Boyce at 90

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I had the honour of attending Boyce Richardson’s 90th birthday party March 21at his home in Montreal. After nine decades, the combative journalist has lost none of his fire, much less his humour.

His son, my good friend Thom Richardson, testifies that he is still the butt of many of his father’s jokes – something that hasn’t changed since an interview with the Nation’s Neil Diamond seven years ago. Boyce was asked who was the funniest person he knew. “My son Thom,” he answered, “commonly known as S.O.B.” Short for Son of Boyce, of course.

Crees will remember Boyce Richardson for the pioneering journalism he did on their lives and struggles during the early 1970s, at a time few in southern Canada knew anything about the people inhabiting the James Bay region that the Quebec government was targeting for massive hydroelectric developments. In National Film Board documentaries, such as Job’s Garden and Cree Hunters of Mistassini, Richardson captured the unique culture of a people who lived from the land and its waters in a way that had never been attempted before.

He came into my life as a student at the University of Victoria in the mid-1980s, before I had ever set foot in Quebec, much less Eeyou Istchee. That’s when I read his book, Strangers Devour the Land, about the fight against the La Grande project. It resonated with much of my thinking then, having grown up in northern resource towns where the natural wealth was shipped out and environmental destruction was left behind. It showed me that to do real journalism, one has to spend real time with the people being chronicled.

To say that Boyce Richardson is unusual for a journalist of his renown is an understatement. At the birthday party, the celebrated Montreal Gazette editorial cartoonist Terry Mosher (aka Aislin) told me about when he recommended Richardson for an Order of Canada. “I forgot about it. Years later I found out he actually was inducted into the Order. But he never told anyone.”

That’s typical for a man who disdains honour and status. His willingness to speak truth to power and to refuse the party line remains. He still writes an online blog called “Boyce’sPaper” ( Reviewing the agreements the Grand Council of the Cree struck with the governments of Quebec and Canada a few years back, he had a remarkable warning.

“Today the grandchildren of the last generation of remarkable Cree-speaking hunters and trappers are living in posh new houses, running businesses, and are wired with every fancy technological contrivance known to man. For almost a quarter of a century, outside powers have been taking an estimated $5 billion worth of timber and electricity out of the Cree lands, in return for which, a pittance has been paid,” he wrote.

“There could, I suppose, have been a chance for their traditional culture, their remarkable knowledge of the biology of animals and of the bush, to have been used as the basis for a way of life different from that of the rest of Canada…. We did not ever consider that – except in the hunting and trapping provisions of the original Agreement, which, admittedly, allowed hunters to continue in the bush while technology was raging all around them – and to that extent, one has to say a great opportunity has been lost.”

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