Crees host Uranium Film Festival in Quebec City

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Matthew Coon Come opening the Uranium Film Festival

Matthew Coon Come opening the Uranium Film Festival

After years of debate, court filings, thousands of miles walked in protest and dozens of public hearings, an end to the debate over uranium in Eeyou Istchee is finally in sight.

The provincial government’s final decision on Strateco Resources’ uranium project in the Otish Mountains will be made public in May. But until then, Cree leaders are looking to keep the conversation on uranium going. In April, Cree filmmakers, activists and politicians brought that discussion to Quebec City as hosts of the fifth annual International Uranium Film Festival.

The Wolverine: The Fight of the James Bay Cree, a film directed by Chisasibi’s Ernest Webb starring Eastmain’s Jamie Moses, made its Canadian premiere at a red-carpet event April 15, the festival’s opening day. Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come opened the festival by introducing the film.

“We recognized the power of film to spread our message to explain what is at stake and to bring people together,” Coon Come told the audience. “These beliefs were the foundation of our efforts to bring this festival to Quebec.”

The Wolverine is a retelling of a Cree legend involving a giant skunk that terrorized a village. After it killed his sister, a brave wolverine attacked and managed to kill the skunk. However, the wolverine was blinded by the skunk’s poisonous spray in the attack. With the help of trees in the forest, the wolverine found his way to the coast of James Bay. There, the wolverine washed the poison from his eyes. This left the water in the bay unsafe to drink.

While the legend touches on several different themes, Webb’s film draws a parallel between the skunk’s poison and the potential environmental threat that comes with uranium development. Jamie Moses, Eastmain’s 33-year-old Cultural Coordinator, narrates the film. He originally presented the legend before the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) during a hearing on uranium mining in Mistissini.

“I’m hoping that all our efforts with this film will lead to a uranium-free Quebec,” said Moses. “It’s important for any Cree who respects the land to give their effort to oppose uranium, even if they aren’t near the uranium mine in Mistissini.”

Moses says he spent much of his youth on the land with his grandfather. He credits his success and happiness in life to those weeks away from the distractions of modern life. His concern is that uranium mining would take that opportunity to enjoy similar experiences away from young Crees.

“I never got the privilege to paddle the Eastmain River where my ancestors did before Hydro-Québec developed it,” said Moses. “I hope future generations always have the chance to experience things the way their ancestors did without the threat of unwanted development like uranium.”

Several young Crees were present at the Uranium Film Festival. Mistissini Youth Chief Amy Linton, who led a group of young Crees on an 850-km uranium protest walk from Mistissini to Montreal in December, spent the evening walking the red carpet.

“It’s important for the youth to realize that the fight against uranium is never going to stop,” said Linton. “These types of events are going to keep our youth involved and make sure that we are ready to protect our land in the years to come.”

Chiiwetin was a member of the Mistissini youth council.

Chiiwetin was a member of the Mistissini youth council.

Linton said a Mistissini screening of The Wolverine had been planned for April 18, but it was cancelled as the community continued to mourn the death of five hunters in a cabin fire. A small uranium symposium is being planned for the summer or fall to replace the screening.

Linton said her goal is to keep momentum going for the community’s anti-uranium campaign in the months to come. That has been especially difficult in the light of the cabin fire tragedy. The youngest of the five victims in the fire, Chiiwetin Coonishish, was a member of the Mistissini Youth Council and an active member in the anti-uranium campaign.

“Chiiwetin was such a true advocate for Cree culture,” said Linton. “I kept him in my thoughts at the festival because I know he would have wanted us to keep up our fight against uranium.”

After opening night and the Canadian premiere of The Wolverine, the Uranium Film Festival continued for 10 days to April 25. Over 50 films on the nuclear age were screened at the Concorde Hotel in Quebec City. The Grand Council of the Crees was instrumental in bringing the 2015 edition of the festival to Quebec. It was the first time the event was held in Canada.

A second screening of The Wolverine was also held in Montreal on April 23.

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