Grade Two Thematic Unit Part 4: First Nations People and Hydroactivity

Part Four: First Nations People and Hydroelectricity

Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money. - Cree Proverb

Science/Social Studies/Language Arts/Creative Arts: The Effects of Hydroelectricity on First Nation Communities.


  • Students will be able to reflect and relate to how an environmental impact study would be important to a community.
  • Students will see that while hydro is a so called “clean” energy, it can also affect the environment.


  • Large and small group discussion

  • Direct instruction

  • Video presentation.


  • Access to Internet (High Speed)
  • Computer
  • LCD projector
  • Screen

Space Requirements: Classroom/ Computer Lab/ Library - Location where students can access the Internet.

Background Information:

The James Bay project started producing electricity in 1982 and is Canada’s largest hydroelectric power plant (Environment Canada, 2008). The James Bay Cree hold traditional territory in Northern Quebec and much of their traditional territory has been flooded due to the Quebec government’s hydro projects. The James Bay Cree’s traditional lifestyle and their lands have been negatively impacted by the implementation of the hydroelectric-power project. This project was developed without environmental impact assessment studies and if it were held to today’s standard the project would have never been developed. Quebec launched their hydro development with James Bay I in 1971 and within four years the James Bay Cree were uprooted from their traditional land base and provided with modern houses, a hospital, a hockey arena and other such material advantages. With those advantages came a cost that future generations of James Bay Cree would pay dearly for, including contaminated drinking water, the mercury in the waters and subsequent fish stock which was caused by flooding forests. All of these negative effects on the traditional ways of life have been linked to the alcoholism present within the communities (CBC, 2008).

We need to keep in mind the quantity of hydroelectric production Canada is putting forth, as it is the most hydroelectric power in the world and 62% of Canada’s electrical needs are met by this hydroelectric power source (Environment Canada, 2008). With such a high production of hydroelectricity it is imperative that the environment becomes a central aspect of the explored alternatives.


  1. Preview the website: project-and-the-cree/topic-james-bay-project-and-the-cree.html
  2. After previewing this website, pick which clips you will show to the classroom. Suggested picks are: James Bay Cree #1, #2, #4, #6, #7 and #9. It is also a very good idea to link on to the Additional Clips on the website particularly: Mercury Poisoning and The Cree (Oct 18, 1976 5:15 Minutes), Traditions survive at James Bay (March 21, 1989) and especially, Chief Coon Come Speaks Out (April 18, 1990, 3:25 minutes). Each of these clips are historical so remind your students that terminology such as “Indian” was used and acceptable in the early 60s to 1990s but it is more politically correct to refer to these people as Aboriginal, First People, First Nations or even more correctly by their Nation: Cree.
  3. Provide an opportunity for students to view these CBC archives. After each clip which should be viewed in the suggested format above, ask the students to reflect upon their perceptions of the clips. Allow only a few minutes between each clip for discussion. (30 minutes).
  4. Ask the students to think about not being able to drink the water from their tap and not being able to eat food you have always eaten.
  5. Give an example of the mercury poisoning in the fish and how this has changed the lives of the Cree. Divide the students into small groups and have them discuss what they saw and felt when they viewed the clips. Provide students with ten minutes in the groups and then have them come back to the large group and present how their group reacted to the clips. (15 minutes).
  6. Creative writing or journal reflection starter sentence: The James Bay Cree were affected by mercury because... The students will then be asked to read their writing out loud. (15 minutes).
    • Optional: There are other First Nation Communities that have been affected by hydro. As a class research these other communities and find out what can be done regarding mercury poisoning and other environmental effects. Find out what an environmental impact study is. Have someone from the provincial or federal government in the department of environment come in to explain to students what an Environmental Impact Study is and why it is used. Ask students to think about why massive lands of First peoples were flooded without their informed consent. Ask students to reflect about how they would feel if someone purposely flooded their home

First Nations and the Water Spirit

Topic: Operation Water Spirit

Time Frame: 45-60 minutes

Creative Arts/Drama: Becoming Water


  • Students will be able to explore and identify with the element water.
  • Students will be able to use their imaginations, body movements, and sounds to represent water.


  • Teacher led drama instruction
  • Experiential learning
  • Physical movement and interpretation.


  • Teacher’s instruction sheet
  • Imagination

Space Requirements: Cleared area in classroom or within a large open space.

Background Information: Drama instruction through movement and imagination is a way in which students can learn with their entire physical self. Drama encourages students to be spontaneous with their movements and sounds.


  1. Talk to the students about water and how it is represented in many forms. Have students brainstorm the many forms that water takes. Water is the shape of whatever it is poured into. Water also has three types of matter; solid, liquid and gas. (This fits into the grade 2 curriculum). Tell students that you are going to explore with water in a dramatic form today.
  2. Begin the process with the students finding an area on the floor where they can lie down. Ask the students to close their eyes, (this exercise works well if the lights are turned off). Tell the students to relax all of the parts of their body beginning with their feet and moving to their head. When you feel that most of the class is relaxed and feeling light, begin reading the Teacher Notes for this lesson. (5 minutes).
  3. Divide students into four equal groups. Then give the students about ten to fifteen minutes to develop their representation of a water spirit.
    • Water: Students could start as water in a stream and then end up in a glass of water. Or students could start off as a raindrop and then become a stream and then go through a water treatment plant and come out the water faucet into a glass of water. Encourage students to use their imaginations.
  4. After the students have developed their performance pieces, they will perform. Pieces should be under two minutes each. Allow ten to fifteen minutes for the performances.

Evaluation: Active and imaginative participation.

DRAMA Teacher’s Notes:

Relaxation exercise to repeat before and after each element:

  • Begin the process with the students finding an area on the floor where they can lie down.
  • Ask the students to close their eyes, (this exercise works well if the lights are turned off).
  • Tell the students to relax all parts of their body beginning with their feet and moving to their head.
  • In a soothing voice with classical music or American Indian flute music playing, instruct the students to totally relax; relax your feet, your feet are so light they are becoming weightless, (repeat phrase with each part of body).
    • Relax your knees... let them float with the universe…
    • Relax your waist…chest…shoulders.
    • Relax your head so that you are floating...
  • Begin Element Instruction

Element of Water

For this exercise you are going to imagine that your entire universe is filled with the element of water - as if you were immersed in an ocean of water. The properties of the element of water are cold and wet, it is blue, dark blue or even blue-green, if you prefer, in colour. Now, you can imagine that you are becoming water or that you are breathing the element of water (cold and wet) into yourself. You are inhaling the element of water (think "ice cold") and exhaling only empty air. You should feel your body becoming colder and colder in the process. You can imagine that your hand is immersed in a bucket of ice cold water until you feel the numbness in your hand, then transfer that feeling of numbness to other parts of your body. You can also imagine that you have an ice cube body. You can feel this coldness and this wetness surrounding you, you are lying in a pool of water, there are raindrops falling on you. Suddenly you become the raindrop and you are floating through the air, a cool, wet rain drop. You move about the room until you land, then you lie back down. (Repeat relaxation exercise).

Additional Activities for the Thematic Grade Two Unit