A group of 40 women of the Innu indigenous nation in northern Quebec have launched a 900-kilometer cross-country march on Montreal to protest the provincial government’s Plan Nord, a multibillion-dollar mega-project that would open the north to mining and energy companies. The group, originally made up 14 women, left Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam near Sept-Îles nearly two weeks ago. They plan to reach Montreal on April 22, Earth Day, to join planned protests against the Plan Nord. The march was launched after a protest blockade of a road running through the Uashaunnuat Innu reserve was broken up after five days by provincial police on March 9.
The community erected the road block to protest Hydro-Quebec’s installation of transmission towers on the Innu’s ancestral lands, known as Nitassinan, which had been done without their consent. The blockade went up after Innu representatives walked away from negotiations with Hydro-Québec over the proposed La Romaine hydroelectric complex, which would flood lands the Innu still use for hunting caribou.
The four-dam complex, the flagship project of Plan Nord, was approved by Quebec’s environmental assessment board more than two years ago. However, the Uashaunnuat Innu communities of Uashat and Maliotenam have continuously challenged that decision, saying the board failed to consider how the transmission lines for the project would affect their lands.
Speaking from the blockade as police moved in, Uashaunnuat vice-chief Michael MacKenzie said, “There’s no aggression from our side. What we’re doing today is legitimate and this is what it’s come to. Our rights have been trampled.” Added Christopher Scott of the Alliance Romaine, which is campaigning against the dam complex: “We had the Arab Spring, I think we’re now seeing an Innu Spring.” (Toronto Star, April 13; Intercontinental Cry, March 11)
While the Romaine River flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Hydro-Quebec is also planning an expansion of the James Bay hydro complex at the other end of the province’s remote north. New dams were recently completed on the Rupert River that flows into James Bay, a southern inlet of Hudson’s Bay, in the land of the Cree people.