Cultural Survival Canada - 15.3

Algonquin of Barriere Lake

It is with great relief that we can inform readers that the tense situation at Barriere Lake, Quebec, has been resolved through negotiation. At the time of our last update, further confrontation at the logging road appeared virtually inevitable. But thanks to last-minute mediation, the Quebec government returned to the bargaining table. As a result, an agreement has been signed to enter into a four-year study of the traditional use of the land by the Algonquin, as well as to protect the forests from indiscriminate clear cutting. The Algonquin have won the recognition of their traditional occupation of the land and now intend to develop a "sustainable development" strategy for the area, as recommended by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development

James Bay

Construction has been delayed once again on the roads and airports into Great Whale in remote northern Quebec on Hudson's Bay. As reported in previous updates, Hydro Quebec, the giant government-owned utility that is determined to dam and divert five rivers around Great Whale, has demanded that any environmental review of the project be split in two - examining the building of "access infrastructure," roads, and airports separately from the dams, diversions, and power stations. While this approach is being challenged in court by the Grand Council of the Cree, environmental review of the roads and airports was to begin under the terms of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The hearings have been canceled, however, due to organized protests and boycotts. The Grand Council of the Cree successfully lobbied to have the question of the splitting of the project heard in federal court; this will begin July 16.

On another front, Hydro Quebec's credibility received a serious blow. Its contracts with aluminum companies had been kept secret as a result of a Quebec court injunction. Gradually, however, details of the contract were leaked to US, Norwegian, and Australian newspapers. When Quebec consumers learned that power would be provided to aluminum companies at less than half of the consumers' cost, public opinion began to turn against the project. Corporate Quebec is fighting back, attacking the Cree for slowing down the project as well as for bringing the "hearing" process to an end. Richard La Hir, vice-president of the Quebec Manufacturers' Association, has been quoted as saying that the Cree are no more than a "marginal group." "The interests of a few hundred people cannot supersede those of millions of Quebecers," he said.

Cultural Survival (Canada) is working closely with the Grand Council of the Cree and supporting their heroic efforts. US-based opposition to the James Bay project has been a terrific boost to our Canadian efforts. We continue to hope that US groups will be successful in forcing the rejection of electric contracts between Hydro Quebec and New York and Vermont utilities.

Assembly of First Nations - General Election

The Assembly of First Nations, the organization representative of chiefs across Canada, met in Winnipeg in the second week of June to select a new national chief after the resignation of George Erasmus of the Dene Nation. During a tense convention that attracted unprecedented in-depth national news coverage, the delegates selected Manitoba leader Ovide Mercredi as head of the AFN. The AFN and its national chief will undoubtedly play an expanding role in Canadian politics. Mercredi has already achieved a significant increase in the role of aboriginal peoples in the ongoing Canadian constitutional debate. Constitutional Affairs Minister Joe Clark has promised Mercredi and the First Nations an independent and powerful role in future deliberations.

Anniversary of the Oka Crisis

On July 11-14, the Defenders of the Pines, the Mohawk of Kanehsatake held a Spiritual Gathering and first annual powwow to commemorate the tragic events of one year ago. In inviting friends and supporters to this cross-cultural event, Mohawk Warrior Joe David wrote: "After the brutality of one year ago, where people were deeply hurt physically, mentally and spiritually, healing is needed.... The gathering offers a positive way to deal with the scars of a year ago and to regenerate the spirit and strength of people."

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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