Mamit Innuat was created in 1988 by four Innu Band Councils of the Lower North Shore region of Quebec. The communities of Mingan, Natashquan, La Romaine and Pakuashipi created the organization to administer services such as health and education, and the promotion of the socio-economic development of their communities. Mamit Innuat means "Innu of the East".
For the past four years, following the dissolvement of the Tribal Council, the Conseil Atitamekw Montagnais, Mamit Innuat has also been involved in political and jurisdictional issues for the Bands, as well as providing technical services such as engineering.
The office of Mamit Innuat is in Sept-Isles, where I met with Armand Mackenzie, a lawyer involved in land claim negotiations, and Germaine Mestenapio, who was recently hired as communication agent.
The four Innu communities have been involved in the latest round of land rights negotiations with the federal and Qubec governments since June, 1995. The Innu are seeking recognition of their Aboriginal land rights and their inherent right to self-government, compensation for the moral and physical harm, and more power in environmental matters affecting their territories. According to Mr. Mackenzie, the negotiations concern 300,000 sq. km. of territory. Thus far, the federal and provincial governments position is to "grant" the Innu 2,000 sq. km. of territory to be held in fee simple title and co-management of 6,000 sq. km. of territory. The federal and provincial governments want to determine which areas fall under these categories, choosing exclusively unproductive lands.
Members of Mamit Innuat and the Band Councils have held public meetings in the Innu communities to present the federal and provincial positions. The communities have all rejected the proposals. Mr. Mackenzie said that whenever the Innu have brought up issues that they want discussed at the negotiation table, their provincial and federal counterparts, referring to their directives, tell the Innu that they have no mandate to discuss these issues. He said neither the federal nor provincial governments are willing to recognize Aboriginal jurisdiction and that both are seeking Aboriginal municipal-style "self-government."
Mr. Mackenzie said that the Bands will continue land rights negotiations, as "it is the only game in town." All the Bands representing Innu communities in Qubec are presently involved in land claim negotiations, with the exception of Schefferville. The latter refuses to enter into negotiations because the federal and provincial governments insist that the band extinguish its Aboriginal and land rights on their traditional territories under the James Bay Agreement as a pre-condition to starting negotiations.
The four Innu communities are located on the isolated north shore of the Gulf of St-Lawrence. The population depend on their traditional economy of hunting and fishing. There is high unemployment and most of the jobs in the communities are provided by the Band Councils. There are a variety of activities affecting their lands, such as military low-level flights out of CFB Goose Bay, a hydroelectric development project in St-Augustin, and several proposed development projects in Quebec and Labrador threatening their lands and livelihood.
Armand Mackenzie notes that Qubec is trying to assert its jurisdiction over all fresh waters in the Innu territories represented by Mamit Innuat. Qubec is presently seeking a way to sell huge quantities of fresh water to the Middle East by supertanker. The Innu also face increasing harassment by provincial fish and game wardens while in their hunting camps or while fishing. The area is a lucrative site for outfitters serving American sports fishermen.
Facing federal and Quebec intransigence at the negotiation table, Mamit Innuat has taken their struggle to the international stage, meeting with representatives of the British House of Lords and presenting their situation at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The Bands have also challenged development in their territories, and given support to the Innu and Inuit in Labrador in their conflict with Inco at the Voisey Bay mining site..
In January 1997, a small mining company called Tiomin announced it made an important discovery of titanium sand deposits near the mouth of the Natashquan River. The Natashquan Band subsequently sent a letter to the company asking to meet in order to discuss a partnership between the Band and the company. The Innu did not want to block development, but insure their interests in participating in the venture and minimizing environmental damage during the mine's exploration and operation phases.
Tiomin categorically refused any meeting with the Innu and instead released a series of press releases accusing the First Nation of asking for too many concessions and "trying to stop development." Similarly to the case in Labrador, the Innu sought to minimalize environemntal impacts and realize some benefits from the mining development. Tiomin, however, unlike Inco, does not have deep pockets of financial resources. After the company refused to meet with the Innu and ceased operations in Natashquan, the company's shares dropped like a stone. On January 23, 1997, common shares of Tiomin sold on the Toronto stock exchange at $4.00 per share. On September 26, 1997 it was listed at only $1.90 per share.