Young Men

At a Wedding Feast

Out in the Bay

James Bay Cree Photographic Documentary, 1972-73
Vintage gelatin silver prints at 8"x10" and 16"x20"; Digital images, scale variable

This project consists of over 2800 black and white, and approximately 500 color photographs taken in 4 James Bay Cree coastal villages in the summer of 1972 and 1973, at the start of the eastern James Bay Cree's legal resistance against the Quebec Government's massive James Bay Hydro-Electric project flooding northern lands. In the process of the legal negotiations of the past forty years, the Cree's cultural and political identity are today internationally recognized. They have become a northern, autonomous, technologically political body, managing all of their own socio-political infrastructure such as education and health.

The photographs were taken in the summer and represent daily life within the villages, with occasional trips into the bush. The attempt to record the socio-cultural aspect of Cree village life results in the following categories: Portraiture, architecture, indigenous events/artifacts, social events, labor, the relation between the traditional and the new. There are approximately 650 portraits of young to old including nearly every elder in Rupert's House. There are 300 architectural images of tract houses, shacks, tipis and other structures. Ethnic events documented were of women cooking geese, smoking fish in tipis, repairing fishnets, cleaning moose and beaver skins; men cutting a moose's head, carving wooden spoons and duck decoys; doing construction work; sitting around; socially interacting; tribal meetings, etc. There are 500 images of 6 weddings including feasts and some other gatherings. Topographical landscapes were taken as well as cultural environments inside the villages; sacred trees with hanging skulls; means of transportation: helicopter, airplanes, snowmobiles, canoes, and walks.

Click here to view a sampling of color photographs

Previous Description:

In 1972 I visited Fort George, a Cree village on the east side of James Bay in northern sub-arctic Quebec, upon the invitation of the Quebec Metis Association to document the half-breed inhabitants who were fighting to receive goverment recognition of their Indian status. The following summer, my brother and I returned with two other photographers to document the way of life of the James Bay Eastern Cree Indians inhabiting the four villages alongside James Bay. The large geographic area was used by the people since prehistory as their hunting and trapping lands. The documentary was produced in response to the political circumstances of the Cree taking legal action against the James Bay Hydro Electric Corporation, whose project consisted in creating one of North America’s largest hydro-electric dam systems blocking the main rivers in the area. The flooding resulted in major ecological imbalances not to mention invasion and destruction of Indian land.

The documentary projects' short term use value was to provide a visual record of this traditional culture for the urban Montreal public, thereby rallying support to the indigenous cause. The James Bay project signaled the development of an hitherto inaccessible area, a true cultural invasion through the penetrtation of a white labor force, the introduction of television and the building of a freeway connecting the sub-Artic to the southern industrial centers. This photo documentary's inherent long term goal was to create an ethnographic historical record of the indigenous lifestyles before its imminent transition to global culture. The socio-cultural environment has in fact significantly changed since the time of my original documentation in 1973.

The resultant images were used in various ways. In Rupert's House it became part of the elementary classroom visual material. In the village's meeting hall were displayed portraits of the elders. Portfolios were published in Akwesasne Notes , a journal published by the Mohawk nation, OVO magazine, a Quebec journal with a documentary focus and a Parisian journal focusing on social Medicare, amongst others. This photographic archive is the history of a community at a particular moment in time and my personal interaction with them. With 30 years’ having gone by, the James Bay communities have changed and this material may be ready for historical reevaluation, to be annotated by the educators and cultural workers of the James Bay communities.