Commentary  Northern Quebec: Out of sight, out of mind


In a few months, a railway will be built across Montreal, cleaving the city in two. The St. Lawrence will be drained to make way for a new hydroelectric dam, and the McGill campus will be excavated for iron ore production. Even St. Laurent won’t be spared. The street and its clubs will be razed and used as a ditch for faulty heavy equipment. The company behind the plan has assured us that the construction will bring jobs and wealth to the region. Those claims were also guaranteed by several government ministers, yet so far those promises have not materialized.

In a big city like Montreal, this scenario might seem unthinkable, but it is a reality faced by many Indigenous communities across northern Quebec, following the provincial government’s $80-billion natural resource exploitation and development plan, the Plan Nord. The Innu of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, for instance, have been fighting against the construction of a dam on their territory for months. In October, more than half of the community rejected an agreement with Hydro-Québec which called for the construction of new transmission lines across their territory. Regardless, the company went ahead with their plan.

It is also shocking that the same community will have to contend with a $5-billion railway. The train tracks will most likely cut their territory in two, and so far, nobody at Canadian National Railway – the company behind the project – has bothered to ask Innu communities for their consent.

While this happens, the mainstream media remains silent. Despite the occasional news article, most of the coverage we hear focuses on the city of Montreal. Much has been written about last week’s protest against the Strategic Forum on natural resources at the Palais des congrès  –  a job fair designed to attract workers to northern Quebec – yet little has been said about Indigenous resistance to the plan. It is only by looking at alternative media sources that we learn of Indigenous resistance. For instance, Highway 138, one of the main highways that leads to northern Quebec, has been blockaded five times in protest of the construction of a Hydro-Québec dam.

The distance between Montreal and northern Quebec, it seems, is not just calculated in kilometres. It is troubling to see that the government was so quick to send its ministers to visit the numerous companies at Montreal’s Palais des congrès while ignoring Indigenous communities across the province. Why is the Montreal Board of Trade, the organizer of the Strategic Forum, more important than the communities that will likely bear the brunt of these projects? We would have been better off if the Palais had been used as a forum for discussion with Indigenous groups. But the government and the Board of Trade, it seems, care little for that.

— The McGill Daily Editorial Board