By Dr. John Bacher
Since the brutal invasion of the America was launched in 1492, a key strategy has been to cultivate a compliant native leadership faction which would give its blessings to massive schemes to disrupt the sacred balance of the natural world.
Most tragically, this involved the assassinations of the great Lakota spiritual leaders, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull by their own people-acts, which were carried out by paid native police agents of the U.S. government.
The same tactics of divide and despoil, which were the stuff of 19th century great plains history, are now taking place in the vast boreal sub-Arctic forest of Canada.
Unfortunately, this compelling drama is both poorly and underreported by the mass media, which relegates the most minimalist coverage of these events to small articles in the back pages, or brief news clips.
Today one of the previously most bold and courageous contemporary native leaderships’ defense of the earth-who a decade ago defeated the ecocidal James Bay Two project, have suddenly reversed course.
The majority of the Quebec Cree political leadership are now prepared to give their consent to the southern half of this ecocidal scheme in exchange for $3.5 billion, payable over 50 years.
The Agreement in Principle (AIP) negotiated in secrecy between 20 Cree Chiefs and Quebec government must go through a ratification process-possibly a referendum-before it becomes legally binding. A critical feature of the AIP is that the Cree Nation gives its “consent” to “the carrying out of the Eastmain hydroelectric project and the Rupert’s River diversion project.”
One feature of the AIP is that Quebec will give the Cree a 350,000 metre wood allocation over the next five years. The AIP’s proposed payments over the next 50 years, much like the annual grants under the currently and highly disputed and litigated James Bay Agreement, are not automatic, except for a provision that there will be a $23 million sum this year and $46 million granted in 2003.
The Cree will also be expected to pay for services now paid for by the government of Quebec, most notably, environmental protection.
While annual payments are projected to be $70 million starting in 2005, this schedule has important variables. These are quite deliberately intended to encourage the Cree to permit more industrial scale resource extraction in their fragile homeland.
Based on revenue sharing concepts, the Cree will receive payments which “reflect the evolution of activity in the James Bay territory in the hydroelectricity, forestry and mining sectors.”
This will mean economic punishment, such as jeopardizing housing construction, for any future Cree leadership that decides to restrict such extraction out of concern for environmental impacts on the delicate and poorly understood boreal forest ecosystems.
While many environmentalists who have worked with the Cree to protect the Rupert’s River have been silent since the about face by the Cree leadership in the October 23rd signing ceremony at the Quebec legislature between Moses and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, one who has spoken out is the Mohawk activist, Danny Beaton.
Beaton, who has served as a runner for the Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Traditional Circle of Elders, previously arranged for visits to Toronto by the Cree and Innuit leadership to express their opposition to James Bay Two, over ten years ago.
Beaton was shocked by the abrupt turn by the Cree leadership. He believes, “Nobody really has any right to say how the earth on this continent should be managed except Native Americans. It is the biggest disappointment and the greatest loss when Indians decide its time to sell rivers, land, trees, and our animals. Who will listen to us when we speak out for Mother Earth and Peace when there are people acting as developers.”
Beaton remains unmoved by the argument of both Ted Moses and the now Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief, Matthew Coon Come (who earlier lead Cree oposition to James Bay Two) in favour of the AIP.
“Today Matthew Coon Come and Ted Moses are trying to convince the Cree Nation that the development of Mother Earth on a grand scale is important. Ten years ago, Matthew Coon Come joined forces with Ted Kennedy, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, and countless others to denounce Hydro-Quebec’s decision to create mega dams over Cree Territory.
“The projects were stopped ten years ago because it was common knowledge that mega dams were a threat to Cree culture and were so stated by Coon Come in the New York Times in a full page ad. Matthew Coon Come said that to destroy Cree land was to cause genocide to the Cree people,” Beaton laments.
“What Ted Moses and Matthew Coon Come are doing is giving a bad example to native people across the Americans that destroying the land and rivers is acceptable. I know traditional natives across the continent are totally bewildered by this new initiative. The real threat in this situation is that for many years native people were looked upon as protectors, first environmentalists, noble and honest.
“Now the red man wants to divert rivers, kill bird migration, destroy caribou habitat, fish life and life itself. This is an example of priorities. This is an example of $3.5 billion dollars for the rape and pillage of the Rupert’s River and of the Spirit of Creation. To destroy Mother Earth now is to destroy the real hope of our children’s future. Every one that has a conscience and spirit must speak out for justice and peace if there is to be a balance for survival.”
In defense of the AIP, Teb Moses told Will Nichols, editor of the Cree magazine Nation, that it “would be safe to say that we don’t lose anything.”
Coon Come has also praised the AIP for revenue sharing. He has compared Moses to a successful caribou hunter who has “brought something” in for his people.
Much outrage was expressed in community meetings that were held a few weeks after the Quebec City signing ceremony. Brian Zeinicker, in a Nation article reported that, “Once the ice was broken, the trickle of speakers turned into a flood. If the residents were shy about speaking it didn’t show. The line behind the microphone was five deep at times. As the meeting progressed things became more heated. The community pressed the Grand Chief and his team for answers, their biggest concern being the environment.”
At one point, one of the youth approached the head table to present Ted Moses with a laminated poster and quotation, attributed to a Cree prophecy, that he had signed in the past. The Grand Chief read the quotation aloud.
“Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”
Following the eruption of protest in Cree communities Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash and Deputy Chief Josie Jimiken of Nemaska broke rank with their colleagues. This ended the initial isolation that Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff experienced among the Grand Council of Cree Chiefs for his early opposition to the AIP.
Jimkin’s views on the AIP are “short and bitter.” He believes, “The Grand Chief guided and assisted by his legally and technically advised logic and reasoning and his narrow minded myopic views of Cree Nation Economic Development has started tearing out the sacred contents of the hearts and members of the Cree Nation and throwing them into the cold and desecrated waters of Eeyou Astechee.”
Muskash, who was a key advisor to Coon Come in the successful struggle against James Bay Two, has warned that, “unless we concentrate on the big picture, what we are faced with is the ongoing process of “colonization” and the effect of “oppression” that comes with it – we are going to destroy ourselves.
Oppression is inter-generational and it plays a huge role in our reactions to the actions of governments, our leaders, and its’ very damaging.
The most overpowering effect is fear. Fear is the greatest tool of the colonizer. Its effect is the following: you get a sense of worthlessness, helplessness, depression, paranoia, distrust, sleepless ness, unable to focus at home, in the workplace, harassment, anger, breaking up friendships, relationships, divisions within families, churches, leadership and so on. It is now very damaging and we are its victims. Quebec must be laughing very hard now.”
Mukash expresses solidarity with “those families who are still out on the land knowing that they might lose part or all of their trap lines and even the sites in which they their loved ones may be buried.”
He sees the AIP as a ominous “wake up call to protect the Earth and much more.” Mukash feels “the fishes, the little ones on the land, the animals, the birds, the rocks, the little creeks, the lakes, the rivers, the trees that remind of the One Above-all manifestation of the Spirit of Tsey-manitou… are calling for help!”
Alternatives to the AIP
The alternative to the AIP Muskah believes will be clear in time, if the Cree continue to protect their lands from the onslaught of industrial development.
This will cause their lands to become more valuable for what they are-intact wild ecosystems. Mukash pleads that, “There will be another deal. We have to realize that we, the Eeyouch, are sitting on trillions and trillions worth of natural resources in the last untouched wilderness in North America, and the whole world will be after them in the future. We are sitting on a gold mine.”
Cree foes of the AIP are being joined by non-native environmentalists in the James Bay region. Moses at a public meeting in Nemaska was rebuked for racism by many in the audience since he disconnected the environment concerns raised by a non-native school teacher.
Eric Gagnon, who operates a small adventure tourism company, has formed a Rupert’s Reverence Coalition to fight the diversion. He seeks to show Cree leaders that “non-natives can also stand up to defend the land.”
Like Mukash, Gagnon sees great potential in ecotourism as an alternative to short term employment in constructing hydro electric power projects. He believes that “should the international tourism market know more about what is offered here, we would soon run out of guides, of hotels and time to host tourists.
“Consider also the potential for homeopathic remedies that the Crees know about. This is a vast untapped market. There are the Wellness journeys that we have heard about. I know many Quebecers who would pay to go on them and the European market would be huge if we all worked together for the good of the region. These are all good examples of joint, sustainable, sound avenues of development, adapted to local cultures and regional environment.”
Ecologists concerned with the survival of migrating waterfowl and caribou are deeply worried about the AIP. Compared to the still dead and more northerly Great Whale division scheme, the Rupert’s River project has long been viewed by environmentalists as more severe in its ecological consequences.
The impacted watersheds are more biologically productive, providing critical habitat for moose, caribou and beaver. Their rich forest would release record levels of mercury if the planned fllod takes place. The diversion of the Rupert’s into the Broadback would greatly increase its flow and vulnerability to erosion.
By cutting the Rupert’s off from Rupert Bay, salt marshes which provide habitat to several million waterfowl during spring and fall migrations would dry up.
One of the biggest consequences of activism today would be of help in killing the bribe of the new century – the AIP.