The Cree just make it into the Arctic; they are on the border of the line made in the Arctic Human Development Report. They live in James Bay, which is a region of northern Quebec, in the northeastern part of Canada. Its area is a vast wilderness area and can only be reached by a single road. The remoteness is immense.
The James Bay Cree count around 12.000 people who live in nine communities from 550 in population to around 3300, the Chisasibi. The fewest live in Nemaska, 560 in total. Much like in the Arctic region as a whole, the population has been growing.
This has resulted in a change for the Cree, especially regarding food. With more population they have adjusted by importing more food so they would not harm the environment and endanger stocks of species they hunt.
The Cree have lived off their land for 9000 years for food and resources. Among other they hunt geese, ducks, moose’s, beavers, otters, lynxes, fish, beavers, muskrats and waterfowls.
They speak their own dialect but have learned English in schools. Their dialect is only one of few indigenous people’s languages in Canada which is not in endangerment due to few speakers. The majority of the Cree are Christian and they emphasize egalitarianism.
They respect the competence and needs of the individuals and in their world humans and their societies are a part of the universe. It is made up of social beings. Animals are willful beings and phenomena and objects as well.
For the Cree their main problems are regarding forestry clear-cutting, pollution of the land, the movement to declare the province of Canada a country separate to Canada and the one that made the Cree famous amongst indigenous peoples around the world, and a true example for them, the hydro projects.
The shock of one of the biggest hydropower projects in the backyard of the Cree must have came as a shock to the people, learning from it in newspapers in 1971. “I feel like I have been punched,” one of them said about the decision.
They started a campaign against the project but it was too little and too late. A court case in the years 1972-1973 stopped work on the hydro project for a short time but in the end the project started again and was completed. In 1975 the Cree signed a treaty, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, giving the Cree ownership rights to areas around their communities, exclusive hunting and fishing rights over a large territory, regional self-government powers, cash compensation and other privileges, in exchange for allowing Hydro-Quebec, the power company, to proceed with development.
The Cree benefitted from the project in other ways. Hydro-Quebec invested heavily in infrastructure in the area so the Cree gained more social welfare and health care for example.
They were pioneers in seeking their rights for the land they have lived on for thousands of year as indigenous people. They became leaders in the struggle to gain international rights and an example for others. As well as gaining symphony from the rest of Canada and people all over the world because their land was being destroyed for electricity, the Cree raised awareness in nature and the roles of humans in the environment. The Cree raised discussions by the public and gained much attention and raised questions about large development projects.
Change in the Arctic has been and remains constant. Not only are there changes in the nature but for the people in the Arctic as well. Often these go together as earlier stated about Greenland. The culture and society of the Cree has been changing like most indigenous societies in the north. I think they adapted to circumstances, learning how to live of the land as it changed. It a species came in, they learned how to hunt if they could and would, with Moose for example. Because of that, as I states in the text, change itself is not a threat to Cree. They have adopted very well, for example with the growing population and import of food. Some indigenous people have died out because of changes, the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR) states.
The Arctic Human Development Report says that human colonization in the Arctic is comparatively recent; it started at least fifteen millennia ago. From what I have learned, there are two major changing points for the Cree. First was the introduction of colonization of Europeans in the 17th century. The Europeans wanted fur and the Cree became dependant on the Europeans for steel tools, cloth, guns and powder which they used for hunting for the fur and later food like tea, flour and. The World War II changed many things in the Arctic and for many cultures; totally new living habitants and concepts were introduced. That was the case with the Cree. After the Second World War, fur prices fell. That meant dramatic transformation in the social-economic organization of the Cree.
Decreasing fur prices altered the function of the posts and the Cree had to settle in the government sponsored communities. They became the centers for schools, medical aid, family-allowance cheques, and subsidized housing. This further increased the number of Cree living near the posts. The villages, however, lacked a Cree identity. This is very much in line what happened elsewhere in the Arctic. The AHDR states that mandatory school education was introduced after the war and many children had to move to border schools to get education. The Cree were the same, they were unhappy about letting the children go and minimizing the use of their lands, but in the same time they did want their children to go to school. The Cree learned English in schools, which they gained very much from. The AHDR also states that health care vastly improved in the Arctic, which was the case with the Cree, and the same with wage employment and cash economy.
As mentioned earlier, the villages lacked a Cree identity, but the Cree always stood by their use of the land, even when the government told them that hunting was a dying way of life. The government stated that energy resource industries, mining and forestry were the future. The Cree disagreed. They did not want that, unlike Greenlanders for example who rely heavily on hydropower. The government has failed miserably and the Cree are many unemployed. Only five members of the Cree wanted to work for the Hydro power project in their own land. The AHDR states that it was common in the Arctic that symbolic values were being maintained or even increased after WWII, which is exactly what happened with the Cree. They never stopped hunting, even if it was not theyr sole living bread.
The trading posts created a new generation of Cree´s, based on the young generations who went to school together. New communication was introduced, joint decision making with the establishment of the Grand Council of the Cree and new regional leadership.
The second thing as a major change for the Cree was the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975. That gave the Cree money which they used to change. They used some of the compensation fund for agreeing to the Hydro project to be completed to purchase several businesses. That included a regional airline, a construction company, community buildings and food and dry good distributor. That led to a new society that changed and suddenly restaurants were opening, taxi services, gas stations and even hardware stores. I think this is a key in the history of the Cree, how they used the government money.
Drivers for social and cultural change are amongst others technological innovations, and contacts with other populations, according to the AHDR. This is what happened for the Cree after the agreement was signed. They gained more technological awareness and because the constructor of the hydro project had to build, on demand from the Cree, new roads, that led to more contact with other populations.
The Cree felt autonomous when they could use their land. That was under threat in the Hydro projects.
They value their autonomy and have shown how they have taken steps toward even more autonomy with the changes in their culture. To be autonomous you have to be self-sufficient, and the Cree are making their way.