Iiyiyuuschii - Our land
Iiyiyuuschii is the traditional territory and homeland of the Crees of northern Quebec. Sometimes written “Eeyou Istchee,” the term means “the land of the Iiyiyuu/Iinuu” (people). Two-thirds the size of France, Iiyiyuuschii includes the lakes and rivers that drain into eastern James Bay and southeastern Hudson Bay. This enormous territory embraces a wide range of environments, from the salt marshes and islands of the coastal zone to the upland areas far inland, and from the dense, coniferous forests in the southern areas to the sparsely-treed tundra further north. For the Iiyiyuu/Iinuu, all of it - the lands and waters, the plants and animals - is sacred, as illustrated by the following statement from a Cree elder:
“Now it is my turn to talk. The place where we go to hunt is just beautiful. When we look at the land and where we made a living, we always remember who created it.... The land was there long before we were born. It was like this for the people who came before us. God made the earth before he created humans. He also made what we needed to live on, for the good of our health and for our children. We had to raise them in a healthy environment and have enough to feed them.”
And for this the Iiyiyuu/Iinuu are forever grateful.
Since the 1950s, forestry and mining activities, and the towns of Chibougamau, Chapais and Lebel-sur-Quévillon that have sprung up to support them, have had a serious impact on many of our traplines in the southern part of Iiyiyuuschii. Then, beginning in the 1970s, our lands and rivers have been under continuous assault by extensive hydroelectric development projects throughout our territory. We strongly regret the destruction wrought by any of these projects. For as an elder from Eastmain explained, losing the land and the animals it is home to “is like losing a loved one.”
Because the land means so much us, we strenuously resisted new plans to dam our rivers and flood our lands. However, in 2002, our people voted, by a slim majority, to accept the “Paix des Braves” 1 which offers Crees a fuller partnership in the development of the territory, and training and jobs for our youth. The agreement also permits the development of EM-1 and EM-1A – Rupert Diversion hydroelectric projects which – sadly – have affected many Cree hunting territories. Although Cree opinion is still divided on the benefits vs. the costs of these projects, the Cree Nation has worked extremely hard to ensure that they disrupt traditional Cree use of the land as little as possible.
- 1. Agreement Respecting a New Relationship Between the Cree Nation and the Government of Quebec