Quebec Innu threaten to torch Labrador cabins over land dispute, says lawyer
Published Thursday June 5th, 2008
Andy Blatchford, THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL – Members of a Quebec-based Innu community are threatening to torch cabins in Labrador if the Newfoundland and Labrador government forces them out of their ancestral land, a local lawyer says.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government delivered eviction notices last month to Innu families in Quebec, demanding they dismantle their buildings constructed inside the Labrador border.
Innu lawyer Armand MacKenzie said the people of the Uashat-Maliotenam reserve in northeastern Quebec will take matters into their own hands if they are forced to give up what they say are their traditional gathering places, hunting grounds and burial sites.
“I’ve heard people saying that if they tear down our cabins, there won’t be a single cabin standing, whether it’s Innu or a non-Innu cabin, in Labrador,” MacKenzie told The Canadian Press on Thursday.
“We’re going to call it ‘Labrador Burning.’
“If (Newfoundland Premier) Danny Williams wants to pick a fight with the Quebec Innu, he’ll get it. He’ll get it and we’ll have a social crisis in Labrador.”
MacKenzie said the Innu face fines and their buildings will be demolished if they don’t take down the structures built on crown land. The government has placed a 60-day deadline for demolition.
MacKenzie believes it’s an intimidation tactic of the government, which has been brought to court by the Innu.
Members of the band are trying to establish they have aboriginal title to the land and say they don’t recognize provincial borders.
“It’s an aggressive retaliation measure from the government of Newfoundland to send those eviction notices,” said MacKenzie, who was in Montreal for federal court proceedings.
“We won’t be intimidated at all by the authorities of Newfoundland and Labrador because we firmly believe that we belong to that land.”
The government says it delivered eviction letters to the shacks, many of which Williams claims were recently constructed.
The premier said they popped up since discussions on developing the multibillion-dollar Lower Churchill Falls hydro project ramped up.
Williams said government lawyers are questioning whether they were legally set up.
“If there’s cabins that have been there for some time, well then I’m sure that the courts will obviously acknowledge and recognize established claims,” he said Thursday in St. John’s, N.L.
“But this is a process where we’re saying, ‘We are questioning your right to be here and we’d just like to know the facts.’ So we’ll proceed in a legal and proper manner as we go through.”
Williams said he’s not looking for a legal fight and hopes the dispute can be resolved in a fair manner.
Still, the premier said he’s prepared for a court battle if the Quebec Innu are asserting rights beyond what they are entitled.
Uashat-Maliotenam reserve chief Georges-Ernest Gregoire said the province has shown no respect for his people.
“It’s an insult, they’re laughing at us,” said Gregoire, who leads about 4,000 Innu who live near Sept-Iles, Que.
“For sure, the population is hurt, what they’re doing is serious. It’s them who should remove their things and leave, because historically, it’s our ancestors who were there and we are still at home today.”
In 2001, about 100 Uashat-Maliotenam residents, who were upset with the results of a band election, vandalized buildings and burned cars in the reserve.
Residents threw beer bottles at municipal police and officers repelled the attackers with pepper spray.
Ten people, including a police officer, were injured. Local police arrested three people. The riots received international attention.
(With files from Tara Brautigam in St. John’s, N.L.)