Day 7 – Chisasibi

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It was our last day of production in the James Bay region.  We took a little while in the morning to get our gear in proper order before heading out; yesterday’s 16-hour day had further impressed upon us the need to have our stuff organized.  We expected today would be another long, but hopefully satisfying day.

On the way to Chisasibi we had good weather, so we stopped a few times to get some landscape shots and footage of power installations that we had been seeing all week but hadn’t had the chance or weather to properly capture.  We stopped at the DC line again, as well, making sure that we had enough coverage of that important feature.  We finally had the chance to see a little wildlife, as well; I nearly ran over a small flock of ptarmigans who steadfastly refused to leave the road.  It was a pretty cold day, but sunny, and I think they were clustering on the pavement to try to absorb some of its meager stored solar warmth.

We had a few options on deck already when we pulled into Chisasibi, and it quickly became a juggling act to fit them all in, particularly as some of the people we were after didn’t stay in one place for very long.  Our first item was to connect with Judy Washipabano, the interim principal of the James Bay Eeyou School at the center of town.  We had been coordinating via phone tag with her on arranging an interview session with a group of students.  She was as busy as one might expect a school principal to be, but she proved to be very friendly and helpful to us, which we greatly appreciated.  We’d sent up a release form for the children’s parents to sign before leaving, and getting those forms back had apparently taken a bit of work; they were still being collected as we were setting up.  One concerned parent called Judy to ask her about the form, which had some legalese in it that was a little daunting; she handed the phone to me and I was luckily able to explain what we were doing, to her satisfaction.

Eric spoke with the kids for about half an hour, asking them questions about their energy supply and consumption, about the development and their lives in general.  For the second time since we’d come to the region, we heard a young person answer the question “Where does your power come from?” with “Water.”  A logical and perhaps even obvious answer if you’re from that region, but one that I don’t think you’d hear very often in Vermont, despite the fact that hydro power is greatly utilized here.  In terms of looking at the personal connection people have (or don’t have) to their energy supply, that answer struck us as significant.

After the school interview, we walked across the way to the building referred to as the “Commercial Center.”  This proved to be essentially a tiny mall, housing a grocery store, a departments store, a central common area and a few other places of business. We walked through the grocery store and were amused to find an ice cream cooler with a Ben & Jerry’s placard on the side.  Unfortunately, it was empty.

Then we went to the radio station, to see if Kevin, the manager, was in.  He had chatted with us a bit after our radio interview on our first day in town and had had some interesting things to say, so we were definitely interested in following up with him.  We ended up catching up with him at the administration center, and sat down for a chat.  He was a former Youth Chief, and we learned that in the Cree culture, you’re considered a “youth” until you are 35 years old.  He was able to give us a perspective from the point of view of the younger portion of the Chisasibi population, as well as his own take on the hydro development.  It might be technically renewable, he told us, but he sure didn’t consider it “green,” despite the acknowledged benefits it brought with it.

Our definite “catch” of the day, though, was Violet Pachanos.  From the first day we arrived in the region, people had been telling us that we needed to speak with her.  Cree people and Hydro-Quebec employees alike told us that she was someone who could tell us a lot about the kinds of things we were looking for.  She was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview.  Quiet, modest and unassuming, she struck me as someone with great intelligence and resilience, but also possessing unbounded warmth.  Her modesty was disarming, but the fact was that we were sitting across from the very first female Chief in the history of the Quebec Cree, as well as the first female to serve as Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.  Despite having such a storied professional history, she spoke of her past with pragmatism and simplicity.  When Eric asked her if young Cree women looked up to her as a positive role model they could follow, she thought about it and said she supposed they might — as if the thought had never occurred to her before.

That evening, we had dinner with Chris at the town restaurant.  I tried my best to procure some local fare, but the only two options I saw (walleye and Inuit herbal tea) were unavailable.  The rest of the menu was very close to what you’d find in any diner in Vermont.  A friend of Chris’s named Roger House joined us, and we got to talking about music.  As it happened, Roger was a musician and had recorded some songs that had found some notoriety abroad — one in particular, “Beaver Man,” supposedly made someone hundreds of thousands in Europe, but Roger wasn’t involved.  He was looking at the legal action he could pursue.  That evening he was setting up a sound system in the adjacent gymnasium for an event, and invited us over to hear some of his songs.  He played them over the PA and we were both impressed by their quality.  I bought a demo from him before we left.

Our last stop of the day was once again the radio station, where we sat down with Chris Napash and talked about our visit.  Eric made sure to mention that we were sorry we weren’t able to interview everyone who had expressed interest, due to time constraints, but we were open to people sending us their stories via our website, Facebook or other means after we had gone.  He thanked the community for being so open and welcoming to us.

We said our goodbyes to Chris in the parking lot outside the station, then got on the road to Radisson for the final time.

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