- May 2017
James Bay hydro-electric project
The James Bay hydroelectric project proposed to construct watersheds along the eastern shores of the Hudson Bay from James Bay to Ungava Bay in Canada. This distance is approximately 750 miles. It would alter nineteen waterways and create 27 reservoirs (Linton, 1991). The first phase of construction, called La Grande River phase, was planned to generate more than ten megawatts, which is the equivalent of roughly ten nuclear power plants. This portion of the project would require large impoundment reservoirs, comparable to the size of the state of Connecticut. The James Bay hydroelectric project was the first “mega-scale hydroelectric project to be built in the sub-Arctic.” The project was proposed in the early 1970s, at a time when “physical and social environmental effects were not taken into significant consideration” (Hornig, 2000). Due to its timing and lack of environmental assessment and research, the James Bay hydroelectric project was compared to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline proposals of Arctic Gas and Foothills within the Berger Inquiry. At the time, during the 1970s, there were few people who actively opposed the construction of the James Bay hydroelectric plant. They included the Cree inhabitants of the area and some environmental activists. However, during the 1980s, after the completion of the La Grande River phase, opposition became more frequent and more apparent as concerns about environmental impacts became more well-known.
Hornig, J. F. (2000). Review: Social and Environmental Impacts of teh James Bay Hydroelectric Project. Natural Resources & Environment, 121.
Linton, J. I. (1991). Guest Editorial: The James Bay Hydroelectric Project -- Issue of the Century. Arctic, iii-iv.
- Apr 2017
James Bay Agreement
The James Bay Agreement was signed in 1975 and was the first agreement on modern land claims under the new Canadian federal policy (Peters 1992). James Bay is located at the southern tip of the Hudson Bay. This large body of water is the ending point for many rivers and provides an abundant ecosystem for wildlife. The James Bay area is also inhabited by the Cree and Inuit Indian tribes, who use the ecosystem and the surrounding resources to survive and flourish. This territory was primarily left alone by the public and few were actually interested in this region (Ma et al., 2005). However, this all change when the territory’s hydroelectric potential was recognized in the 1960s, which brought in a flood of people. By 1971, the Quebec government began construction of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project on lands that were still controlled by aboriginal people. This project would result in the altering the course of 19 waterways and would create 25,900 km as reservoir. The Cree and Inuit tribes were so heavily opposed to the idea of this project because it would result in 11,500 km of their land being submerged. This 11,500 of land was still traditional used for aboriginal hunting and was a primary source of livelihood of the Cree and Inuit Indian tribes. The Quebec government toiled over the decision to build the project and finally decided to go ahead with it on the basis that the project would create tens of thousands of jobs and provide a new trade base for Quebec to export surplus energy.
In the fall of 1972, native peoples applied for a halting of the construction in the James Bay region and by 1975 all construction had been halted. This eventually led to the James Bay Agreement that was signed in 1975. The James Bay Agreement included arrangements of compensation for those indigenous people displaced by the controlled flooding of their land and provided a list of federal and provincial commitments for the future of the north. The agreement ultimately gave Quebec jurisdiction over the land where they wished to build the James Bay Hydroelectric Project and opened the territory for economic development (Peters 1992). In the agreement, the Cree and Inuit were able to solidify their way of life by retaining access to the wildlife on most of the lands in that territory. Also, the settlement called for the encouragement of the Cree to continue harvesting wildlife through cash incentives in the form of an income-security program provided by the Quebec government (Asch, 1993). The Cree were also able to add a provision to the agreement that introduced the idea of creating economic development of “renewable, resource-based industries” (Peters 1992). Through the James Bay Agreement, aboriginal people’s flexibility to avoid or accommodate frontier activity and intrusion is clearly on display.
Caption: A detailed map displaying boundaries and designated categorized lands of Native tribes after the James Bay Agreement and Northern Quebec Agreement.
Source: Government of Canada
Asch, Michael. 1993. Home and Native Land: Aboriginal Rights and the Canadian Constitution. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Ma, Jing, Keith W. Hipel, and Mitali De. 2005. "Strategic Analysis of the James Bay Hydro-Electric Dispute in Canada." Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering 32 (5): 868-880. doi:10.1139/l05-028.
Peters, Evelyn J. 1992. "Protecting the Land Under Modern Land Claims Agreements: The Effectiveness of the Environmental Regime Negotiated by the James Bay Cree in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement." Applied Geography 12 (2): 133-145. doi:10.1016/0143-6228(92)90003-6.