Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA)

Overseeing the environmental and social impacts of proposed development projects in Eeyou Istchee.

The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process was established under Section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). Its purpose is to ensure an early assessment and review of the environmental and social impacts of proposed development projects in Eeyou Istchee.


Our goal is to:

  • Defend Cree hunting, fishing, and trapping rights.
  • Minimize negative environmental and social impacts.
  • Protect the Cree people, societies, communities, economies from development activities.
  • Protect wildlife resources and their ecosystems from developmental activities.
  • Provide technical analysis, advice and support to the Cree communities and Committees created under JBNQA Section 22 (JBACE, COMEV, COMEX and COFEX-S).

How we proceed

Under the ESIA process, depending on where a project is located and what impacts it may have, the federal, provincial and Cree administrator will decide whether a project can proceed. To help make that decision, the administrator receives the recommendations of one or several expert committees (described in Section 22). The result is the approval or rejection of the project, with or without conditions.

Here is the ESIA’s 6-step process:

  1. Project notice: The proponent prepares and submits a notice of project to the administrator (for projects listed on Section 22 Schedule 1 or if not mentioned in either Schedule 1 or 2). The administrator will forward the project notice to the Evaluating Committee. Upon the Committee’s assessment and recommendation, the Administrator will either allow the project to proceed without assessment or the project will continue to the following step.
  2. Directives: If a project is subject to ESIA review, the Evaluating Committee will recommend to the administrator, directives (or guidelines) that describe the extent of the ESIA that the proponent must complete. The directives will then be sent to the proponent by the administrator once a decision has been taken. Directives are specific to each project, and describe the information and analysis the proponent must provide in its ESIA statement.
  3. Preparing an ESIA: If the administrator decides an ESIA is required, the proponent must prepare an ESIA study according to the directives that have been provided. The ESIA study provides a detailed description of the environmental and social impacts of the project. An ESIA study will generally include: the description of the project, an evaluation of alternatives to the proposed project, the environmental and social baseline studies, an assessment of the potential impacts, mitigation and compensation measures, a monitoring & follow-up program and restoration measures. Cree involvement in the project and in the preparation of the ESIA study must be detailed.
  4. Review: The administrator forwards the ESIA study to the Provincial Review Committee (COMEX) and/or the Federal Review Panel (COFEX-S), who verify the conformity of the ESIA with the directive, analyze the ESIA and make a recommendation to the administrator on whether the project should proceed or not, and if so under which conditions.
  5. Decision: The administrator makes a decision according to the Review Committee recommendation with terms and conditions.
  6. Follow-Up: Following the authorization of a project, the proponent is bound to the assessment and commitments made in the ESIA study and to the conditions in the Certificate of Authorization. Follow-up studies must be sent to the Administrator for information or authorization, according to the specific terms and conditions.

Cree Involvement and Public Participation in ESIA

Special status for Crees
In carrying out environmental and social impact assessments, Cree people are guaranteed special status in the decision-making process (as per Section 22 of the JBNQA). This way, the local Cree community, the Cree Nation Government, and any Cree individual may make oral or written representations to the review committees. Moreover, the Cree Nation Government appoints two members on each Evaluating and Review Committees. Also, on Category I land, the decisions are taken by the Cree Regional Administrator.

Public participation
Public participation in the ESIA process should occur as early as possible and at each step of the ESIA process. Hence, it is strongly recommended that proponents invite Cree input right at the beginning of their project planning. The level of involvement can vary from one ESIA step to another one, and it is important for proponents to make a public participation plan as soon as possible in order to involve various stakeholders at the right time.

Cree involvement can help proponents to do the following:

  • Better define their project and alternatives
  • Describe the environment and the social milieu with traditional, local and scientific knowledge
  • Focus on key issues in order to reduce the impacts
  • Enhance benefits based on Cree individual and community needs
  • Propose well-adapted mitigation measures

Effective public participation enable proponents to better understand the multiple Cree perspectives, avoid misunderstanding, and result in better relationships and decisions.

Evaluating and Review Committees
At their discretion, Evaluating and Review Committees can hold public consultations to establish directives or to review the ESIA study. These public consultations enable the Evaluating and Review Committees to consider many individual concerns and views about the project as they prepare recommendations to the administrator. Usually, the Review Committees hold two formal public participation opportunities: 1) Information session where people can get information on the project by the proponent and ask questions, and 2) Consultations where people can ask questions and express their opinion, concerns and views on the project. People can make oral presentations and/or submit a brief.

The ESIA Team

The Cree Nation Government’s Environment and Remedial Works Department has a team of environmental analysts and experts working on reviewing the documents related to the various projects that are at the different stages of the ESIA process. When it comes to development in Eeyou Istchee, together with the collaboration of Cree communities and Cree entities, we strive for the greatest benefit for the Cree people and the least impact on our traditional land and ways of life.