SEPT-ÎLES, QUE. — Flying in a helicopter over the Bay of Sept-Îles, Alexandre Pinette points to the mouth of the Moisie River where it empties from the north into the St. Lawrence River. Members of his Innu community used to live by the river every summer to fish salmon and trap, but he said they were moved by the government in 1949 to the permanent Uashat and Maliotenam reservations.
“When the Innu came back in spring, their houses were destroyed. They had disappeared,” said Pinette, his voice crackling over the helicopter intercom. He adds that Innu were also displaced between 1948 and 1950 from what is now the Iron Ore Co. of Canada’s port, where huge mounds of the sparkling mineral are sorted and then loaded into waiting cargo ships.
A 578-kilometre railway stretches north from Sept-Îles’ deep-water port to where the mineral is dug from the ground. Here, the Innu claim the mines and other facilities have ruined the environment, displaced members from their territory and prevented them from practising their traditional way of life, while not giving much back to the community.
For the band councils of the Innu of Uashat-Maliotenam and Matimekush-Lac John, the almost 60 years of alleged damage is worth suing IOC for $900 million.
Although the allegations have yet to be proven in court, this case has already changed Canada’s natural resource landscape by clearing the way for Aboriginal communities to directly sue companies for damages instead of only being allowed to seek compensation from the government. The end result could be tens of billions’ worth of new lawsuits against Canadian companies.
The Innu have Impact Benefit Agreements with other companies in the area, including ArcelorMittal SA, which owns an iron ore mining operation just a few kilometers from IOC that started in the late 1950s.
Documents obtained by Radio-Canada show that the Uashat-Maliotenam band council receives between $12 and $15 million a year from these agreements, depending on the companies’ production.
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