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A “historic” agreement with Quebec greeted with skepticism in Pessamit

Photo: Francis Vachon Le Devoir The Minister of Relations with First Nations and Inuit, Ian Lafrenière, and Stéphane Tshernish, at one of the entrances to the community

Marie-Michèle Sioui and Sébastien Tanguay in Pessamit and Quebec

4:23 p.m.

  • Quebec

Against a backdrop of skepticism in the north-coastal community, the Pessamit Innus Council and the Quebec government announced Thursday the opening of negotiations on the energy potential of the sector, in return for financial compensation of $45 million over six years.

The amount paid by the government of Quebec accompanies a framework agreement described as “historic” on both sides. Clearly, Pessamit and Quebec are opening negotiations for two years, in a context where Hydro-Québec wishes in particular to increase the water level of the Manicouagan reservoir and develop the wind potential of Nitassinan, the ancestral territory of the Innu.

The framework agreement “will promote collaboration and predictability regarding the future development of the territory and the natural resources found there,” wrote in a joint press release the Prime Minister of Quebec, François Legault, the head of Pessamit , Marielle Vachon, and the president and CEO of Hydro-Québec, Michael Sabia.

The final agreement that could result from these negotiations will be subject to a referendum, said Chief Vachon in an announcement made ahead of the official ceremony. During the two years that the negotiations last, Pessamit undertakes to suspend its legal proceedings against Quebec.

Innu incredulous

The dignitaries who visited Pessamit on Thursday were greeted by residents who expressed their concerns about the agreement, but especially the lack of consultations which preceded it. “We wanted to have information. We stirred the cage a little and we got some. We knew that it was not final, the agreement, but that it was a framework agreement,” Malcolm Riverin explained to Devoir. With a few others, he was installed at one of the entrances to the community, with a poster deploring the lack of consultation regarding the framework agreement.

“It was rumored by word of mouth, but it was never clear. The world had misinterpreted, they believed it was a final agreement. What do we understand ? We’ll find out at 5 p.m.,” said Stéphane Tshernish. He said he was delighted to be able to speak with the Minister of First Nations and Inuit Relations, Ian Lafrenière.

The Pessamit band council summoned its citizens to an information session at 5 p.m. Thursday. This means that community residents will know the content of the framework agreement a few hours after the ceremony with MM. Legault and Sabia.

Noting the concern and anger within Pessamit, Minister Lafrenière spoke with Chief Vachon in the morning, in a Facebook Live. “I understand your concerns. Today, what we are doing together is a gesture of good faith,” he assured.

The day before, the Innu council presented the agreement as “historic” and as the starting point of a “new era” in relations with the government. On Thursday, Mr. Lafrenière instead reduced the scope of the agreement, specifying that it “does not represent an end”, but rather the “beginning of negotiations” to come and “a basis for starting something”.

The population, he assured, will be able to vote through a referendum on a possible final agreement. “We are still far from there,” he nevertheless insisted.

Suspension of legal remedies

To launch negotiations, each party agreed to compromises. Hydro-Québec and the government therefore undertake not to raise the level of reservoirs located in the ancestral territory of the Innu of Pessamit, which includes the Manic-5 power station and the Manicouagan reservoir.

The community is suspending legal actions brought against the government of Quebec, Ottawa and Hydro-Québec to demand compensation of half a billion dollars for the violation of its ancestral rights and the destruction of vast swaths of its territory.

“On the government and Hydro-Québec side, we are not touching the water reservoirs. There were requests before the courts to raise water levels, we are putting that aside and it is a gesture of good faith on the part of the government, underlined Minister Lafrenière. On the other hand, on the community side, proceedings before the courts are suspended. “That doesn't mean that there won't be any: it means that during the time we're going to give ourselves to negotiate, for a few months up to two years, we're putting that aside,” he said. -he explains.

Beginning of a new era

The realization of the region's hydroelectric potential seven decades ago flooded a vast part of the Innu community's Nitassinan and gave rise to resentment whose after-effects remain palpable even today.

“This morning [Thursday], I think the scars have opened. People were afraid. This is a reaction that must be understood,” underlined Minister Lafrenière. He himself has been working on this file since the summer. “The first times I came here, there, with the boss, it wasn’t easy. To put it plainly, I didn’t think we’d come to an agreement,” he admitted.

He acknowledged that there had been “a lack of information” which could have fueled the fear of Pessamit residents. “As long as it has not passed [through approval by the Council of Ministers], legally, I cannot share it. So that brought us to this position,” he explained. “What a great example of our different realities. We have our legal limits. »

The signing of an agreement in the presence of the Prime Minister and the big boss of Hydro-Québec represents, in the eyes of Minister Lafrenière, the hope of a more harmonious era between the Innu of Pessamit and the government. “That’s what the community wanted. It’s a strong message,” he said of MM’s presence. Legault and Sabia. “When we do nation-to-nation relations, we adapt to the wishes of the community. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116