A group of Wemindji residents is up in arms over Chief Walter Hughboy’s plans to build a series of new hydro-dams on the Maquatua River and to gain more independence from the Grand Council of the Crees.
“To local Wemindji voters, Hughboy’s administration isanti-Cree, and has dearly begun to promote cultural genocide for Crees by keeping them down,” says the group in a strongly worded six-page press release sent to The Nation and other Cree organizations on Sept. 2.
“Hughboy’s 14-year career as Chief in Wemindji has brought no social improvement to the community. His regime has focused only on megaprojects such as highways, dams and mining, while ignoring local social issues such as jobs for Crees, social programs and full community services.”
The group, which calls itself Wemindji Electors Against Separation from the Grand Council, lists the following people as its representatives—Annie Saganash, Angus Georgekish, Elder Sam Visitor, Clarence Tomatuk (who ran against Chief Hughboy in last fall’s Band Council election) and Marion Tomatuk.
The press release starts off with the following headline: “On the eve of the Quebec provincial vote for or against PQ separatism, a renegade Cree Chief plans the collapse of the Cree Nations with his own independence scheme for ‘Wemindji’ in collaboration with Hydro-Quebec and secret backing from Quebec nationalist interests.”
In an interview published in the last issue of The Nation, Chief Hughboy expressed major reservations about the Grand Council’s “preoccupation” with fighting the Great Whale River Project. Chief Hughboy suggested that the Grand Council was stalling Wemindji’s economic development, and said if the situation doesn’t change, Wemindji will be forced to look at its options. He implied that this means Wemindji might take over the mandate it has given the Grand Council to negotiate issues like policing and infrastructure funding.
Chief Hughboy also discussed his plan to build four or five new hydro-dams on the Maquatua River, and to sell surplus power to Hydro-Quebec.
The plan was voted on at a referendum of Wemindji residents on Aug. 26. The results were invalidated because not enough people voted to form a quorum. Twenty-five per cent of electors must vote for the results to be valid.
The dam plan is opposed by the Wemindji dissidents. The dams “will destroy traditional lands which are presently supporting the land-based cultural and economic lifestyle of local Crees,” says the group’s press release.
“Wemindji electors are appalled by the joint-venture with Hydro-Quebec because it will make Wemindji literally the political and financial slave of Quebec’s largest utility, whose projects for the past quarter-century have threatened to impose cultural genocide on the entire Nine Cree Nations, principally to promote Quebec nationalism,” says the group.
The press release goes on to say that “Wemindji electors place blame for lack of jobs in Wemindji squarely on the shoulders of Chief Walter Hughboy himself, citing his lack of leadership and disinterest in vital social issues.”
Chief Hughboy is accused of preferring to hire “non-Crees from Montreal, Toronto and Val d’Or.” The group claims that non-natives occupy 60 per cent of the 230 jobs at the Wemindji Band Council and Band-owned entities.
“His plans are therefore seen as being in direct opposition to the political and cultural interests of the Crees of Wemindji, and of all Crees in general,” says the group.
The group also lambasts Chief Hughboy for his “numerous long speeches on Wemindji Radio, where he monopolizes air time and refuses to allow the broadcast of voices which oppose his leadership.”
The press release also refers to “irregularities” in the Sept. 14, 1993 Band Council election, and accuses Chief Hughboy of blocking efforts by some Wemindji residents to redo the election. Chief Hughboy was elected with 135 votes out of about 355 that were cast. Six other contenders for Chief split the remaining 220 votes.
The group concludes by observing that Wemindji voters are entitled under the Cree-Naskapi Act to rehold community elections one year after a vote.
The group’s fax also includes a copy of a confidential letter from Chief Hughboy to Bernard Poulin, the president of the engineering firm S.M. Group Inc.
The letter informs Poulin that his firm has been appointed as the consulting engineers and advisors in Wemindji’s talks with Hydro-Quebec about the proposed Maquatua River dams.
The letter is dated Aug. 1, well before Wemindji voters went to the polls to vote on whether to proceed with a feasibility study for the dam proposal.
In the letter, Chief Efughboy seems to imply that the dam project may require an amendment to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
“The three hydro projects are not mentioned or contemplated in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement but Paragraph 8.1.2 and 8.19 allows the signatories to amend the Agreement for the inclusion of three mentioned projects with Le Complex La Grande (1975),” Chief Hughboy writes in the letter.