Mining projects in Schefferville: Newfoundland and Labrador government undermining Innu rights

Date of publication: 
9 June 2010

MATIMEKUSH-LAC JOHN, QC, June 9 /CNW Telbec/ – The Innu communities of Matimekush-Lac John and of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, supported by the member communities of the Innu Strategic Alliance, are undertaking concrete actions to have their rights respected and to make the governments understand that no mining development is to take place on the territory without prior consent of the Innu people. Legal recourse is also among the measures considered by the Innu to have their rights respected and to emphasize that any and all development requires their prior consent. Moreover, a letter of demand was sent on May 21, 2010 by Burchells, LLP to the Government of Canada, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and to Labrador Iron Mines Ltd. (LIM), to express the opposition of the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and the family of Agnes McKenzie to the mining project planned by LIM near Schefferville and the imminence of legal proceedings.

The chiefs of Matimekush-Lac John and Uashat mak Mani-Utenam both reaffirmed Innu ownership of the natural resources of their traditional land. “We have never ceded, abandoned or renounced our Aboriginal rights or our Aboriginal title. The governments therefore have the constitutional obligation to consult us and to accommodate our rights and interests,” affirmed the Chiefs of the Innu Strategic Alliance in a joint statement.

Given the failure of the governments to protect the Innu’s fundamental rights, the Innu Strategic Alliance chiefs, Jean-Charles Pietacho (Ekuanitshit), Georges-Ernest Gregoire (Uashat mak Mani-Utenam), Real McKenzie (Matimekush-Lac John), and George.-C.S. Bacon (Unamen Shipu), as well as the members of their community have no other option but to set up a barricade to ensure the protection of their rights. The barricade, which will take place Friday, June 11, is perfectly legal since it is in respect of Aboriginal rights and complies with the existing Innu traditional juridical system. “We are open to constructive dialogue with the governments and the companies as long as our cultural, economic, social, environmental and spiritual aspirations are respected. We are not against all forms of development of the territory but we are against all development held without our consent,” emphasized the Chiefs of the Innu Strategic Alliance.


Since time immemorial, the Innu, a semi-nomadic people, have occupied the land called Nitassinan – Innu homeland. The Innu of Matimekush-Lac John and of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam traditionally roamed about freely, particularly north of the 50th parallel. In 1927, a border between Quebec and Labrador was imposed on the Innu by the British Crown. This created an artificial division of Nitassinan, constituting a non-recognition of Aboriginal rights that had far-reaching effects. In Schefferville, mining explorations began in the 1950s, when iron ore was high in demand. To transport to ore to the processing plant and to cargo ships, the IOC (Iron Ore Company of Canada) built a railway to Schefferville, with houses, a hospital, and institutions, hence allowing more than 5,000 people to settle in Schefferville in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Nevertheless, in 1982, the Company decided to shut down its operations, de facto “closing the town.” In 1989, IOC tore down nearly 300 houses, recreational and community facilities, as well as the hospital. The Innu of Matimekush Lac-John, as Schefferville residents, took charge of what remained of the town. It is thanks to the Innu of Matimekush Lac-John that the entire infrastructure of Schefferville, including an airport and the railway, vital to the needs of the mining companies, are still operational.

The Innu Strategic Alliance

The Innu Strategic Alliance brings together the Chiefs of the Innu communities of Ekuanitshit, Matimekush-Lac John, Pessamit, Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and Unamen Shipu. It represents some 12,000 people, a 70% representation of the members of the Innu Nation living in Quebec. The mandate of the Strategic Alliance is to enable the parties to defend, in a cooperative manner, their rights, common interests, and to initiate joint actions in order to achieve political, economic and judicial results.

For further information: eric Cardinal, Cardinal Communication, (450) 638-5159, (514) 258-2315, 1-877-638-5159, eric [at] cardinalcommunication [dot] com