Quebec: Innu women march against hydro mega-project

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 The group, originally made up 14 women, left Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam near Sept-Îles nearly two weeks ago.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.

See our last posts on Canada and indigenous land struggles in North America.

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  1. Montreal melee over tuition hikes, Plan Nord
    Well, Quebec’s righteously pissed off students are getting the big picture, linking the crisis of capitalism to questions of ecological survival and indigenous rights. The protest movement against tuition hikes on April 20 turned its ire on a Montreal job fair promoting Plan Nord, where Premier Jean Charest was speaking. The streets outside the convention center turned into a battleground, with masked youth erecting barricades and police responding with tear gas. The protests continued the following day. Over 100 were arrested in total, some store windows were smashed, and police said four officers were injured. In the convention center, Charest played the old card in Quebecois politics of portraying the industrial exploitation of Cree and Innu lands as the province’s economic salvation: “For those knocking on our doors this morning, we’ll offer them jobs—as much as possible, in the North.” The suggestion was angrily rejected by the University Student Federation of Quebec (FEUQ) and the Association for Student-Labor Solidarity (CLASSE). (Canadian Press, April 21; Montreal Gazette, April 20)