The Quebec Government proposed an immense hydroelectric power station in the James Bay region in the early 1970s. It initially encountered vehement opposition from both the Inuit population and the much larger Cree community. After many years of construction and operation, it is now generally accepted that the project has been to the benefit of the native Cree and Inuit populations, as well as to the overall advancement of the entire population of Quebec, in terms of economic self-reliance.
It is also generally agreed that traditional Cree activities in the region had been on the decline at the time, as was the population. Once begun, the project immediately created not only jobs, but a significant step forward for the original inhabitants of the area. The Inuit and Cree bargained hard in exchange for their historical rights to the site, and after decades of debate and many stalemates between the citizens of present-day Nunavik and several administrations of Quebec Government, it can be safely said that everyone got a fair deal.
Jobs, cash remuneration, and the infrastructure created to support the project were finally deemed to have been satisfactory by all concerned. Wherever this was not entirely true, compromise has maintained harmony.
But even more importantly, the process of negotiation itself demonstrated that Quebec's native population was a force to be reckoned with and to be respected for their historical rights to the land where they had lived almost since the dawn of history.
The social and economic impact of the James Bay project remains a turning point in the history of Quebec and all of Canada.
And it all began in Nunavik.
Things to see and do
The La Grande hydroelectric station remains a marvel of modern engineering. The gigantic proportions of the installation must be seen to be appreciated. For information on guided tours of the station, we suggest you visit Hydro-Québec's website.
Photo credit: Gabriel Ducasse