Quebec Innu threaten protests over Plan Nord
"They think we're stupid"
QUEBEC — Members of an Innu community on Quebec’s North Shore say they are going to wage war against the province’s major $80-billion plan to develop the North by mounting an international campaign and threatening to block roads.
Raphael Picard, chief of the Innu nation of Pessamit, said Monday he broke off negotiations with the Quebec government last week after he was presented with a “ridiculous” $350 million offer over 50 years.
“They think we’re stupid. They look upon us as lunatics,” he told reporters in Quebec City Monday, lambasting the government for its “colonialism.”
His community — located, about 400 kilometres northeast of Quebec City — wants some $5 billion to be paid over 50 years in compensation for past and future development, notably hydroelectric, on its territory.
Picard said the Innu want to spearhead the development on their land, and vowed to fight Quebec’s Plan Nord — a major economic and social development plan of $80-billion over 25 years.
He said the plan violates the rights of Aboriginal People.
The international campaign will include meetings with politicians, potential investors and media in Europe and the United States.
“I will tell them that Mr. Charest is the worst liar of Quebec,” Picard said. “Charest said there is some agreement with the First Nations in Quebec to create the North Plan, it’s not true.”
A total of 26 of the 33 Quebec First Nations impacted by the Plan Nord — including the Cree, Nunavik Inuit and other Innu nations — have reached an agreement with the government on the development project.
Quebec Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley appealed Monday to Picard’s sense of responsibility to resume negotiations.
“This is comparable to other agreements with First Nations in Quebec. This is a fair agreement and a good start to changing the nature of our relationship,” Kelley said. “I’ll continue to support dialogue, but unfortunately today, I have to admit that we have come to an impasse in our negotiations and I have great regret over that.”
The minister dismissed Picard’s $5 billion demands as “unrealistic and unreasonable.”
Last June, the Innu of Pessamit blocked a section of provincial road 138, near Baie-Comeau, over failed talks with Quebec.
A few days later, Picard met with Quebec Premier Jean Charest and struck an agreement in principle with the government to address a series of disputes, including concerns about the Plan Nord. It is those negotiations Picard broke off last Friday.
Picard said Monday a new blockade on route 138 “could happen again” if the members of his community chose to do so.
He also hinted his community of 4,000 people is willing to ask for an injunction in Quebec Superior Court to stop the repairs on another important road in the region, route 389.
Picard stressed his community is strategically located with two major highways and hydro transmission lines crossing through its territory.
“We’ll see what type of pressure tactics our people will choose,” he said.
The Innu of Pessamit have, among other things, filed lawsuits against the province in connection with the major $6.5-billion hydroelectric development of La Romaine.