In the late 1950s and beginning of 1960s, industrialization in the southern regions began to have a significant impact on the Cree, the animal populations on which they depended, and the ecosystems in the region. Expanding road and railroad networks and intensive natural resource development such as forestry and mining brought new non-Aboriginal people in the area. Towns such as Val d’Or and Chibougameau were incorporated at the time disrupting many hunting territories. Road traffic, chemical spraying and pollution from mine waste and pulp and paper mills forced the Cree to reduce fish consumption and change hunting patterns as well as a imposed a semi-forced transition to a wage economy.
By the time the provincial government announced the mega-hydroelectric project of the James Bay in 1971, the subsidence way of life that had sustained the Cree was much altered. Nevertheless, young Cree leaders schooled in the south and backed by the older hunters proved to be a force to be reckoned with. The work started in 1971 was done neither with regard to nor in consultation with the Cree communities in the region. A meeting of the leaders from each Cree community was held to discuss the project and the foreseeable impacts on the Cree way of life. The young Waskaganish Chief Billy Diamond and his father, former Chief Malcolm Diamond took leadership in organizing the Cree response to the James Bay Project. In 1972, anticipating great impacts on their livelihood, the Cree and Inuit sought an injunction from the Superior Court of Quebec, “the longest temporary injunction hearing in Canadian history” (Feit, 1995). Six months later, the Malouf Decision suspended work on the project until prior agreement from the Crees and Inuit would be gained. Nonetheless, the construction work proceeded a week later when the Quebec Court of Appeal suspended the injunction on grounds that the public interest takes precedence over the interests of a minority. As a result of these legal confrontations the Cree formed, in 1974, the Grand Council of the Crees (GCC), their first and central political body. Billy Diamond became the first Grand Chief of the Cree. In 1975 negotiations between the Cree and the Inuit and the provincial and federal governments, resulted in the first northern comprehensive land claim to be settled in Canada, the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).