For thousands of years, the Cree people have thrived in the territory of James Bay in Northern Quebec, living off animals, plants and clean water. The Crees’ resilience and ability to adapt have evolved a culture of deep connection to the earth. Through the seasons, they migrated across the land, following the animals they hunted, under the guidance of appointed tallymen. Their job was to make sure animals were hunted properly and only in proportion to what was needed, so as not to disrupt the natural balance between the land species.
In 1971, life as the Cree people of James Bay knew it came to an end, with Premier Robert Bourassa’s announcement of Quebec’s James Bay Hydroelectric Project. As electricity began to flow, floodwaters and pollution spread quickly over 10,000 square kilometers of James Bay. Communities were forced to relocate and say goodbye to the now damaged rivers, fields and forests that had nurtured their ancestors for generations. Over the last decade, a partnership between Wimindji Cree and McGill scientists pioneered the idea of recognizing ancient wisdom, traditional ecological knowledge, or TEK, as a key component of environmental science. Perhaps this partnership can save the Cree population and their sustainable ways.