The 850km Cree Protest March Against Uranium Mining in Quebec
By Lotte Frencken
In contemporary society, Indigenous peoples around the world are endangered by the “[d]evelopment of industrial culture and mass tourism” (Alagia, 2014). Namely, governments worldwide claim and interfere in territories for economic benefits, while these territories are populated by Indigenous peoples. Consequently, numerous indigenous peoples have lost their land, their culture, or even disappeared completely (Alagia, 2014).
A few years ago, a similar project was launched by the government of Quebec. The Plan Nord was designed to develop Northern Quebec, but included ideas that meant an interference in Indigenous peoples’ territories. However, when “Jean Charest promoted the industry as part of the Plan Nord, saying as many as 20 uranium mines could be developed in the North,” the James Bay Cree Nation declared the consequences would be disastrous to their culture, and undertook action (East & Barde, 2014).
The James Bay Cree Nation declared that uranium mining in their land, Eeyou Istchee, would be destructive to the their community’s water, land, and even culture. The Cree Nation has stated that it “supports and participates in natural resource development on their territory when it is responsible, sustainable and respectful of Cree rights” (“The ‘Stand Against Uranium’,” 2014). Jean Charest’s plan to develop uranium mines, however, was not one of those developments. For instance, the Chief of Mistissini, Richard Shecapio, argued that the risk of radioactivity poses a threat to the natural resources in the area (Scott, 2014). This would not only have environmental consequences, such as the endangerment of waters and forests, but it would also jeopardize the wellbeing of the territory’s inhabitants and wildlife (Rocha, 2014). Additionally, the mining would also affect the daily lives of the land’s inhabitants as their culture is closely connected to the environment that surrounds them. For instance, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come stated that the Cree “engage in […] traditional activities on an extensive network of hunting and trapping grounds”(East & Barde, 2014). Therefore, the Youth Grand Chief Joshua Iserhoff argued in an open letter that the only way to respond to the plan of developing twenty uranium mines is by opposing it (Iserhoff, 2012).
Consequently, some members of the James Bay Cree Nation decided to raise awareness and deliver their demands personally to the government of Quebec. So, in December 2014, a group of Cree members marched for three weeks from Mistissini to Montreal, a distance of over 850 kilometers (Coon Come, 2015). Their message was clear: “NO to uranium mining and exploration in Eeyou Istchee,” and they came all the way to Montreal to deliver this message to BAPE, Quebec’s agency for environmental protection (“James Bay Crees Launch,” 2014). At the time, BAPE was “holding the last of a series of public hearings on uranium exploration,” so the marchers were just in time to demand a ban on the government’s plan (Cree walkers,” 2014; Scott, 2014).
The Wolverine: The Fight of the James Bay Cree
The Cree achieved their goal of raising awareness as their story received national coverage, and the community got the support of many Quebecers in their demand that Eeyou Istchee be free from uranium development (Vendeville, 2014). More importantly, however, is that BAPE recommended the government of Quebec to block the current operations with regards to uranium mining (“Quebec Uranium Commission, 2015). According to Chief Shecapio, this blockade is not merely a win for “First Nations, but for Quebecers as well’,” since many use Northern Quebec’s nature as a weekend getaway. (Rocha, 2014).
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