Over the decades, the Crees have had many natural-resource projects thrust upon their territory. For as much as the funds have been rolled out in compensation for the use – or rather destruction – of their traditional territory, one thing has been missing in the equation since the times of colonization: control.
The creation of a wind-farm-based Cree energy company would not only generate a source of renewable revenue, it would also seek to produce a form of energy in Eeyou Istchee that is much more in line with Cree values, said Bertie Wapachee.
Wapachee, who is part of the working group on energy and sustainable development for the Cree Nation of Nemaska and its policy advisor, is enthusiastic about seeing a Cree-owned energy project.
Wapatchee became a member of the working group back in 2001. With the Paix des Braves signing, he – like many other Crees – was looking for viable alternatives to the Rupert River diversion.
Selling Hydro-Québec on alternatives to the Rupert River project though proved futile to date. However, the group has remained adamant about the Crees getting in on the bottom floor of wind-energy development.
In spite of these difficulties, Wapachee said the members of the working group are a determined bunch and they have invested a great deal of time and elbow grease going to wind-energy conferences and seminars and researching wind power.
“The best possible scenario is first for the Crees to have their own company and that is the place to start. Looking for partners will be another challenge. Wind power has been one of the fastest-growing industries in recent years and it is still growing. The U.S. is way ahead of everybody now and Canada has become the little brother tagging along,” said Wapachee.
With the Crees occupying some choice locations for wind-energy farms in the north, numerous outside companies have vied to partner up with the Crees. Sky Power, who signed a deal with Mistissini a few years ago, has their hand in the mix. French power giant Suez, who teamed up with GTI Capital under the helm of former Hydro-Québec president André Caillé, has an ongoing deal with the community of Chisasibi. The other Cree communities have not yet inked any deals but Brookfield Renewable Power has been courting them with a non-exclusive deal.
“The first step is yet to happen. We need to create a company and then we need to assess for ourselves who would make the best partner. Though these companies have been coming out to sign deals, it does not mean that they are the best companies. It could mean that they are the best companies for the communities but not for the Cree Nation. They may not have the best proposals or the best approach,” said Wapachee.
At the same time, Wapachee is feeling frustrated because, despite the many proposals to the Grand Council and a great deal of talks about wind power within the Cree communities, a company has yet to evolve and many of the communities are divided over which company to sign on with. The creation of a Cree energy company was one of Grand Chief Matthew Mukash’s campaign promises.
The Nation attempted repeatedly to contact Chief Roderick Pachano to get his take on why Chisasibi is working with Suez and GTI Capital and why he thinks these two companies are the best deal for his community.
Brookfield, though, shared why they believe their deal is the best for the Crees. According to John Kim Bell, who is in charge of Brookfield’s Aboriginal Affairs Effort, Brookfield can do more for the Crees because they want to help set up a Cree energy company and are willing to share their 100 years of expertise in the energy field.
“What we can do that the other companies can’t do is offer transmission, they may not be in transmission but we are,” said Kim Bell.
He also discussed Brookfield’s other assets including 163 small hydro projects across North America. Kim Bell explained that Hydro-Québec – who the Crees would have to sell their energy to – penalizes energy producers who supply them when they fail to make their pre-arranged quota. Wind, after all, is not guaranteed and wind production is weather contingent. According to Kim Bell, with the many hydro projects they own, Brookfield would be able to compensate by supplying enough electric power so that the penalties for the Cree company would be minimized.
Regardless as to which group the Crees sign on with, Wapachee just wants to see some progress made. His dream is that the Crees do not lose out this time when it comes to their precious land and resources.
“If we are going to sign on and sign our life away with one company then we have to be flexible enough to make sure that Crees control their future,” said Wapachee.