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Series: Hydro Power in Cree Country

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The wild Rupert River is already straddled by distribution lines
The wild Rupert River is already straddled by distribution lines

Electricity bound for NY, VT comes at a cost for the Cree

Beginning today, North Country Public Radio will air a series of special reports about a part of the world that feels very remote: the Cree Indian territory in northern Canada.

Back in the 1990s, New York's then-governor, Mario Cuomo, canceled a $15 billion deal to buy hydroelectric power from Quebec. That move effectively killed a project that would have built a network of dams and reservoirs along the Great Whale River, near James Bay. That was a victory for the Cree and for their allies in the environmental community. But now Hydro-Quebec is moving forward with a new project that will uproot and rechannel another northern river. Supporters say it's an engineering feat that rivals the Trans-Alaska pipeline, one that will supply cheap, carbon-free electricity to consumers in New York state and Vermont. As Brian Mann reports, the Rupert River is sacred to the Cree who live nearby.  Go to full article
St. Lawrence University's Outdoor Program has been exploring James Bay rivers for ten years
St. Lawrence University's Outdoor Program has been exploring James Bay rivers for ten years

Wild trout on the Wakwayokastic

Over the next several days, we'll be featuring voices and landscapes from the James Bay region of northern Ontario and Quebec. Last spring, Brian Mann paddled the Wakwayokastic River, near the Cree village of Moose Factory. Brian sent this audio postcard of a sunny afternoon spent trout fishing with guide Brian McDonnell.  Go to full article

Archive 1992: looking back over 20 years with the Cree

In the '90s, attention was focused on the James Bay 2 project, the second of five phases of Hydro-Quebec's plans at the time. The plan was for a massive impoundment, an area roughly 180 by 800 miles. Environmentalist and First Nations peoples were pushing back. While reporting on the controversy, Martha Foley talked with Nicholas Smith, an Ogdensburg librarian who had visited the Cree in northern Quebec over 20 years, starting in 1969. He visited often, sometimes alone, sometimes with his wife and daughters. He brought wonderful scrapbooks of those years for an interview at our studios. He paged through them as he talked about the people he had gotten to know, and what they told him. The Cree he met in 1969 had some modern conveniences, like kerosene and outboard motors. But they were still living largely as they had 400 years ago. Here's the conversation, broadcast January, 14, 1992.  Go to full article

NY pushes back against federal power corridor

New York officials are asking the federal Department of Energy to reconsider designating much of the state as part of the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor. Martha Foley reports.  Go to full article
Thomas Jolly in his office in Nemaska (Photo:  Brian Mann)
Thomas Jolly in his office in Nemaska (Photo: Brian Mann)

In one life journey, the modern history of the Cree

North Country Public Radio has been looking at the impact of massive hydro drams on the Cree Indians of northern Quebec. But construction of those dams is only the latest collision between the Cree and the outside world. In the course of a single lifetime, the Cree peopple have made a remarkable -- and sometimes painful -- transition. They've moved from a traditional, nomadic lifestyle to full engagement with modern culture and technology. Until the 1970s, native children in Canada were forcibly removed from their villages and their families. They were placed in residential boarding schools, where they were punished for speaking their native languages or practicing their people's religions. Thousands of children were physically and sexually abused. Thomas Jolly made this journey and has come full circle. He grew up in the bush, moved south to live in Canada's cities, and then returned to the remote Cree community of Nemaska. Jolly, who works now as an economic development planner, told his story to Brian Mann.  Go to full article
Phil Royce on a wild northern river (Photo:  Barrett Miles)
Phil Royce on a wild northern river (Photo: Barrett Miles)

For SLU outdoor team, a decade-long journey north

For ten years, St. Lawrence University has been sending students north into the James Bay region of Quebec and Ontario. The James Bay Canoe Expedition is led by Phil Royce. He's a veteran whitewater guide and heads the school's outdoor program. This year, Royce led a team of eight paddlers down the Wakwayowkastic River. His audio diary from the trip was produced by Brian Mann. We also heard from students Jon Angus and Barrett Miles, who graduated from SLU this year. In ten years of the James Bay Canoe Expedition, there has never been a serious injury.  Go to full article
The wild Rupert River will soon be altered radically.
The wild Rupert River will soon be altered radically.

On a wild Quebec river, wolves, caribou and the encroachment of industry

Last November, Brian Mann reported on plans to dam and divert the massive Rupert River in northern Quebec. The project, developed by the provincial utility, Hydro-Quebec, will provide hydroelectricity to consumers in New York and Vermont. His story was recognized with an Edward R. Murrow Award. Last week, Brian returned to paddle the Rupert again. He made the trip as part of a documentary project called "Encounters." Here's his reporter's notebook.  Go to full article
Rupert River diversion was a massive industrial project rooted in Quebec's wilderness (Photo:  Brian Mann)
Rupert River diversion was a massive industrial project rooted in Quebec's wilderness (Photo: Brian Mann)

As Northeast looks to Hydro Quebec for power, thorny environmental questions remain

Northeast states are increasingly looking to Canada to meet a growing demand for low cost hydro electricity from renewable sources.

But the energy imports are stirring controversy. In northern New Hampshire, local activists are fighting a power line that would send the electricity south. And questions are being raised about whether big hydro is really green.

As part of a collaboration of Northeast stations John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio reports.

Northeast environmental reporting is made possible, in part, by a grant from United Technologies. Northeast environmental coverage is part of NPR's Local News Initiative.  Go to full article

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Click to download short video
Click photo to download short video.
Brian Mann is no stranger to the far North, both in Canada and the U.S. NPR asked him to cover hydro-electric development in Cree country in northern Quebec, where the desire for carbon-neutral energy resources comes into conflict with aboriginal rights, spiritual practice, and wilderness preservation. Thursday, 11/8 through Monday, 11/12/2007, NCPR will focus on these issues in a special series broadcast during the a.m. 8 O'Clock Hour and the p.m. All Before Five news programs.

Resources:

Brian Mann's coverage of Quebec hydro development with additional photos and resources on the NPR website

From the CBC Archives: the James Bay Project and the Cree
 

Map showing the history of James Bay hydro development. Source: Wikipedia.

Watersheds affected by the James Bay Project (Grande-Baleine, suspended in 1994; La Grande; Nottaway-Broadback-Rupert (NBR), 1972, suspended; Rupert, 2004, environmental assessment in progress).