The Innu of Matimekush-Lac John in Schefferville are blockading the access road to their territories in a protest over the practices of some outfitting companies on their traditional lands. The Innu allege that the outfitting companies are intentionally flying lower over the territories to divert the caribou so that their clients, who are predominantly American, can be guaranteed better shots while on hunting expeditions.
Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador said the Innu are worried that outfitters will do almost anything to guarantee that a successful hunt for their clients.
“I guess with the compliance of the airline companies, with the bush planes, they will do some manoeuvres in order to divert the migration of the caribou,” said Picard. “That is why the Innu are complaining. They say that this results in them not being able to access the caribou forthemselves.”
Picard said that after so many years of complaining to Quebec and being ignored, the Innu had to resort to a blockade in order to make their voice heard.
According to Picard, the Innu have taken their complaints in the past to various government ministries but to no avail. Picard said that even when smaller outfitting companies have gone as far as complaining to the Ministry of Natural Resources, they get the same responses.
“They say, ‘Yes, we will look at it.’ At times the outfitting unit is or could be liable to pay a fine. But based on the amount of money that they make the fine is nothing. They just pay it and continue on as they have been doing.”
While the blockade was intended as a pressure tactic and to block some of the outfitters from getting to their supplies, there has been fallout in the neighbouring Naskapi community. The Naskapi, who are located 17 kilometres north of Schefferville, took a hit to their pocket-books while the blockade was in place because some local outfitting companies get their supplies from their community.
“The Naskapi nation could not participate in the blockade,” said Naskapi Chief Philip Einish. “We do not want to destroy our relationships with the outfitting companies. It’s coming down on the outfitting industry and also it’s cutting our supply, from our suppliers down south.”
While the Naskapi feel strongly that the caribou should not be diverted in this manner and want the government to take action, they did not agree to the blockade.
“They told us that this blockade would come up and that they would be blocking the road to the floating base,” said Einish. “But they didn’t say they would be using our provincial road, which leads us to the outside road, to Schefferville.” The Naskapi have a contract with the Ministry of Transport to maintain the road that was blocked.
Since the blockade went up, all concerned parties have been invited to talks by the Quebec government to discuss the issue. The Naskapi have also been invited to participate in these talks in the hopes that all parties can find common ground.
Picard thinks the Innu will participate in these discussions but want some results on the ground and in the air.
“The Innu are insisting that we do it quickly and that we not wait two years before we come to a conclusion,” said Picard.