Prolongement du corps social, l'espace est un ampute potentiel. Mais il est aussi la cave ou le grenier, le lieu ou sont entreposees les richesses futures. Et parmi celles-ci l'hydroelectricite qui, non seulement occupe une place essentielle dans l'economie actuelle du Quebec mais qui, de plus, occupe l'une des places fortes du champ symbolique quebecois. Autrement dit, ce qui est en cause dans la relation entre les Autochtones et les autres Quebecois a la Baje James et dans toutes les regions ou il est question de harnacher des rivieres, c'est l'integrite territoriale mais c'est aussi le developpement economique et l'image que les differentes communautes du Quebec se font de leur avenir. (Vincent 1988, p. 239)
In talking about hydroelectricity as an economic as well as symbolic resource for the people of Quebec, Sylvie Vincent points to the conflicted geography of hydroelectric development in the province, especially since the beginning of the James Bay project in 1971. Indeed, the tapping of the region's hydroelectric potential for purposes of economic development was also the tapping of divergent Cree and Quebecois geographical imaginations and their corresponding physical spaces. Within these geographical imaginations, water flows freely through any purported division between nature and culture: a 'natural' resource, it is also the product of the social, political and cultural aspirations of two self-determining peoples. Imagined from southern Quebec, the geography of hydroelectricity has displayed a set of neocolonial relations, forming a mental map where objects are named and placed in hierarchical relationships with each other. The main floor is to the attic in the same way that culture is to nature, white to native, South to North. As elsewhere in Canada, the global geography of development is here turned on its head, since it is the resources of an underdeveloped North that are channelled south to feed the power grid of large Canadian and American industrial centres (Cohen 1994, pp. 35-36).
For the Francophone population, the dialectic between northern and southern Quebec is an important building block of the national and historical memory (see Morissonneau 1978; Hamelin 1980, 1998; Lacasse 1985; Courville et al. 1996; Courville 2000a,b). If, in the nineteenth century, movement towards the North enabled the pushing of the settlement frontier, that expansionist drive was pursued into the twentieth century more specifically under the rubric of 'development'. (1) For the Crees and other native inhabitants of the region, there is nothing abstract or imagined about this spatial order that channels resources away from local populations. (2) When the initial phase of development was undertaken on the La Grande river, the building of roads across the territory accompanied that of power lines; it is through these conduits that hydropower, as well as important forestry (and some mining) resources, flows from Eeyou Istchee towards the Quebec population belt and beyond. (3) Cree people have taken part in those economic activities through employment and through their own companies, yet much work remains to be done to increase that involvement and achieve an equal balance of participation.
Although a territorial agreement was signed between the Crees and Inuit and the governments of Quebec and Canada in 1975, the new land-use regime it put into place has been regarded as largely inadequate to implement equal partnership with local communities in the development of the region. (4) The dualistic geography of North and South then seems to have placed the population of each sphere at the end of a relationship of production that keeps them apart by virtue of keeping them connected; and yet, even as it separates them economically, hydroelectric development aspires to bind people and places into a single territory. The desire for territorial integrity in Quebec finds a powerful symbol in the hundreds of kilometres of power lines that run along the territory, seemingly weaving together regions that could otherwise drift apart. For all the conflicts it has generated, the hope remains that hydroelectricity can act as a go-between linking James Bay and Montreal, Cree and Quebecois, North and South, through the mutual empowerment of each. When the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) agreement was signed, North and South were optimistically represented in the Quebec press as a unified geography, linked by their power lines if not by their cultures, the main floor and the attic to be sure, but still two parts of the same house. More recently, the public witnessed a similar attempt to create unity rather than division through the shared exploitation of resources in James Bay. On 7 February 2002, a new agreement was signed between the Quebec government and the Crees of Quebec that seeks, once again, to harmonise relations between the two parties. At both times, 'nature'--whether understood as resource, environment or economic potential--has acted as a key agent in the shaping of a new and quickly evolving political geography in northern Quebec.
I want to explore this evolving political geography in James Bay by examining the production of Quebecois and Cree national boundaries in and through their interaction with nature. (5) I will do so by analysing the changing relationships around resource management in the region: first, I look at the 1970s when a first phase of hydroelectric development was undertaken on the La Grande river; second, I discuss the early 1990s when another phase of development was meant to go ahead on the Great Whale river and was subsequently aborted because of organised Cree opposition; finally, I examine these phases in the light of the recent signing of 'La Paix des Braves', which was presented as an agreement 'from nation to nation' (Le Gouvernement du Quebec and the Crees of Quebec 2002, p. 1). Owing to the encounter of Quebecois and Cree nationalisms in James Bay, I suggest that the pursuit of an equitable framework of economic and environmental management has necessitated negotiation not only over land resources but also over scales of political citizenship. Furthermore, the development, since the mid-1970s, of international structures for protecting indigenous rights has linked in several consequential ways this 'domestic' debate to the global scale (see Soyez and Barker 1994; Soyez 1995a, 1996; Bellier and Legros 2001; Legros and Trudel 2001; Morin 2001). An important lesson James Bay teaches is that, in contexts where past colonial relations continue to unfold into the present, struggles for political recognition are fought in the environmental arena through culturally specific constructions of nature, land and resource management. The production of nature and natural resources is simultaneously the production of national identities and territories: In this process, the meanings attached to nature by each cultural group are constitutive of the practices of development. Although they are physical entities, natural resources are also socially produced through the historical processes that guide their access and exploitation by different social groups: 'Resources are not; they become'. (6) The latter forces us to see nature as always simultaneously natural and social: here, water, trees or fish are both the symbolic and material ties that bind different national identities and materialise their boundaries. (7) While these may not always be 'boundaries' in the traditional geopolitical understanding of the term, these new lines of power clearly hold sway over the future of Eeyou Istchee, Quebec and Canada as political entities, in addition to determining their common environmental future.
James Bay, Act I: La Grande
James Bay is home to the Eastern James Bay Crees, a traditionally nomadic people who have hunted, gathered and fished across the territory for thousands of years. The earliest dated signs of occupation (near the La Grande and Caniapiscau rivers) are 3,500 years old, but archaeologists have estimated that human presence in the area precedes this by 2,000 years (Morantz 2002, p. 29). Following contact with Europeans in the early seventeenth century, the Crees became active in for trade, with the result that various trading posts established throughout the territory became permanent communities (Francis and Morantz 1983; Scott 1992; Duhaime 2001). Today, there are nine permanent villages in Eeyou istchee, four coastal and five inland, with a total Cree population of 13,000 people. Despite their long-ranging occupation of the territory, the Crees were excluded from the initial decision-making process concerning hydroelectric development. When Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa initially announced the damming of the La Grande River in 1971, he did so without an environmental impact assessment and without consulting with the local population who would be directly affected by the ensuing ecological change. (8) The La Grande Complex consists of eight powerhouses and five reservoirs for a total installed capacity of approximately 12,000 MW. The Crees and Inuit obtained a court injunction to stop the project in 1973 (see Malouf 1973); it was quickly overturned, and construction was resumed, but the court battle and the negative publicity it generated led the government to negotiate a settlement with them which became known as the JBNQA, signed in 1975. While the agreement was generally celebrated by the Quebec and Canadian governments as a progressive document that would enable a new era of social and economic development for the Crees, other more critical leaders, advisors and activists have insisted that the agreement is only as good as the context of its negotiation. Seeing that the project was going to go ahead with or without their consent, the Crees and Inuit had little choice but to engage in negotiation. Furthermore, in trying to assert a legal claim to the lands they inhabited, they needed to demonstrate, in accordance with the Quebec civil code, that they retained usufruct rights in James Bay, that is, they had to show proof of its continuing use for subsistence purposes as well as of the predominant role of wildlife resources in their economic organisation. As Alan Penn has noted in a critical assessment of the JBNQA prepared for the Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, this focus on the preservation of a hunting economy to gain recognition of Aboriginal title in James Bay has had repercussions in the overall design of the agreement: '[The Agreement] was therefore not designed around the needs of an expanding and diversifying native society (Cree or Inuit), and it certainly did not address the problems of equity and participation in the subsequent development of natural resources in the James Bay territory' (Penn 1995b, p. 18). Although the agreement sought to create a framework of resource management where economic development and traditional lifestyles could coexist, the implementation of this vision has been greatly hampered by the pressures, limits and contradictions of the original context of negotiation (Feit 1980; Vincent et al. 1988; Diamond 1990; Mainville 1993; Penn 1995a; Saganash 1995).
Another important factor of this initial context is the political atmosphere of the time in Quebec. Stretching between the Quiet Revolution and the first referendum for sovereignty, the initial phase of the project (1971-1979) coincided with a wave of nationalism in the province that had its roots in the 1960 election of Liberal Jean Lesage and his 'equipe du tonnerre'. After 16 years of Maurice Duplessis' conservative rule, Lesage's arrival brought about the secularisation of the provincial state and the deployment of a series of in-depth reforms that would gradually redefine social institutions and reshape the character of Quebec society, especially for its francophone members. The central plank of his second election platform in 1962 was the nationalisation of electricity, which was advertised as the 'key to the kingdom' that would put the francophone majority of Quebec in control of its own territory, industry and development (Hogue et al. 1979, p. 277). Since its creation in 1944, Hydro-Quebec had gradually expanded its management expertise through the building of other large hydroelectric schemes, notably on the Manicouagan river which showcased local skills in both technical and aesthetic design. (9) The role of Hydro-Quebec and hydroelectricity as agents of decolonisation and national pride for the Quebecois is well known: in ushering a new era of social and …