It wasn’t too long ago that Premier Lucien Bouchard was going around saying that no hydro projects will be built without the consent of the First Nations.
This month, Bouchard experienced what has been called the most humiliating moment of his career when Innu protesters disrupted his announcement of the $ 12-billion Churchill Falls II hydro project. The nation’s media were there to record all the grisly details.
About 1001 nnu surrounded a van carrying Bouchard and Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin, forcing them to get out and talked to the Innu about the project for the first time.
Half an hour later, they still couldn’t convince the protesters to let them pass. They got back in their van and waited for an hour helplessly while the Innu paraded around, banging on the doors and beating drums.
Children were also involved, with some toddlers carrying protest signs that were nearly as big as them. One young boy wrote, “No Dam Way,” with his finger in the dust on the van. An entourage of 14 planeloads of journalists, businesspeople, politicians and officials looked on.
Finally, Bouchard and Tobin got out of the van and started the long walk back to the airport, several kilometres away. As they proceeded down an icy, snow-covered road, Tobin holding Bouchard’s elbow, the protesters followed them chanting, “Go home, go home.”
The embarassing images were all over the news that night and the front pages of the next day’s papers.
“It turned out really successful,” said Paul Rich, chief of the Innu community of
Sheshatshiu. “We wanted to show them that this is Innu land and it’s not for sale.”
Rich said the Innu people have suffered enough from the Lower Churchill Falls project of the late 1960s, which they never consented to. They want compensation first for that project and settlement of their land claim before any new development is even considered, he said.
“We’re not saying the Innu are only interested in money. But we know we can’t unflood it. We can’t reverse it because everything is devastated.”
While there has not yet been a community resolution on the new project, Rich said he believes his people are against it. “We’re just looking at stopping the whole project. It’s too close to our communities.”
Rich said Quebec and Newfoundland are ignoring recent court decisions like the Delgamuukw Supreme Court case which support First Nations rights.
Media coverage on Churchill Falls II has been skeptical, especially critical of the fact that the power is not needed in Quebec and is destined for export at a loss to the U.S.
The Montreal Gazettes editorial entitled, “Red flags at Churchill Falls,” noted that the Americans will pay only about 3 cents a kilowatt-hour while the cost will be 4.4 cents.
In another surprising development, HQ president Andre Caille said the utility is “lucky” theGreat Whale project didn’t go through as originally proposed. Great Whale’s electricity wouldhave cost 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, double what the U.S. market will pay.