In early January the Innu of Pessamit were shocked and dismayed to discover that the Nevado Resources Corporation had been illegally carrying out drilling on their ancestral lands known as the Nitassinan.
“We have never given Nevado permission to drill on our territory. We demand that it cease all activities immediately,” stated Chief Raphaël Picard of the Innu Council of Pessamit.
According to Picard, the community first heard of Nevado’s desires for the project in the fall of 2010. In response, the Innu sent a formal demand that the company cease all mining activities on the ancestral territory as there had been no consultation with the community that is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, just southwest of Baie-Comeau.
Nevado however began its project without even bothering to obtain the necessary authorization or even consulting with the Quebec government. The company put out a press release about its activities on January 26 titled “Nevado Starts 10,000 Metre Diamond Drilling Program at La Blache Iron-Titanium-Vanadium Property in Northern Québec”, and described the results from drilling activities that had already been carried out in this sector.
According to Picard, at no point were his people ever contacted by Nevado.
In response, the Pessamit Innu have filed a complaint with the government and are considering resorting to an injunction or any other recourse open to them to have their Aboriginal title and other rights constitutionally recognised by the courts.
“Nevado has had to withdraw its initial permit application further to our formal demand and after we informed the government of Nevado’s illegal activities. Apparently the government told Nevado that the territory upon which their activities are carried out is on our Aboriginal lands and that our rights are protected by the constitution,” said Picard.
According to Picard, certain jurisdictions in Canada have incorporated the duty to consult within the laws themselves and to force the government to abide by the constitutional principle of the Honour of the Crown. However, Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution takes precedence over the Mining Act. Consequently, even if the Mining Act could provide more protection, the law and the constitutional principles protect Aboriginal people, and the government is well aware of this reality.
Picard also said he is confident that Nevado won’t get off with just a slap on the wrist since what it has done is very serious. While he said he is counting on the government to act as their fiduciary, if necessary the Innu Council of Pessamit will establish their rights before the courts if necessary.
Instead of trying to reach a deal with Novado, the Innu would much rather see all activities stopped, particularly in light of the way the community feels that it has been treated, never being privy to information or even being asked for their collaboration.
Even if Novado had acted according to the Innu’s constitutional rights, Picard said his people most likely wouldn’t have given the project an okay.
“Considering their approach shown in the history of this file, we would be disinclined to welcome them on our Aboriginal territory and/or to partner with them. Their attitude shows either a great misconception of the Aboriginal context or a disregard for our culture, our history and our Aboriginal rights. In both cases, this is unacceptable,” said Picard.
Beyond that, considering the environmental damage and contamination associated with the types of mining projects that Novado was looking to carry out, particularly in the case of vanadium mining, Picard said his people most likely wouldn’t have signed off on the project anyway. He said that in Innu culture the preservation of the resources and the environment is an integral component to Innu society and therefore the project opposes their values.
In the wake of Novado’s illegal drilling, Picard said his people will likely be seeking reparations for the damages done to the land.
When asked how far the Pessamit First Nation was willing to take its battle with Novado, Picard said, “We will do what it takes to obtain the full respect of our Aboriginal titles and rights and of our aspirations as a people.
“Not only have we never ceded our lands, but we have always maintained our autonomy as a people and as a society. One must keep in mind that the Canadian courts henceforth recognise that the Aboriginal nations have never been conquered by the European powers. They refer to this reality as the Aboriginal peoples’ pre-existing sovereignty.”