In 2013, the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and of Matimekush-Lac John filed legal proceedings for an injunction against the operations of the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) and for damages incurred on the two communities from violations of their Aboriginal title and rights 1, 2. The two communities declare Aboriginal title in their territory Nitassinan, which is an area covering more than 70,000 square km of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula1.
IOC and its majority owner, Rio Tinto, filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the basis that the government should be sued first 6 to establish Aboriginal title and rights, and that “private parties have no obligations with respect to claimed but unproven Aboriginal rights”1. The Superior Court of Quebec rejected that motion and the Court of Appeal has refused IOC’s application for permission to appeal the decision in January 20151.
IOC has been operating mines in the Quebec-Labrador area since 1954. Negotiations between the Innu of Quebec and the mining company have been ongoing for the past 4 years with no resolution 2,3. Out of all the companies that operate on the Innu’s ancestral land (four other companies), IOC remains the only one who has not signed an impact benefits agreement with the Innu of Quebec 2,3. Chief of Matimekush-Lac John, Réal McKenzie states that
“IOC operated twenty mines in the Schefferville area before abandoning them (while savagely destroying the city of Schefferville) in 1982, and continues to operate nearly ten mines on our territory in the area of Labrador City. All of IOC’s projects and activities blatantly violate our rights, particularly our Aboriginal rights and our Aboriginal title. Even after 60 years of discrimination and violation of our rights, we have tried to sit down with IOC to find a solution, and the company has time and again demonstrated that it is not at all interested in reaching a fair agreement, preferring to continue to ignore us just like they always have. We are fed up. It is long overdue that IOC pays its rent.” 3
The video below depicts the history between the Innu and IOC and was made for the “IOC/Rio Tinto Pay the Rent” Innu campaign against the mining company2.
Recently, IOC has increased its production capacity from 18 to 23 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate per year and has plans to open another mine in Labrador City 3. The Innu of Quebec also plan to file legal proceedings with respect to this new mine (Wabush 3) that is to be built on their Nitassinan2.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled ten years ago that governments have a constitutional duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples that may be affected by a project4. In this case, it seems that the government has failed to recognize the constitutional rights of the Innu. In fact, a direct quote from IOC’s project description to register the environmental assessment of the Wabush 3 mine states that:
“… existing and available information does not indicate that Labrador and Quebec Aboriginal groups currently undertake traditional land and resource use activities within or near the proposed Project area. This is in keeping with the fact that significant mining activity has occurred on IOC’s Labrador West properties since the early 1960s, with associated and long-standing public site access restrictions which has prevented the site’s use for traditional and recreational land use activities.” 5
In other words, the Innu are not expected to face significant project impacts because IOC’s operations have illegally occupied their land for the past 60 years. Is it acceptable that the government’s disregard of Aboriginal rights and land claims in the past can be used against those same groups by corporations who plan to develop projects on Aboriginal land in the future? While there is no debate that IOC/Rio Tinto’s stand to hide behind the law is shameful, ultimately, why isn’t the government held accountable for its role in these events? Doesn’t the government owe the Innu of Quebec more than just silence?
1. Tyler, K J. and Chaffai-Parent, C (2015). Uashaunnuat (Innus de Uashat et de Mani-Utenam) V. Compagnie minière IOC Inc. Retrieved from http://www.blg.com/en/newsandpublications/publication_3955. Accessed on February 7, 2015.
2. IOC/Rio Tinto Pay the Rent (2014). Retrieved from http://ioc-riotinto-innu.com . Accessed on February 1, 2015.
3. Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (2014). “Stones of Shame” returned to IOC/Rio Tinto: Innu First Nations demand that IOC/Rio Tinto pay its rent . Retrieved from http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1420994/-stones-of-shame-returned-to-ioc-rio-tinto-innu-first-nations-demand-that-ioc-rio-tinto-pay-its-rent. Accessed on February 4, 2015.
4. Cardinal, E. (2014). A Decade of Duty to Consult with Aboriginal Peoples. Retrieved from http://www.national.ca/Bold-Thinking/A-Decade-of-Duty-to-Consult-with-Aboriginal-Peoples.aspx. Accessed on February 4, 2015.
5. AMEC Environment & Infrastructure , Iron Ore Company of Canada (2013). Iron Ore Company Of Canada Wabush 3 Open Pit Mine Project Labrador West- Environmental Assessment Registration Pursuant to the Newfoundland & Labrador Environmental Protection Act. Description of a Designated Project Pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/env_assessment/projects/Y2013/1711/registration_1711.pdf . Accessed on February 6, 2015.
6. Brown, J. (2015). Quebec Innu win right to sue Rio Tinto. Canadian Lawyer In House. Retrieved from http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/5418/Quebec-Innu-win-right-to-sue-Rio-Tinto.html . Accessed on February 6, 2015.