Jacques Kurtness isn’t getting too excited about the PQ government’s recent self-government proposal to the Innu and Atikamekw nations.
“Let’s see the horse,” says Kurtness, who is the chief self-government negotiator for Quebec’s 12,000 Innu. “We’ll see if it’s a whole horse and if it’s teeth are all right, and can we get on it and go somewhere?”
Kurtness is skeptical because the Innu and Atikamekw have been trying to get a land claim settled for 15 years, with no success. They claim a 750,000-square-mile area stretching from Lac-St-Jean to the St-Lawrence River and all the way out to Labrador.
The PQ’s self-government proposal was made by Premier Jacques Parizeau at the annual meeting of the Conseil Atikamekw-Montagnais on Oct. 28. Parizeau said he’s ready to give the Innu and Atikamekw “real and significant” powers over their lands and allow them to control their economic, social and cultural development.
Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Ghislain Picard, himself an Innu, saw Parizeau’s announcement as a PR ploy. “It’s clear if there was a satisfactory agreement with two nations, it would raise the image of the government of Quebec outside Quebec,” he told the Montreal Gazette.
Kurtness said the lack of a self-government agreement means Innu hunters are getting arrested for conducting traditional pursuits on their own lands. It also means 14 rivers in Innu Territory have been dammed by Hydro-Quebec, despite Innu protest.
The land claim remains stalled because the Innu and Atikamekw nations refuse to sign an extinguishment clause signing away territorial and compensatory rights over their territory.
Kurtness himself is from Masthauiats, south of Chibougamau. Three-quarters of Masthauiats trappers hunt by the Ashuapmushuan River, where yet another dam is planned. This dam project is more evidence of the need for a new relationship between First Nations and the outside society, said Kurtness.