Native Garden of the North

Article excerpt

HUDSON BAY AND JAMES BAY, ACROSS TEE NORTHern reaches of Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, form one of the world's largest seas, fed by the waters of a third of all Canadian rivers. The bays' watersheds cover a million square miles, from Labrador in the east to the Rockies in the west, from the Arctic Circle in the north almost to the Great Lakes in the south. Their waters sustain beluga whales, seals, and walruses, while their estuaries, heath-covered islands, salt marshes, freshwater fens, subtidal eelgrass beds, and ribbon bogs provide nourishment for huge flocks of geese, ducks, and loons. Tundra on either side of the bays provides habitat for caribou, moose, otter, muskrat, beaver, lynx, and polar bear. This wildlife, in turn, supports the traditional Cree trappers and fishers of the James Bay region and, along Hudson Bay, the Inuit and Naskapi. The Cree regard their part of the ecoregion as a "garden" providing for all their needs.

In 1972, with no environmental assessment and over the objections of Native peoples, Quebec's energy corporation, Hydro Quebec, launched the first phase of hydroelectric developments here. By means of nine dams and 206 dikes, the company diverted four major rivers into the mighty La Grande, flooding 7,044 square miles of forested land. This was only the start of the damming and diverting of the rivers in the La Grande watershed, where another 38 dams and 461 dikes are still planned. Thus has begun the most massive and destructive engineering and river-replumbing scheme in history, one that threatens to alter the entire Hudson Bay/James Bay ecosystem and destroy Cree, Inuit, and Naskapi societies.

In Manitoba, hydroelectric dams have diverted two major rivers, and at least ten more dams are projected for three others. The Cree of Manitoba vigorously oppose these plans, having already witnessed the collapse of several of their fisheries and the accumulation in fish of toxic mercury, leached from the earth by floodwaters backing up behind the dams.

A less immediate but very real threat looming over the ecoregion is the "Grand Canal," or "Great Recycling and Northern Development" proposal. …