Two Innu First Nations groups in Quebec are claiming rights over lands in Labrador where the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) has already concluded an agreement with Labrador’s Innu Nation.
The Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John Innu First Nations in Quebec are objecting to IOC’s claims that the company has settled aboriginal issues regarding IOC’s projects on an area they say is their traditional territory. The groups are calling on the IOC to come to an agreement with them as well.
The request comes shortly after IOC signed an agreement with the Labrador Innu Nation, which the groups consider, “a curious development,” considering the fact their groups have rights to the area.
“We have never ceded nor otherwise lost our rights to our traditional territory, our Nitassinan, which territory we have possessed, occupied and administered since time immemorial,” Matimekush-Lac John Chief Réal Mckenzie stated in a news release issued Friday.
“Governments and the mining industry allow other aboriginal groups with no legitimate claim to our territory to encroach on our lands at our expense. We can no longer tolerate such an attitude which aims to capture our resources and the benefits which derive from them.”
The Innu of Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John have cited their aboriginal title with respect to IOC project sites in legal proceedings filed against IOC on March 18, 2013 at the Québec Superior Court in Montreal.
The legal proceedings aim to put a stop to IOC’s projects in Québec and Labrador and seek damages estimated at $900 million.
The Quebec groups say they have demonstrated an openness to finding an honourable solution to their dispute with IOC, which they say dates back to the 1940s, when the company first arrived on their territory.
McKenzie said the Innu’s frustration has never been higher and he was disappointed to hear that after four years of talks with the company, it opted to sign an agreement with groups that it says are not the main parties.
“It is going to take much more than that agreement if IOC intends to turn the page and move forward,” he said. “After over 70 years of IOC violating our rights, we cannot take it anymore.”
The two First Nations intend to meet with all interested parties in the coming weeks and are not ruling out further legal recourses to protect their rights.