The Eeyouch of Eeyou Istchee
A documentary series

"We were always led to believe that we didn’t have any rights. We were just squatters on the land. First of all of course you believed it, and later you start to think: Why are we just squatters? We’ve been here thousands of years…" -Robert Kanatewat

The Eeyouch of Istchee traces the history of the James Bay Cree of Northern Quebec from 1971 when Robert Bourassa announced his "Project of the Century" – the damming or diverting of all major rivers in Eeyou territory, to the present in four powerful episodes. The series speaks to the social, political, economic, and spiritual life of the Eeyouch as they defended their rights and built a modern Eeyou nation.

The story is woven together from a multitude of Eeyou voices, not always in agreement with each other, as they relay memories from their own perspectives. This film series is a powerful educational resource for the younger generation, showing where the Eeyouch have come from, what they have experienced, fought for and accomplished, what lessons they have learned, and what advice they have for the future.

Together We Stand Firm

This episode covers the period of time from the first announcement of Bourassa’s Project of the Century. to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The emphasis is on the young leaders who were asked by community elders to lead the fight.

Asserting Eeyou Rights

While massive development projects steam ahead, Eeyou communities are facing major health, housing and sanitation problems. Unemployment is high. In the midst of this the Eeyou leadership is establishing new institutions (Health Board, School Board, and Cree Regional Authority) and developing programs that will lead to greater autonomy. This episode covers 25 years of struggle between the Eeyouch and the Federal and Provincial governments and their crown corporations. The Eeyouch win some battles and lose others as they hone their skills as strategists and negotiators.

Nations on the Edge

It’s 1989. While the battle to get the federal and Quebec governments to honour their commitments under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement continues, Cree communities struggle with inadequate resources for housing, social programs, and economic development. Meanwhile, profits from resource extraction (hydro, forestry and mining) on traditional Cree lands are flowing south to fill Quebec coffers. When Quebec announces the go-ahead for more major hydro projects, the Crees object, saying. “There will be no more dams until the governments honour their commitments.” This bold statement was followed by a bold campaign to outmanoeuvre the Quebec government. Quebec shelves the Great Whale project but announces a referendum to separate from Canada. Again the Crees rally with a media campaign that says if Canada is divisible, so is Quebec. Relations between Quebec and the Crees are at an all-time low. Restrained fence-mending and direct dealings with communities ensue, coloured by questions about whether events will jeopardize the unity that has made the Cree Nation strong. This episode covers the Cree story from 1989 to the end of the 90s.

Negotiating Nation to Nation

The dawning of the 21st century is a watershed period in the building of the Cree nation. On the political front, intense negotiations with Canada and Quebec lead to the signing of new agreements that promise increased autonomy and greater economic stability for the growing Cree nation. However the new agreements come at a price that some Crees consider to be too high. Once again the nation is tested as. emotions heat up over further hydro development This episode documents the challenging terrain of nation building and takes viewers into the offices, homes and recreational centres in Eeyou communities to see and hear how life has changed - or not changed under the JBNQA. The series ends with political leaders and community elders outlining future challenges and offering words of guidance to the next generation.

A lot has been said about the Eeyouch of Eeyou Istchee and the largest hydro-electric project in the world. Hear the story through the words of the elders, in this powerfully moving documentary series.