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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 08:56 GMT 09:56 UK
Canadian Indians' dam pay-outs begin
Grand Chief Ted Moses (left) and Quebec Prime Minister Bernard Landry
The deal was negotiated in secret
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By the BBC's Mike Fox
In northern Quebec
line

The Cree Indians of northern Quebec are to receive the first payment of part of a historic $2.2bn deal to settle decades of legal battles with the Quebec Government.

In return, the Cree are allowing environmental assessments to start on a huge new hydro project.

The deal
Cree get S$2.2bn in Quebec funds
All Cree legal claims are dropped
Dam creates 8,000 construction jobs
Work starts in 2004-2005
Quebec also gets forestry and mining rights
For the first time, the Cree will receive at least $44m a year for the first 50 years of this agreement, including royalties from the hydro projects on their ancestral lands that generate over half Quebec's electricity, and from forestry and logging.

But many Cree are angry that hundreds of square kilometres of hunting land will be flooded.

Sacred land

This new agreement between the Cree and the Quebec Government was negotiated in secrecy between the leaders on both sides.

When it was announced, it was a shock to most of those in the 12,000-strong Cree nation.


I don't see this as betrayal. The fact is, a lot of those young people don't live off the land, and trying to live off the land is not economically viable any more

Former chief of Chisasibi, Violet Pachanos

Many felt that it went against their belief that the land is sacred and must not be harmed.

"The land is the base of our strength, and if we give up too much, there might not be enough to use to protect the land that might be left there," said Abraham Rupert, the Chief of Chisasibi.

In the recent referendum on the agreement, Chisasibi was the only community to vote against it. The deal was approved - although with a low turnout only a minority of the Cree actually voted in favour.

The Cree leadership successfully argued that the agreement protects much of their land while allowing the Quebec Government to divert a river and flood hundreds of square kilometres of hunting-grounds to boost production in the existing La Grande complex of dams near Chisasibi.

Betrayal

The Cree have spent decades fighting against proposals to build more hydro schemes on their land, and many feel they have now been betrayed by their leaders.

But the former chief of Chisasibi, Violet Pachanos, disagrees:

"I don't see this as betrayal. The fact is, a lot of those young people don't live off the land, and trying to live off the land is not economically viable any more," she said.

Until very recently, the Cree were a nomadic hunting people, but in the last few decades they have settled into communities with modern houses and services.

Many are battling to cope with that transformation, and jobs are scarce.

The new money will make a material difference, but many Cree fear that the connection to their ancestral lands may be weakening.

See also:

24 Oct 01 | Americas
Quebec Indians agree dam deal
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Canada
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