2006 MoCreebec: the historical background of a new community

2006 MoCreebec: the historical background of a new community. unpublished document prepared to inform a court case that never happened.

May 27, 2006

Me Jean-Sébastien Clément


1, Place Ville Marie

37th Floor

Montreal, Quebec

H3B 3P4

Dear Me Clément:

This is further to our meeting of May 11, 2006, and subsequent discussions.

As requested, this is the anthropological expertise concerning the standard of living of the Inhabitants of the Moose River Basin, 1920-1970 which you mandated me to prepare. I will explain that, although the Cree Indians of James Bay differ regionally in their language dialects and culture histories, they have historically been quite capable of moving from one region to another. Further, I will explain that the modernizing effects of the 20th century have in several important ways increased this mobility, at the same time that other modernizing influences have caused the Crees to become more sedentary, moving into year-round villages as the cash economy increasingly displaced the hunting economy.

The first part of the report deals with the human geography of the James Bay region, that is, the language dialects and cultural divisions of the James Bay Cree peoples. The focus here is on the mobility and interrelations of the groups of Crees whose normal loci of particular river drainage areas did not constrain them from traveling, intermarrying or relocating to other James Bay locations.

The second part of the report deals with major modernizing influences including 1) the cash economy, including transfer payments, 2) intrusive hunting by outsiders causing food-animal population fluctuations, 3) rail and air transportation, 4) natural resource exploitation, and 5) Federal and provincial administrations, as these and related factors impinged on the James Bay Crees.

As discussed, I have reviewed the Re-Amended Motion for Declary Relief dated September 14th, 2004 and the Defence of the Defendant, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) dated February 16th 2006.

My conclusions come from a variety of sources, particularly John Long’s articles on Treaty Number 9 and related topics, James Morrison’s, "Hydro-Electric Development and the Aboriginal Peoples of the Moose River Basin: a History", Toby Morantz’ The White Man’s Gonna Getcha, J. W. Anderson’s Fur Trader’s Story, Regina Flannery’s Ellen Smallboy and journalr articles, articles in The Beaver and The Moccasin Telegraph, A. J. Kerr’s Subsistence and Social Organization in a Fur Trade Community, J. J. Honigman’s Foodways in a Muskeg Community, and the references cited herein.

Part One: Some aspects of the Human Geography of the James Bay region.

In the 1920’s, Moose Factory was in decline from its high point as the headquarters of the Southern Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trade empire. James Bay had been a focal point and a starting place of this “empire” and throughout the nineteenth century had become a community of trading posts pursuing a trade of gradually diminishing profitability. Nevertheless, large ships still delivered trade goods and supplies and took away furs. Smaller sloops (small ships) moved people, farm animals and supplies around the Bay east to west and west to east in the summer months. Trading post village residents could visit other villages without cost by hitching a ride on the next sloop. People, therefore, often had a wide knowledge of the Bay and often also established family ties beyond their home communities, as is still the case today.

Canada remained remote, far to the south, but already (1880’s) the transcontinental railway (CPR) had brought the Canadian frontier to a mere few days travel by canoe or by dogsled. The Company had a diminishing supply of furs coming in, and had “downsized” twelve families of Cree and Metis [KAS1] employees, ordering them south to find work along the railway.

For the Indian trappers, the animals that were their food source and also their fur source were in serious decline. Moose Factory was the point of connection to Canada for the entire James Bay region, where furs went “out” and goods, non-Indian people (White trappers, prospectors, scientists, adventurers), diseases (tuberculosis, measles, whooping cough, influenza), medical and education services, religions and ideas came “in” to their homeland. While the bush remained “home” to the Crees, who sojourned at a trading post only for a few summer weeks (up to a month or two), the modern world’s presence was seen and felt most strongly at Moose Factory. The modern world included an Indian agent/medical doctor year [KAS2] round, although he made only annual trips by boat up the two coasts. Disease was a virulent and lethal misfortune especially when combined with starvation. (Preston 2001)

To the south beyond Moose Factory, adventurous or simply curious Crees might find larger towns with more goods and activities than the fur trade post villages. Sales of furs for cash rather than Hudson’s Bay Co. credit could be done with small independent traders or by trekking to one of these frontier towns. Jobs were found working for the Whitemen, and little clusters of Cree families sprang up along the rail line from Moosonee south to Cochrane. Larger enclaves [KAS3] of Cree emigrants grew up in CPR towns such as Cochrane, Kapuskasing, and Mattice.

Traditional Cree boundaries were about midway between Rupert’s House (Waskaganish) and Moose Factory, with the major river drainages serving as population centers for “Y-dialect” speakers (Rupert River drainage and the rivers to the northwards up the “East Main”) and “L-dialect” speakers (Moose River drainage area and the rivers to the northwards up the “West Main”), and Algonquin (sometimes called Ojibwa) speakers to the southwards, as at Abitibi. The dialect boundary between the East Main and West Main was approximately where the provincial boundary line was subsequently located. However, such a boundary at the time would have been little known or unknown to the people of the area and at first would have had no importance to their traditional use of the land and little or no administrative significance to the provinces. These groups or nations did not have survey lines nor did they have language differences of the magnitude of French-English, except with the Algonquin groups living further south.

There is a little evidence that the border area had another dialect group, an “R” dialect residing in the area, as is reflected in the name of the principal river draining the area; the “Harricana River” which is the Cree word for bannock and in the “Y” dialect (Rupert House-Waskaganish) would probably have been rendered into English or French as “Aykana” and in the Moose “N” dialect would have been rendered as “Allikona”. However, this dialect no longer exists in the area and, in any case, the dialects were mutually understandable and people could, and did, move from one dialect area to another to live and hunt without legal or bureaucratic limitations. Rupert’s House Indians who were trapping in the region between Ruperts House and Moose Factory might and often did choose to take their furs to Moose Factory to trade, with the result that there are old East coast kinship connections between present day families that are not members of MoCreebec but rather consider themselves as members [KAS4] of Moose Band.

Yet the Crees on the two sides of the Bay had different environments and histories. Those on the West Main had many centuries of contact with Ojibwa Indians to the southwest and trading routes in the direction of Lake Huron, while those on the East Main had contact with Naskapi to the northeast, Montagnais to the southeast, and Algonquin-Ojibwa to the south, with trade in the direction of Montreal and Quebec. The Christian missions of the Catholics were increasingly more successful on the west and the Anglicans on the east.

Part Two: Some aspects of modernization that impinged on the Crees of James Bay

After World War I there was an influx of commercial trappers, whitemen, working under contract with fur traders located in CPR rail line towns like Cochrane and Kapuskasing. These men became infamous to the Cree due to their use, through the 1920’s of poisoned baits and other fur trapping strategies based on short term gain, that wiped out beaver and fine furs over large areas. Their intrusive and destructive actions undermined the traditional Cree system of land management based on long-term harvesting methods for hunting and trapping, family allegiances and social pressure to conform to these ideals[KAS5] .

In 1932, the Temiskamingue and Northern Ontario Railroad (now The Ontario Northland) that began in 1905 in Toronto reached its James Bay terminus at Moosonee, and this brought Moose Factory from its fur trade identity as a Rupert’s Land fur trade center to its modern identity as a Canadian frontier town. With construction of the railway came hydroelectric stations, mining and forestry. This meant the possibility of jobs, whether summer wages to be earned between trapping seasons by clearing bush, construction, or working the sawmill at Moose River Crossing, etc. or occasional full time jobs.

Abitibi Canyon hydroelectric generating station and headpond was completed in 1930, with about a thousand labourers. This was made possible logistically by the railroad, which was built by about six hundred labourers, including some Crees. The last recorded starvation deaths were in this period. However, severe game shortages continued so that food security (hunting for one’s family on the land) remained in doubt. The anxiety created was roughly comparable to that experienced by men who were left without jobs during the depression, which we now know actively contributed to latent TB becoming active. More game for food and furs could be found in the south, as there is an ecological gradient with areas becoming more productive on a roughly north-south axis. But hunting grounds were already under pressure from intruders, both Whitemen and Indians. Job-seeking directed people south.

In the 1930’s beaver preserves began in Waskaganish and in the 1940’s and 1950’s, they spread to other areas on the east and west coasts. After WW1, provinces with boundaries and laws became real to the Crees when “real” Game wardens become active in confiscating meat and guns, and requiring licenses for individual traplines in designated and exclusive locations.

The Indian Agent-Doctor’s job grew into the James Bay Indian Agency, as severe game shortages continued through the 1940’s. Some East Coast parents sent children to an Anglican residential school at Moose Factory where they knew that at least they would be fed. Some of these parents then summered at Moose Factory and wound up staying, either joining [KAS6] the Moose Factory Band or becoming residents of an off-reserve “Tent City”. Similarly, the TB hospital was built (1948-1950) at Moose Factory and some families of patients followed the relatives. The hospital also provided some jobs.

As happened in World War I, many men (perhaps the largest proportion in any region in Canada) volunteered for military service in World War II. Some veterans remained in more southerly locations.

The Cold War came unexpectedly onto the scene in the mid-1950’s, when the Mid-Canada radar line sites were constructed in the northern part of the Cree area, with jobs for Crees at Winisk and Great Whale River, Hudson’s Bay (one on either side of the mouth of James Bay). In this period there were major migrations. Honigmann (field notes1956) reported that about half of the population of Attawapiskat had moved north to work on the Mid-Canada site at Winisk or south for other jobs.

In summary, hospitals were available in Moosonee (Catholic) and in Moose Factory (Federal), and there were village nursing stations. Families sometimes left children in student residences, as in Moose Factory and Fort George. On both coasts each village had Day Schools from the mid-1950’s as far as Grade 6. Afterwards, the graduates could go on to Residential Schools in Chapleau, Brantford and Sault Ste Marie. These services and welfare (Family Allowance and pension payments) all came together in the 1950’s. People shifted from seasonally shifting homes in the bush to permanent residence in the trading post villages, with access to health, education and welfare services. At first it began with leaving the elderly and the unwell in the trading post villages. The bush was still a place to go for hunting the animals, but was increasingly a sortie from the village while families were increasingly left in the village and the men went hunting without some or all of them. Mobility was diminished, starvation a rarity, malnutrition reduced and transformed to a high-carbohydrate diet. People were relocated off the land and into sedentary villages, with more dependency on government services and payments.

The Royal Canadian Air Force Base at Moosonee was built in 1961, providing some jobs, and an outlet of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario opened in Moosonee at [KAS7] about this time, contributing to the “frontier” reputation of the area and its people. In 1963 I listed several Rupert’s House people as living out in Kirkland Lake and Virginiatown where they had jobs in mining. My interpreter and general helper, Willy Weistchee received $22/month disability from his TB of the spine, for which he had been in the Hamilton Sanatorium for five years. The 1960’s brought more building construction in Moosonee and Moose Factory, and another large hydroelectric station closer to Moosonee, at Otter Rapids. It was also the time of the first cohort of Cree high school graduates, just in time for engagement with 1970’s issues, including the Baie James Hydroelectric Project, civil rights, self-government options, and more.

In conclusion, many factors contributed to the movement of people from Rupert’s House (Waskaganish), Eastmain and Paint Hills (Wemindji) to the Moose Factory area and further south in Ontario. From trappers hunting near the boundary choosing, perhaps even a few centuries ago, to trade at Moose Factory, other Crees have chosen to shift over to the Ontario side. For the most part, this was in order to cope with hardship (mostly ecological) and misfortune (mostly disease) during the 1920’s-50’s, and thereby to find the security for themselves and their families that comes with a higher standard of living.

Yours truly,

Richard J. Preston

Professor Emeritus,

McMaster University


Richard J. Preston

2003 "Cumulative Cultural Change in the Moose and Rupert River Basins: Local Cultural Sites Affected by Global Influences" In, R. Weist and J. Chodkiewicz (eds), Globalization and Community: Canadian Perspectives. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Anthropology Papers 34: 87-98.

2003 Crees and Algonquins at the front: more on 20th century transformations. In, J. D. Nichols (ed.) Papers of the 34th Algonquian Conference.

2001 James Bay Cree culture, malnutrition, infectious and degenerative diseases. In, J. D. Nichols (ed.) Papers of the 32nd Algonquian Conference.

2000 How Cultures Remember: Traditions of the James Bay Cree and of Canadian Quakers. In, J. D. Nichols (ed.) Papers of the Thirty-First Algonquian Conference. Winnipeg. Pp301-309.

1998 Apportioning responsibility for cumulative change: a Cree community in Northeastern Ontario. With John S. Long. In, D. Pentland (ed.) Papers of the 29th Conference on Algonquian Studies. University of Manitoba.

1996 Perspectives on sustainable development in the Moose River Basin. With F. Berkes and P. J. George. In, D. Pentland (ed.) Papers of the 26th Conference on Algonquian Studies. 386-400. University of Manitoba.

1996 Envisioning cultural, ecological and economic sustainability: the Cree communities of the Hudson and James Bay lowland, Ontario. With P. J. George and F. Berkes. Canadian Journal of Economics 29, Special Issue: S356-S360.

1995 Aboriginal Harvesting in the Moose River Basin: a Historical and Contemporary Analysis. With P. J. George and F. Berkes, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 32(1)69-90.

1995 The Persistence of Aboriginal Land Use: Fish and Wildlife Harvest Areas in the Hudson and James Bay Lowland, Ontario. With F. Berkes, A. Hughes, P. J. George, B. D. Cummins and J. Turner. Arctic 48(1):81-93.

1994 Wildlife Harvesting and Sustainable Regional Native Economy in the Hudson and James Bay Lowland, Ontario. With F. Berkes, P. J. George, A. Hughes, J. Turner, and B. D. Cummins. Arctic 47(4):350-360.

l990 The View from the Other Side of the Frontier. In W. Cowan (ed) Papers of the 21st

Algonquian Conference, Carleton University, Ottawa. 3l3-328.

1988 James Bay Syncretism, Persistence and Replacement. In W. Cowan (ed.) Papers of the 19th Algonquian Conference. Carleton University: Ottawa, pp. 147-156.

1988 review of A Homeland for the Cree: Regional Development in James Bay 1971-

1981. R. F. Salisbury, McGill-Queen's University Press. Canadian Review of Sociology

and Anthropology 25(3).

1987 "Going in Between": The Impact of European Technology on the Work Patterns of

the West Main Cree of Northern Ontario. With P. J. George. The Journal of Economic History. XLVII: 447-460.

1987 Catholicism at Attawapiskat: a Case of Culture Change. Papers of the Eighteenth Algonquian Conference, Ottawa, Carleton University, pp. 271-296.

1986 Twentieth Century Transformations of the West Coast Cree. In W. Cowan, Actes du Dix-septieme Congres des Algonquinistes. Ottawa: Carleton University, pp. 239-251.

1986 Reflections on Territoriality, in Morantz, (ed.) Who Owns the Beaver?

A Re-examination of Northem Algonquian Land Tenure Systems Then and Now. Anthropologica X-VIII (1-2), 11-18.

[KAS1] Metis may need some explanation

[KAS2] and RCMP constable

[KAS3] family clusters, eh – as at Moose, with the Smalls; another Iserhoff daughter married to Sinclair Cheechoo, etc.; why did Geo Jolly move fr (an orphan I think)

[KAS4] there are many Moose Band members who have family roots on east coast; Geo Jolly not allowed in, but his brother Tommy was; some Blackneds and Moses allowed in; Emily Faries’ Dad from Albany (as also Faries & Linklater) and her Mom a Trapper, whose brother Eddy also allowed in; this was right after WW2; then there was a movement at Moose to close ranks and not let any more outsiders in from either side of the Bay

[KAS5] another reason to try other strategies like wage work, etc.

[KAS6] OK, you have that here

[KAS7] in 1967 – great centennial gift, eh (previously, people had to order in advance & booze came in on train – plus bootleggers)