Breastfeeding mother on hunger strike opposing mega-project in Cree Nation territory


A young Cree mother is on a hunger strike, consuming only broth, to protest a multi-billion dollar development project set for Cree Nation territory in Quebec.

Heather House, a student and mother of seven, is opposed to the project and mining in general in the Cree Nation territory.

She said it started as an open letter of concern but then became more.

“In the middle of writing my letter I impulsively wrote down my hunger strike. So it was out of impulse and instinct I guess, I’m not sure,” House explained.

Her concern began when a consultation meeting for the project was postponed and House felt the community would not be given time to respond to those consultations.

The mega project was agreed upon in February with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Quebec government and the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee).

The nation to nation agreement will see the construction of a sea port, rail lines and road extensions to support mining in the territory.

The partnership is being called “La Grande Alliance” or the “Grand Alliance” by the Crees. It is expected the $4.7B project will span 30 years from start to finish.

House and a group of youth shared their concerns for their future and the future of the land. House spoke to a local elder who told her that people need to look five generations ahead in preserving land and culture.

Since the beginning of her strike local Chisasibi residents have been fearful for House’s health and the health of her four month old baby since House is breastfeeding. House has been sustaining herself by drinking caribou, fish and ptarmigan broth.

She said she was contacted by the chief who also showed concern.

Chisasibi’s youth Chief, Steven Tapiatic said Cree youth voices need to be heard.

“They not only speak for themselves but for their children and grandchildren to come. Our voices matter,” Tapiatic told APTN in a text message.

Tapiatic is also worried for House’s health and the health of her baby and calls her approach drastic and courageous.

“I’ve talked to Elders and they said there’s a lot of nutrients in broth, there’s a lot of nutrients in caribou bone marrow… our people survived on a lot less a long time ago and their children were fine,” House said.

House said she was contact Wednesday by Abel Bosum, grand chief of Eeyou Istchee.

She said Bosum wouldn’t commit to going back on the development agreement.

House said he also informed her that the memorandum of understanding that was signed is not binding.

The project was initiated by the Crees.

The grand council website states the project “will ensure the predictability and stability of the economic and social development of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay territory and Quebec overall.”

In a statement the Cree nation government said, like all First Nations across Canada, they have often been “offered only leftovers” and were left with the mess of past irresponsible development.

“The Grande Alliance is not a project but an opportunity to approach development differently,” reads the statement. “The Cree Nation Government invites all points of view, it is the voices that call for the preservation of the land, the Cree way of life and the protection of wildlife that will make our development strategy truly unique and balanced.”

The Cree website says phase one of the project will entail a technical and financial feasibility study and pre-feasibility studies for phases II and III.

The postponed consultation has now been moved to Friday to inform the community of Chisasibi on the ambitions project.

House said she will continue hunger striking from her home “for as long as it takes.”

Reporter / Ottawa

Originally from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the eastern coast of James Bay, Quebec, Jamie has lived in Ottawa since 2015. Trained in journalism at Carleton University, he has worked as a freelance print journalist and as a writer/researcher for the Cree unit of CBC North out of Montreal. Jamie was hired as the reporter/correspondent for the Ottawa bureau in October 2019.