entered the dance hall with my Mohawk colleague and bodyguard Steve “The Fridge” Bonspiel, several minutes late. There was Mistissini’s Philip Awashish, Wemindji’s Reggie Tomatuk, Waswanipi’s Johnny Saganash, and two very comely Cree ladies I didn’t recognize. Oh yeah, there was also frequent candidate for political office, Kenny Blacksmith, there in his capacity as simultaneous translator. The rest of the crowd was mostly suits and a few young people who were, judging by their lack of suits and ties, obviously environmental activists.
A Hydro-Quebec spokesman began a song and dance with a quick Powerpoint explanation of the project. It was so professional, ambitious and grand in its scope that even I was almost sold. If their forecast were to be believed, why, the project would actually improve on God’s creation and give the river a much-needed makeover. A Hydro Eye for the Cree Guy, if you will.
Later that dark rainy night, a celebrity friend of mine (Ernest Webb, if you must know) deigned to grace us with his presence. Dressed ultra casually, his entrance caused more than a few curious craning of necks.