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Eeyouch (James Bay Cree)

Eeyouch (James Bay Cree)

Eeyou Istchee (James Bay), Quebec



“Eeyou Istchee” is the traditional territory of the Crees of northern Quebec (the Eeyou). The term means “the land of the Eeyou/Eenou (the people)”. The Crees have lived in this homeland, located in Boreal and Taiga ecozones, for thousands of years. There are more than 18,000 Crees, with 16,000 residing in nine Cree communities, and a tenth community is currently in the process of being established. The Cree traditional territory covers 400,000 km2, and the whole territory is used by the Crees for traditional activities of hunting, fishing and trapping. Under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) (1975), there exist three categories of land in Eeyou Istchee: Category I lands are for the exclusive use by and administration of the Crees; Category II lands are areas in which the Crees have exclusive hunting, fishing, and trapping rights, but no special occupancy rights; and Category III lands are those shared by indigenous and non-indigenous people. Eeyou Istchee has more than 300 traplines (family hunting territories), hundreds of mineral claims, several mining projects, and has experienced major impacts from hydroelectric developments since the 1970s.
Map of hydroelectric activity in Eeyou Istchee. Source: Chantal Otter-Tetreault and Colin Scott, CICADA conference presentation 2015.
In the 1960s, the Quebec government announced three hydro projects: the LaGrande project, the Great Whale River project, and the Nottaway-Broadback-Rupert (NBR) project. The Crees were not properly consulted about these projects, so in response they established the Grand Council of the Crees in the 1970s. The Grand Council of the Crees is constituted of Chiefs from all nine Cree communities. The disputes between the Crees and the government of Quebec in the early 1970s resulted in the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in 1975.

In the late 1980s, Quebec proposed the Great Whale hydroelectric project. The Crees felt that Quebec was not upholding the agreements made in the JBNQA, so in response the Crees protested and successfully managed to shelve the Great Whale project for many years. In 2002, the Crees and Quebec signed the Paix des Braves. With this agreement, the Crees were able to influence Quebec to not follow through with the NBR project to its full extent; the NBR project was replaced with the Eastmain-1-A-Sarcelle-Rupert project, thus ensuring that less land was flooded.

Wemindji forest. Source: Katherine Scott.
Wemindji forest. Source: Katherine Scott.

Christopher Beck, representative of the Department of the Environment and Remedial Works under the Eeyou Protected Area Committee, works in partnership with CICADA on issues of forestry and protected areas in Eeyou Istchee. On Eeyou Istchee, there has been over 70,000 km2 of forestry development, with more than 2,000,000 m3 of wood harvested per year. In order to permit this high level of forestry, over 15,000 km of roads have been built in the area. Five Cree communities (or 125 traplines) are affected by forestry, while 16,000 non-Crees live in a small number of resource-based towns in this area.

Eeyou territory covered by Chapter 3 of “The New Relationship Agreement” between the Government of Quebec and the Crees. Source: Cree Quebec Forestry Board (CQFB).

Sociologist Sara Teitelbaum explained at the 2015 CICADA conference that Quebec forestry legislation does not have provisions for consultation with indigenous peoples about forestry activities. Some of the major effects of forestry include pollution from pulp and paper mills; destruction of wildlife habitats; dumpsites from forestry camps; and increased access into Eeyou Istchee from major roads, which increasingly introduces sport hunting, mining, and hydroelectricity to the area. In the 1990s, the Crees felt that forestry was become a threat to their culture and territory.

Dumpsites from forestry camps are one of the major effects of forestry. Source: Sara Teitelbaum, CICADA conference presentation 2015.

Chapter 3 of the 2002 Paix des Braves agreement created an “Adapted Forestry Regime” with provisions for the improved harmonization of forestry activities with the Cree traditional way of life. The Adapted Forestry Regime provides for special management standards including mosaic cutting and minimum forest cover requirements, and outlines areas of special interest for wildlife, to maintain the habitat of key species such as moose, beaver, fish and caribou.

READ: Paix des Braves – Chapter 3 Adapted Forestry Regime (Cree Quebec Forestry Board)


Protected Areas
Protected Areas in Eeyou Itschee. Source: Cree Nation Government.

Designation of lands that are protected from industrial development has been increasing in Eeyou Istchee since 2003. Some of the areas were developed and proposed by Cree communities, while others were established by the Quebec Government without adequate consultation and input from the Crees. At the grassroots level, the Cree Nation has developed the Cree Regional Conservation Strategy. The main goal of the strategy is to create an interconnected network of conservation areas in Eeeyou Istchee, in order to safeguard the Cree way of life and sustain biodiversity. Further, the aim is to ensure full Cree participation in conservation areas planning and management. Wildlife conservation and food security are key elements of the strategy, and the best of Cree knowledge and conservation science is being used in this process.

Wemindji. Source: Katherine Scott.
Wemindji. Source: Katherine Scott.

The Marine Region Protected Areas are a group of Cree-established marine conservation sites. As explained Colin Scott at the 2015 CICADA conference, it is an artificial construct to separate marine and terrestrial territories in the creation of protected sites, yet this is the political reality. The Tawich Marine conservation Area was developed in Wemindji and proposed to the Federal Government in 2009. Shortly thereafter, the Crees voted in favour of the Eeyou Marine Region Lands Claims Agreement. Implementation of this agreement involves land use planning and the creation of protected areas. Implementation structures and staffing are currently being put in place to ensure that coastal communities are properly consulted.

Broadback Watershed Protected Areas Proposal. Source: Chantal Otter-Tetreault and Colin Scott, CICADA conference presentation 2015.

Chantal Otter-Tetreault, Environment Analyst with the Grand Council of the Crees and CICADA indigenous partner, mentioned that one site that many northern communities are very keen to protect is Lake Bienville. This is an area that is slated to become a hydroelectric reservoir. The Crees are actively engaged in difficult negotiations with Quebec to protect this important marine site, as well as other marine sites that are part of the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan. Besides identifying and establishing terrestrial and marine protected areas, the Crees have been very strategic in accepting and rejecting mining projects on their territory. In recent years, they have accepted a gold mine near Wemindji and a diamond mine near Mistissini; however, they have placed a moratorium on uranium mining in Eeyou Istchee.

READ: Forestry and Protected Areas in Eeyou Itschee (INSTEAD presentation, 2014) – Christopher Beck

Cultural Projects
Nothing Wasted – Wemindji poster

Sammy Blackned of the Cree Nation of Wemindji has been in partnership with PhD candidate and Heritage Research Coordinator Katherine Scott to assist in Wemindji’s realization of a Wemindji Cultural Museum. Katherine has helped in the documentation of cultural practices and, together with the community, she has assembled a book detailing the community’s process of making Shaashtichishaan, a Cree delicacy. Sammy, Katherine, and PhD candidate Geneviève Reid are also assisting in the community’s project of documenting traplines for the Museum, as well as traditional clothing, crafts, and cooking practices.

In the Culture Camp, yarn is used to create strings for thick mittens to protect against cold winters.
In the Culture Camp, yarn is used to create strings for thick mittens to protect against cold winters.


Cree Nation of Wemindji

John Bishop has been working with the Cree Nation of Wemindji at the Cree Nation Government Place Names Program, which began in 2013 with the purpose of establishing a Cree language commission and safeguarding the Cree language. The project focuses more specifically on the traditional names of geographical entities, such as communities, trap lines, or lakes. As Bishop states, the project is mainly a proactive effort given the high rates of Cree fluency in Wemindji. The project is concretized through a geographic database of maps which indicate not only traditional place names, but also bits of information that help explain the linguistic and cultural history of those names. As such, the database deals with more than just one type of information, but also any type of multimedia which can add a layer of understanding to the name. The project is also a response to the inadequate maps of the region provided by the Canadian government, which may not only present names in incorrect Cree spelling, but also change traditional Cree names to English or French ones. At CICADA’s 2016 Meeting, Bishop stressed:

“As that shift to maps is becoming more and more prominent, you’re seeing more and more people using French and English names to orient themselves and losing the Cree names which are much richer in terms of communicating history, ecology, all kinds of important aspects of Cree culture.”


As such, the goal of the Place Names Program is to produce maps specifically geared for the use of Cree individuals and for the maintenance of their language. Part of the reason why maps are being increasingly used in Cree communities is due to the gradual loss of traditional knowledge. Sammy Blackned of the Cree Nation of Wemindji mentions at CICADA’s 2016 Meeting:

“Because of all of these conditions that we have to abide by in contemporary society, we are limited to the amount of time that we can spend on land, and as a result, that takes us away from our traditional knowledge teachers, so it limits the transmission of our knowledge to our younger generations.”

Therein lies the importance of the Place Names Program, whereby the knowledge originally transmitted through a traditional lifestyle is now being passed on and preserved thanks to new tools and technologies.



Colin Scott, Director of CICADA and INSTEAD, has worked extensively with the Eeyouch. He has studied indigenous and non-indigenous co-management in development projects and has focused specifically on this topic in relation to “The New Relationship Agreement” between the Eeyouch and the Government of Quebec.

Wemindji partner meeting.
Wemindji partner meeting.
Colin Scott, Director of CICADA and INSTEAD.
Colin Scott, Director of CICADA and INSTEAD.

“In what circumstances and by what means do resource “co-management” regimes, beyond casting Aboriginal representatives in a merely advisory or consultative role vis-à-vis the state, facilitate real power sharing?”

-Co-Management and the Politics of Aboriginal Consent to Resource Development: The Agreement Concerning a New Relationship between Le Gouvernement du Québec and the Crees of Québec (2002)

READ: Co-Management and the Politics of Aboriginal Consent to Resource Development: The Agreement Concerning a New Relationship between Le Gouvernement du Québec and the Crees of Québec (2002) – Colin Scott (2003)


Monica Mulrennan, Concordia University.
Monica Mulrennan, Concordia University.

Monica Mulrennan, a CICADA academic partner, has also done work with the Eeyouch. Her work has looked at the ways in which the Eeyouch have modified their landscape in order to maintain and enhance desirable conditions for hunting in the face of environmental change.

“While landscape modifications are motivated by a desire to increase resource productivity and predictability, they also reflect an intergenerational commitment to the maintenance of established hunting places as important connections with the past.”

Securing a Future: Cree Hunters’ Resistance and Flexibility to Environmental Changes, Wemindji, James Bay

READ: Securing a Future: Cree Hunters’ Resistance and Flexibility to Environmental Changes, Wemindji, James Bay (2010) – Jesse S. Sayles and Monica Mulrennan


Nicole Fenton, UQAT.
Nicole Fenton, UQAT.

CICADA partners Nicole Fenton, along with Hugo Asselin and MA student Mhaly Bois-Charlebois, has done research on the appropriate compensation for resource extraction, specifically gold mining, in Eeyou Istchee. In her research, she has engaged with Eeyou community members in order to gain an understanding of the Cree perspective on ecosystem services.

READ: Compensation des impacts des industries extractives basée sur les services écologiques (2012) – Mhaly Bois-Charlebois, Hugo Asselin, Nicole Fenton




Associated Projects

Dialogues on Sustainability

Environmental Impact Assessment and Social Impact of Mining in Eeyou Istchee, Nunavik, and Nunavut

Indigenous Engagements with Mining in Canada and Guatemala: Developing Refined Understandings through Collaboration and Comparison

Protected Areas Development and Environmental Stewardship, Eeyou Istchee (Crees of northern Quebec)

Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives