While Vermont moved quickly this past May to pass a bill that would see Hydro-Québec granted status as a renewable-energy source, no Crees had the opportunity to speak about the projects that have so deeply affected them in the state legislature.
Instead, journalist Keefer Irwin took statements made on Vermont Public Radio (VPR) by Nemaska locals Freddy Jolly and Roger Orr and read them in the legislature.
“The devastation to me, my family and the Cree Nation is substantial. I am a witness and my eyes and heart do not lie,” was Jolly’s statement, according to Irwin’s Op-Ed: A Requiem for Vermont’s Green Stamp. Statements from Roger Orr were also read but according to Irwin, the Cree opposition of the deal didn’t ruffle too many feathers.
Since doing the VPR interview in May, Orr has been getting calls from environmentalists and while he is unaware of the impact of his statements across the border, he stands by them.
Orr, an alcohol and drug counsellor as well as a frontline worker who deals with suicides and other social problems in Nemaska, said he has seen the significant impacts of the rapid development of the north on the people and he is afraid what more could do.
In his VPR interview, Orr said that Vermont giving Hydro-Québec the “renewable” stamp essentially opens the doors for the crown corporation to justify damming up more rivers in Quebec, possibly on Cree territory.
In discussing the message he wanted to give to Vermonters, he compared what has gone on in Cree territory to the impact originally felt during the Industrial Revolution.
“I am one of the few who can speak on the sociological impact of the projects as well as the political and economic. This is because it really has to do not just with the environment, the fish, the bugs and the birds but also with the people who are part of the environment. We have been suffering for a long time because of anomie and now dependency and these are things to be considered,” said Orr.
In Orr’s opinion, the projects may look good to outsiders, because of the development deals made between the Crees and Hydro-Québec, but day-to-day life in his community tells a different story. Orr views the prosperity the Crees have experienced from the big hydro deals as a matter of dependency and that this dependency will only lead to despair.
More so than anything, Orr fears Hydro’s current status as a renewable-energy source could have a snowball effect on his community where, environmentally speaking, there are already a number of problems that have stemmed from the damming of the Rupert River. He described how the water levels in nearby ponds and rivers have dropped dramatically and other stranger occurrences in the Cree communities that have happened as a result of the hydroelectric development impacts.
“For me, if there is going to be a major drop in the rivers and the water all around, of course they are going to try to harness another river to keep feeding their need. This is not renewable,” said Orr.
Coming from the perspective of a substance-abuse counsellor and frontline worker, Orr said he is not only seeing the social impact of the latest hydro development project in Eeyou Istchee, but is fearful of what would happen should the Vermont deal lead to more development.
At that, though Hydro’s damming of the Rupert River changed the landscape of Smoky Hill last fall, while Orr has said he has noticed an impact from this on the people, he knows that this impact will snowball.
“When they realize that they have lost it or that it is just not the same anymore, in the end it will only add to further suppression of anger, hurt and pain but that will come out. In the end it will just add to more despair, more confusion, more anger and so on and so fourth. It will contribute to a loss of culture. When you lose something that was a part of you, it is very difficult to find something else to replace it, especially on the reserves,” said Orr.
Since Vermont decided to move forward in passing its bill that will see Hydro-Québec declared as a renewable-energy source, opposition south of the border has been brewing.
Though more and more Crees are getting calls from the U.S. media to talk about the potential impacts of Vermont’s dealings with Hydro-Québec, whether or not they will have an impact on Vermont politics has yet to be seen.