Nuclear-Free Future

in the Category


is presented to



Washington DC
28 Oktober 2015

Cree Jugend von Mistissini

A Cree hunter on James Bay must practice patience. He must know how to read the signs of nature, treat the bear, the moose, the beaver and the geese with the same respect he holds for medicinal plants. He knows that he cannot own the land on which he hunts; that he is only there as a guest, and that as a guest he is the caretaker of the land for all those who come later.


Shawn Iserhoff, Justice Debassige, Desmond Michel, and Kayleigh Spencer are all descendants of hunters. Education and the surroundings of modern-day society could not take away from them the importance of their Cree heritage: patience, respect for animals, and love of the land.


The subarctic with its tundra forest vegetation, its countless lakes and rivers, is a fragile ecosystem. Half of the year the land is covered with snow. In northern Quebec the Cree call their traditional territory, Eeyou Istchee – »the people’s land.« In the 1970s, the Cree were told by the governments that they did not have rights in their territory.  However, after many years of confrontation that eventually led to the flooding from dams for the generation of electricity, the Cree were told that they did have rights, and the “James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement” was signed. Today, many former hunters as well as their children work at office jobs. This is new for the First Nations’ culture.


Shawn Iserhoff, Justice Debassige, Desmond Michel, and Kayleigh Spencer live in Mistissini, a southern Cree community. In 2012 these Cree youth sensed new danger as Strateco Inc. looking for uranium, test-drilled the area north of Mistissini, mainly near the sacred Otish Mountains and Lake Mistissini, Quebec’s largest freshwater lake. The “James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement” now provides Hunting, Trapping and Fishing rights for the Cree. What lies had allowed the company to creep in? Here was Strateco’s strategy: the so-called experts told the “uneducated” Cree that “nuclear radiation is like the heat of the campfire”, and they promised jobs for the “educated”.


Shawn, Justice, Desmond, and Kayleigh soon became a group of hunters, driven by the task of defending Eeyou Istchee. When the Quebec government did not pay any attention to them nor did the uranium company, their patience was at end: in April 2012, they marched in protest at the front lines of the Earth Day Rally in Montreal, where more than 250,000 participants walked the downtown streets of Montreal for a call to action in protecting the environment. The banner they carried read: “Ban Uranium Mining in Eeyou Istchee and Around the World.”  Here they established allies from around the province of Quebec and abroad, leading to another rally called “Together Against Uranium,” prior to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission public hearings in June of 2012.


The rest is, as they say, history: their protests gained support throughout the community and the Cree Nation, and at the Grand Council of the Crees’ General Assembly in 2012, the delegates unanimously supported the opposition and adopted a resolution banning uranium exploration, mining and waste emplacement in Eeyou Istchee. Strateco ended its explorations, left Cree lands, and sued the provincial government for damages. But the sparks set were soon out of hand. This has led to other events to generate awareness and opposition against uranium development in the province, including Cree youth marching 850 km walk from Mistissini to Montreal in the fall of 2014.  Furthermore, the youthful group of Cree were joined by anti-nuclear activists, and together this year in April, they made public headlines at the World Uranium Symposium and the World Uranium Film Festival in Quebec City.  A permanent moratorium on the part of the government has moved into the realm of possibility. The sparks continue. The call for a global ban on uranium mining is no longer silent.