Canadian and U.S. fighter jets to conduct “exercise flights” over “sparsely populated” Innu territories this week
Photo by Bob Bartel of Elders outside a prison when Innu land defenders were being arrested for opposing fighter jets flying over their lands.
Yesterday, The Telegram reported: “People in the Lake Melville region may notice more military planes coming and going from 5 Wing Goose Bay in the coming week.”
The Innu name for “Lake Melville” is Atatshuinipeku.
The Department of National Defence (DND) media release states: “This air defence exercise provides us the opportunity to hone our skills as Canadian and U.S. forces operate together with our allies and partners in the Arctic.”
The Canadian military’s statement on this further notes: “[The] exercise flights will be conducted over sparsely populated Arctic areas and at high altitudes where the public is not likely to hear or see them.”
And yet Innu Elder Tshuakuesh Elizabeth Penashue stated years ago: “Canada sees our land as uninhabited land. It is inhabited by the Innu, and it is inhabited by wildlife. This is hunting territory, nomadic territory. It is not for war games.”
Earlier this summer, DND also announced it would be spending $2.3 million on “upgrades planned for the airfield at 5 Wing Goose Bay.”
In this fact sheet, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) tells the story of the displacement of the Innu for this airfield.
CRIAW notes: “In the 1940s, a section of traditional Innu land was carved out of south central Labrador. The idea was to create an airbase for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after World War II. Called Goose Bay, it soon became the largest airfield in the western hemisphere.”
“The local population, including Indigenous people, was not allowed to use or settle on land near the military base and landing strip.”
Years ago, Penashue stated: “In the 40 years that the military has been in Goose Bay, the Innu’s culture has collapsed. The use of our lands by others, without our being consulted, has caused stress in our family relationships and links to our family violence. The Innu did not welcome foreign domination. It happened against their will.”
She added: “Nitassinan is our land. We never gave it to them. How can they come in and take it and treat us as if we were not human beings, as if we were invisible?”
Beginning in the late 1980s, the Innu, led mainly by women, began defending their land against NATO low-level fight testing for the cruise missile. More than one hundred Innu land defenders and their supporters were arrested at re-occupations of the Goose Bay airfield and the Minipi Lake bombing range.
In October 1994, the Peace Brigades International-North America Project commented: “The training began without any prior consultation with the Innu.”
This recent news about NORAD exercises and upgrades to the airfield reminds us of the displacement of the Innu for this base, the non-violent resistance to NATO on Innu lands, and the impacts the militarization of territory has had on Innu lives.
Penashue tells the story of Innu resistance to militarism in her book Nitinikiau Innusi: I Keep the Land Alive published in May 2019. The children’s book Nutaui’s Cap, with text by Bob Bartel and artwork by Mary Ann Penashue, is a true account of a young Innu girl, Nanas, and how fighter jets disrupted her family’s traditional way of life.
Photo: Innu Elder Tshuakuesh Elizabeth Penashue and Peace Brigades International-North America Project activist Anne Harrison in 1995.