News  Innu oppose Northern Development

Plan will affect 72 per cent Quebec land, and four aboriginal nations

Five Innu First Nations communities are threatening legal action against Quebec’s governing Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) over the government’s proposed “Plan Nord,” a loosely defined set of potential mining, foresting, fishing, and industrial projects. Together, the projects would reshape the landscape of northern Quebec.

The five Innu groups boycotted a meeting on the Plan Nord on November 6, which was attended by over 200 people, including senior government ministers and representatives from Cree, Inuit, and Innu groups. The head of the Innu coalition, Chief Raphael Picard of the Pessamit Nation, has promised to block any Plan Nord projects in Innu territory that do not provide his people with a share of the revenue produced.

“With its Northern Plan, the government must understand that without the participation and consent of the Innu, not a single development project will go forward,” Picard was quoted as saying in Friday’s Globe and Mail.

Pierre Corbeil, Quebec Minster of Aboriginal Affairs, said though he would prefer dialogue, the government could pursue other means.

“If [the Innu] pursue legal means, we will, unfortunately, have to engage with them,” Corbeil said in French.

The scope of Plan Nord is huge. 72 per cent of Quebec’s land is implicated in the development plans, or 1.2 million square kilometres. Christian Tanguay, the press secretary of Natural Resources Minister Natalie Normandeau, said there are 63 separate communities in the affected area, and over 120,000 people living there. Four indigenous nations also exist in the region: the Cree, the Inuu, the Inuit, and the Naskapi.

The government has recently announced new projects that will make up Plan Nord. Describing the projects as a “new paradigm,” Tanguay said that about $25-billion will be invested in hydroelectricity alone. Another $825-million will finance the construction of 14 new airports in the north of the province. The government also received praise from Inuit business groups for the estimated 1,000 new houses to be built in the Nunavik, an area that roughly comprises the northern third of Quebec.

The hydroelectric development on the Romaine River, one of the projects launched under the banner of Plan Nord, has already deeply divided the Innu community.

Representatives of four of the Innu communities signed a revenue-sharing deal with Hydro-Québec in 2008 to get a portion of the profits from the $6.5-billion-dollar project. The Unamen Shipu alone will receive $14.5-million, according to their leader, Chief Georges Bacon. However, at least two Innu groups vowed to block the development “by any means necessary,” according to a Le Devoir story from December 2008.

The concerns of the Innu groups opposing the resource-driven projects stem from the absence of a territorial treaty between Canada and the Innu nation. Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador explained, “There are communities that are not being respected…. There is no acknowledgment on a political level that the rights of the Innu exist.”

Inuit and Cree representatives support Plan Nord and attended the meeting on November 6. So did several Inuu groups, a fact that Natural Resources Minister Natalie Normandeau has emphasized in her comments on the plan. Ghislain Picard argued that the support of a few First Nations groups does not invalidate the criticism of those in opposition.

“This has become a too-easy game for the government, to say we have 25 of 31 groups that support us, so the others are wrong,” Picard said in French.

While officially supporting Plan Nord, the Cree have serious concerns about the PLQ’s commitment to respecting Cree territorial rights that were established in treaties in 1975 and 2002. Ghislain Picard noted that there were “25 years [between the treaties] during which the government did not respect their agreements.”

In a Montreal Gazette op-ed piece, Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come cited the pending legislation, Bill 57, which would alter the 2002 territorial treaty, know as the “Paix des Braves.” It does this, he wrote, by circumventing the agreement on forest management that the Crees and Quebec established in 1975 and in 2002.

Chief Coon Come also mentioned an independent report by Judge Rejean Paul of the Superior Court of Quebec, which determined that the Quebec government had disregarded its obligations to the Cree by handing over governance of the James Bay municipality, traditionally Cree territory, to non-Cree politicians in 2001.

PLQ-rivals like the Parti Québécois (PQ) and Québec Solidaire also have doubts about Plan Nord. Luc Ferland, the PQ Member of the National Assembly for Ungava, a constituency of 24, 944 people in northern Quebec, said that the government is jeopardizing its environmental goals for the north with these developments. He pointed out that while the PLQ has promised to protect 12 per cent of northern Quebec from development, it has so far cordoned off just 8 per cent.