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A state report to the United Nations Committee for Economic Social and Cultural Rights

Research by Craig Minowa

The second phase of the James Bay Project in Canada was approved in 2002, despite the fact that the first phase of this project, consisting of hydroelectric dams along the LaGrande, Eastmain and Rupert Rivers, destroyed an estimated 176,000 acres of indigenous Cree lands, an area the size of former West Germany.

In 1980 2,715 villagers of the Cree Nation of Cisasibi were forced to evacuate their homes on the island in the mouth of the LaGrande River, as the increased water flow from the StJames project would wash their island away. This community has been the most negatively affected by the hydro-electric projects as the prime family hunting grounds have been flooded.

Most of these families have now relocated upstream from the mouth of the LaGrande River. Depending on the power demands upstream, river flowage is increased and decreased by as much as 20 times the normal rate. This sporadic adjustment of flow lead to the drowning of 10,000 migrating caribou on Cree land in 1984. Although never to the same magnitude, sporadic flooding and changes in flow rates have lead to similar tragedies ever since then. The number of indigenous Cree who have died in these floods has never been determined.

Currently, the Inuit and Cree living near the St.James Project are gradually being forced off of their lands as methyl-mercury levels, leached from the land by the dams’ flooding has raised toxicity levels in the fish and water to over six times what is considered safe.

According to Chief Matthew Coon-Come, the agreement between the Cree and the Canadian government to allow the St. James Project only came about after the northern Cree gave in, "feeling that a gun was pointed at our heads."

Billy Diamond, who was twenty-two years old and newly appointed chief of the Rupert House Crees when the struggle against the dam began, has said:

If I had known in 1975 what I know now about the way solemn commitments become twisted and interpreted, I would have refused to sign the agreement. Protection of the environment in Northern Québec has been a farce.

Throughout the past decade the Cree and Inuit have suffered increasing rates of government use of their lands, including clear-cutting of the forests, mining and damming of rivers. The water around Ouje-Bougoumou First Nation has now been poisoned by mine runoff. Quebec reneged on many provisions of the original agreement and held up payments. The indigenous peoples have fought back by appealing to the public, to international bodies, and to the courts. But the cost from these lawsuits, particularly focused on the issue of stopping the second phase of the St.James project, have now put the Cree in debt over $3 billion.

A spokesman for the Innu, Gary Bellefleur denounced the St.James phase II projects in 1998, saying:

There exists already 15,000 megawatts of hydroeclectric power from installations in Innu territory, and the reservoirs total approximately 4,500 square km., excluding the 6,700 square km. in Smallwood. We have already paid too much. We were never consulted or even informed when the dam at Churchill Falls began, and we were never compensated for the damage from the flooding. Our people lost not only our lands and possessions when Mishikama was flooded to create the Smallwood Reservoir, but also a part of our history and identity as Innu. We will accept no more developments imposed from the outside.

In the original plan for St.James phase II, extensive damming was to be done along the Great Whale and Nottaway-Broadback-Rupert Rivers. This would have been the second largest construction project in the world (second only to the Three Gorges project in China). The Rupert portion of that project, alone, would have flooded 8,000 square kilometers and destroyed three rivers, including the entire Rupert. Fortunately, Cree negotiators were able to reduce the extensiveness of that plan, only by working directly with the Province of Quebec. The Canadian government continued to adhere to a policy of avoidance of acknowledgement of indigenous forced evictions and violated rights.

Despite years of resistance by the Cree and Inuit, construction of Phase II of the St.James Project has now begun although negotiations between the Cree Grand Chief (Ted Moses) and the Quebec government will at least lead to a reduction in damages to Cree lands, in comparison to the original St.James Phase II proposal. It starts with a 1,200 megawatt EM-1 dam, which incidentally, is being constructed on the Cree Grand Chief’s family’s hunting lands---and follows with the EM-1A/Rupert Diversion Project,. A total of approximately 1,000 square kilometres of flooding of Innuit/Cree land from these dams will force evacuations of indigenous Cree villages, flood hunting and burial grounds, and leach methyl mercury from the soils into the waterways, fish, wildlife and inhabitants of the area. The native Cree communities to be impacted include the Nemaska (306 residents) and the Eastmain (483 residents). If the currently proposed Great Whale dam complex is approved, similar flooding impacts will be felt in the Cree Nation of Whapmagoostui (720 residents) and the Innuit community Kuujjuaraapik (579 residents)

In a November 26, 2002 speech in London, the newly elected Grand Chief of the Cree Nations spoke about these new dams and the manner in which the Canadian government’s policies continue to seek extinguishment of indigenous peoples:

In 1999 this policy in Canada was condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee and Canada has given it commitments that it will end the practice of extinguishment. In spite of this, Canada continues, as we speak, to demand extinguishment, increasingly in the form of a policy that freezes aboriginal rights and denies future recognition of rights as determined by constitutional change or by the Canadian or International Courts and denies aboriginal access to the courts to assert these rights. Canada has yet to take up our invitation to recognize this fact and to fundamentally change its policy of extinguishment for a policy of inclusion and cooperation.

Sources: Grand Council of the Crees, National Atlas of Canada, Kiluutaq Primary School (Umiujaq) Web site , Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Canadian Geographic, James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Cree Cultural Institute, Ottertooth, Peace of the Braves Treaty, Hydro-Quebec and Hydro-Ontario hydroelectric project maps and statistics resource.

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