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Global Field Studies: James Bay Resource Management

James_BayThis trip introduces students to the complex ecology and human communities of the James Bay region of central Quebec. Students enter a world of boreal forests, enormous rivers, and a network of Aboriginal communities amid the sprawling wild lands.

The development of an enormous hydropower complex in the 1970’s brought dramatic changes to the region’s ecology and the Cree people who call the forest home. The La Grande River Complex, which consists of several huge reservoirs and equally large power generating facilities, managed by Hydro-Quebec, meets much of the power demands of the Quebec province and parts of New England, including Vermont. This economic development has introduced to Cree communities services such as modern health care, western style education, and increased participation in a wage earning economy. These changes have been accompanied by social problems such as alcoholism, depression, suicide, domestic violence, and drug abuse. The Cree people are fully engaged in a world of high speed Internet, 4×4 trucks, microwave ovens, and satellite television. Today most Cree live in suburban like communities accessible by road, while continuing to use bush camps on traditional family trap lines.

Students learn to identify the many plant, tree, and shrub species of the boreal forest. They also examine the glacial history of the region and how it has influenced the present day ecology of the forest. Students learn about the diverse wildlife found in the area and the role different species play in the cycles of the ecosystem. Students also learn about the history of the Cree people who have lived on the land for countless generations. Students experience the complexities of contemporary Cree society when they visit different Cree communities and meet elders, artisans, schoolteachers, anti-dam activists, Hydro-Quebec liaisons, and First Nation government officials.

Students listen to lectures, tour villages and lumber mills, play with school children, interview elders, and eat traditional foods. By the end of the trip the students have been immersed in the ecology and culture of this sweeping boreal landscape and leave with a greater understanding of the region’s complexities.