Ahead of COP15 in Montreal, Innu communities in Quebec say logging on ancestral lands threatens their cultural identity
Photo by Innu Council of Pessamit.
The Montreal Gazette reports: “Two Innu communities on Quebec’s North Shore say they are ‘exasperated’ by the province’s ‘inaction’ when it comes to protecting the woodland caribou, a species threatened by logging.”
“They say the Quebec government is not taking seriously ‘the irreversible damage the loss of biodiversity’ has on the Innu.”
The article adds: “Councils representing the Pessamit and Essipit communities on Tuesday accused the province of dragging its feet on a proposal to create a 2,700-square-kilometre biodiversity reserve, about 150 kilometres north of Saguenay.”
Marielle Vachon, head of the Innu Council of Pessamit, says: “[The loss of biodiversity] caused in large part by logging on Innu ancestral lands — without regard to our needs, our values, our rights and interests — generates inestimable cultural losses for our communities. It alters our way of life, upsets our way of being, threatens our food security and our cultural identity.”
Earlier this month, Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, and France-Isabelle Langlois, the executive director at Amnesty International Canada Francophone, highlighted these concerns in their article Innu-aitun culture and identity at risk.
This comes just days before the United Nations COP15 biodiversity summit is set to begin in Montreal on December 7.
For more on COP15, please also see COP15 biodiversity summit to be fenced off amid concerns its 30×30 initiative promotes militarized conservationism.
Other threats to Innu lands
Innu territory includes the northeastern portion of the present-day province of Labrador and some portions of Quebec. Their traditional homeland is Nitassinan.
Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dams
The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric generating facility is comprised of the 32-metre high North Dam, the 29-metre high South Dam and the reinforced North Spur landmass on the lower Churchill River on traditional Innu territory in Labrador. About 2,000 Inuit and settlers live downstream of Muskrat Falls.
In October 2016, Innu and Inuit land defenders, along with settler allies, occupied the project site to protect their traditional foods and way of life.
Photo by Justin Brake; October 19, 2016.
The RCMP arrested 28 people in relation to that occupation with a variety of charges including disobeying a court order, mischief and mischief over $5000.
Despite this, the Trudeau government increased its loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls project by an additional $2.9 billion in November 2016.
In June 2017, Inuk land defender Beatrice Hunter was jailed for 10 days in a men’s prison for refusing to stay a kilometre away from the construction site, a violation of the undertaking she had signed when she was arrested at the occupation in October 2016.
Innu Elder Tshuakuesh Elizabeth Penashue has stated: “Canada sees our land as uninhabited land. It is inhabited by the Innu, and it is inhabited by wildlife.”
The “5 Wing Goose Bay” air base was established after World War II.
Photo: A protest at the Goose Bay air force base in 1988 in opposition to NATO low level flight training over Nitassinan.
Penashue says: “In the 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.”
Elders outside a prison when Innu land defenders were being arrested for opposing fighter jets flying over their lands. Photo by Bob Bartel.
In an April 1993 PBI-Canada newsletter, Steve Molnar wrote: “Rivers play an important role in the Innu lifestyle by providing salmon, a staple of the Innu diet. Hydro-Quebec, a government owned corporation of the province, has already built 19 dams in Nitassinan and plans to build one more on the Sainte-Marguerite River.”
On December 7, 1992, the Coalition for Nitassinan, that opposed dams and supported traditional governance, asked Peace Brigades International to provide observers for a barricade it was setting up in Maliotenam. It also asked PBI to escort Coalition spokesperson Gilbert Pilot when he spoke at the United Nations in New York and upon his return to the community of Maliotenam.
The article notes: “Shots fired at Pilot’s house a few weeks earlier caused some concern that he might be in some danger on his return to the reserve.”
Two PBI volunteers maintained a 24 hour a day presence at the barricade that was set up between December 12 and December 16, 1992.
Photo: Innu Elder Tshuakuesh Elizabeth Penashue and Peace Brigades International-North America Project activist Anne Harrison in 1995.