Newfoundland is complaining that a hydro deal it signed with Quebec is unfair, but the real losers of the Churchill Falls deal were the Innu people, says Innu Nation President Peter Penashue.
The Churchill Falls project, completed by Hydro-Quebec in 1974, flooded 6,700 square kilometres of Innu land in Labrador, including important hunting lands and burial sites.
Under the deal, Hydro-Quebec buys power from Churchill Falls at a low, fixed price which allows it to resell the power at a 10-fold profit to the United States.
Newfoundland wants to renegotiate the deal, pointing to the fact that Hydro-Quebec made about $750 million in profit from Churchill Falls last year. Meanwhile, Newfoundland made $ 16.5 million in profit.
But Penashue points out that the Innu never even got a penny.
“If Brian Tobin is going to be asking Quebec and other Canadians to address the unfairness of the Churchill Falls agreement, he should remember that the real losers in this deal were the Innu,” said Penashue in a press release.
“We were never consulted or even informed about what would happen to our land when Churchill Falls was built, and we have never been compensated for the damage that was done by the flooding. If Brian Tobin wants Quebec to deal fairly with Newfoundland, he should set an example and deal fairly with the Innu.”
Penashue noted that many areas of cultural, historical and spiritual significance were submerged, and many Innu hunters lost equipment when their seasonal campsites were flooded.
A 1977 survey found elevated mercury levels in 37 per cent of the Sheshatshiu Innu population. The government responded by advising people not to eat the fish.
In 1992, the Sheshatshiu people removed hydro meters from their homes in a year-long protest against the failure of Newfoundland to enter talks on compensation for Churchill Falls. Newfoundland insists it has no obligation to do so, even though the Innu have never signed away rights to their land in any treaty or agreement.
“Newfoundland needs to recognize its responsibilities to the Innu,” said Penashue.