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Indigenous People and Mines in Canada

Categories: North America, Canada, Development, Digital Activism, Environment, Ethnicity & Race, Governance, Indigenous, Labor, Protest

It would be an understatement to state that  Indigenous community in North America have not benefited equally from the industrial development of the North American continent. Le Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation [1] (The Research Center on Globalization)  made the following grim statement [fr]:

l’espérance de vie est moindre, les maladies sont plus répandues, les problèmes humains, depuis la violence familiale jusqu’à l’alcoolisme, sont également plus répandus. Moins de jeunes achèvent leurs études secondaires, une minorité d’entre eux entrent au collège et à l’université

Life expectancy is lower, diseases are more widespread, the human challenges ranging from domestic violence to alcoholism are also more widespread. Less young people are finishing high school and only a few attend universities.

In fact, I made the argument  in a blogpost [2] [fr] that international development should be a North America’s preoccupation when it concerns indigenous people affairs. The relations between some governments (Canada [3] and Quebec [4] for instance) and indigenous people of their territories, have many similarities with relations between governments of the developed world  and the most vulnerable populations of the world. It is a much easier task to elaborate programs filled with good intentions and sign international treaties when they don’t impact us directly. However, when it comes to indigenous people and poverty (indigenous people in Canada are ranked  63rd [5] on the Human Development Index [6], while Canada as a whole is ranked 4th [7]), the question become a hot issue, since we are in theory sharing  a territory, as well as resources which could help indigenous people climb some echelons on the Human Development Index.


Coal Mine in Canada by Vicky via ClintJCL on Flickr- CC license share alike-NC 2.0

Therefore, the Innu [9] community, indigenous inhabitants of Labrador, Canada, have blocked access to a Labrador Iron Mines [10] site since June 11.  According to Mining Watch [11], the Innu community is:

calling on the Government of Québec to declare an immediate moratorium on uranium exploration and mining throughout Québec (…) The Chief of the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam noted that several uranium exploration projects are found within their traditional territory and that all of these projects, as with all other authorisations by the Québec Government, require the free prior and informed consent of the Innu.

Representatives of the federal government, the Quebec government, the Newfoundland and Labrador government and indigenous leaders from Schefferville and Sept-Îles Maliotenam met to discuss economic opportunities that could come out of the project. But a consensus is still to be reached: the Dany Williams government of Newfoundland would like to get 80 % of the benefits associated with the exploration activities of the newly opened mines, while Labrador Iron Mines and New Millenium Capital offered   700 000$ of compensation to Schefferville Innus to convince them to take off the barricades.
This issue highlights the fact that some articles of the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples that the government of Quebec supports, are not always respected in reality. A clear example of this dissonance is highlighted by blogger Armand McKenzie [12] who cites the article 32 [13] of the Declaration, which states that:

States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

What’s more, according to Melissa Filion, who blogs for Greenpeace [14]:

Nothing has been done by the Quebec government, within the framework of the Plan Nord [15], to resolve the issue related to rights and titles of First Nation. (…) Up to now, the government is clearly interested by any kind of exploration and exploitation projects, whether it is new hydro electric dams, more forestry opérations or new oil, gaz or mines exploitation… Only big industrial activities, all in all ! (…) How the Quebec government expect to interact with First Nation communities who wish for a nations to nations dialog?