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‘Water all around, you cannot even drink’: the scaling of water in James Bay/Eeyou Istchee

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Since the 1970s, the reconfiguration of the La Grande River into a hydroelectric complex has radically altered the James Bay region and brought about new scales of identification and exchanges between peoples and places. Through this process, water emerged as an increasingly globalized entity while at the same time being captured as a local icon of cultural identification both by the Eeyouch (Eastern James Bay Cree) and the Québécois. Using an historical and discursive approach, this paper explores the intersection between the rescaling of water and the rescaling of the nation for each community. The removal of the river from the traditional places of production of the Eeyouch to redirect it into electricity-generating facilities that put every drop of water to work has dramatically changed the meaning of ‘here’ and ‘there’– as well as ‘us’ and ‘them’– for the Eeyouch and the Québécois, indicating that a theory of the differentiation and hierarchical organization of space needs to inform collaborative efforts toward environmental management in the region.

Keywords: James Bay/Eeyou Istchee; discursive analysis; historical geography; hydroelectric development; nation-building; social production of scale

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Laval University, Quebec, QC G1K 7P4, Canada, Email:

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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