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Eastmain 1-A and Rupert River Diversion Hydropower Project

The Social Impact on Cree Society


The institution responsible for public health within Cree communities is the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB). A general improvement in the state of health of the Cree has been observed since the beginning of the 1970s, due in particular to better health services and sociosanitary conditions. The mortality rate has dropped by 30% and, more specifically, the infant mortality rate and the rate of death from infectious disease have both dropped by 70%. The rate of injury-related deaths among the Crees has dropped by half and is now comparable to the rate in the rest of Québec.

On the other hand, there has been substantial growth in certain health problems among the Crees over the last thirty years. Diabetes, a disease that is relatively new to Cree society, is one of the main public health concerns today. From 1983 to 2003, the number of cases of diabetes diagnosed among Crees 15 years or older grew significantly, from a prevalence rate of 1.9% to 13%. Changes in lifestyle among the Crees, such as consuming less traditional food and more commercial food, and a reduction in physical activity associated with traditional activities, have contributed to a rise in cases of diabetes and excess weight among adults and children. As well, respiratory problems are more common in Cree communities than elsewhere in Québec. The rate of deaths related to cardiovascular disease is now virtually identical to that of the rest of Québec. Between 1994 and 1998, it was 264 by 100,000 inhabitants for the Crees vs. 258 by 100,000 inhabitants for the rest of Québec.

Social problems

A number of social problems have seen a sharp increase since the beginning of the 1980s, mainly, domestic violence, child neglect, juvenile delinquency and suicide attempts. These problems are largely the result of changes to the Cree culture, acculturation, unemployment and alcohol and other substance abuse. In fact, public health officials and many Cree citizens believe that alcohol consumption is responsible for the majority of the problems in the community. As well, their integration at work on the proponent’s construction sites can be difficult, given how far they are from their families and communities, the availability of alcohol in the workcamps and social relations with non-Native workers.

Social impacts of the project on Cree society

As part of the Eastmain-1-A powerhouse station and the Rupert diversion project, the sale of alcohol in the workcamps and the increase in income during the construction phase could result in alcohol abuse among some Crees and a variety of social problems within Cree communities. However, the proponent has committed to putting mitigation measures in place to limit or eliminate alcohol abuse in workcamps. These measures were already applied to the Eastmain-1 powerhouse project. By exercising greater control over access to alcohol, the proponent believes it will be able to reduce alcohol-related problems among the Cree people.

Conditions to be fulfilled by the proponent

According to certain public health professionals, these changes in health and social problems can be explained in part by the opening up of the territory in the face of development projects. While it is difficult to determine the impact of the hydropower development versus other factors on the Crees state of health in such a context, a condition of the authorization certificate is that the proponent works with the CBHSSJB to evaluate the impact of the project on certain determinants of health.

With regards to integration problems among the Crees on construction sites, as required by the northern social and environmental assessment and review procedure, the proponent must inform the ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs of the measures to:

  • intervene among Cree workers having psychosocial problems related to their integration to the work environment;

  • promote social relationships among Cree and non-Native workers;

  • identify problems likely to arise in certain Cree communities caused by the presence of nearby workcamps, as well as the measures that will be put in place to remedy these problems.

The proponent will have to submit a follow-up program on:

  • the consequences of the project for Cree workers;

  • the efficiency of the measures to promote the integration of Cree workers;

  • the relationship between Cree community

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