Innu Fight For Housing and Against Police
Youths Attack Patrol Car
by Jean-Guy Gougeon
June 28, 2007
Protesting against the chief’s decision to call on the Quebec Provincial Police [SQ in French] to temporarily replace the Innu police, fifteen youths destroyed a SQ patrol car in the Ekuanitshit (Mingan) community Sunday morning. Six of them appeared in court on Tuesday.
Around 5:30am two officers responded to a call about a break-in at a corner store. They arrived and examined the scene; as they were walking around the building they came face to face with a gang of youths who attacked them with bats. The two officers had to run to a second patrol car which had arrived.
At the same time the youths destroyed the patrol car, smashing its windshields and lights. A call for help sent to the SQ station at Havre Saint-Pierre brought other police into the Innu community. Two hours later, three youths were arrested, followed by three others who the police claim were brought in by their parents.
The six youths were arrested, and brought to Sept-Iles where they appeared on Tuesday. The SQ had been patrolling the community since last Thursday at the request of the chief, due to problems with the Innu police officers who normally patrol there.
Innu Fight for Housing
Wii’nimkiikaa, Issue 1, 2004
On March 10th, 2004, RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] officers were kicked off the Innu reserve of Sheshatshiu when they came to apprehend children from families who were occupying the Band Council offices. The families, six adults and six children took over the offices and barricaded themselves inside the day before, after waiting five and a half years for the Council to delegate them housing.
Six RCMP officers and Child, Youth and Family Services officials were repelled by about 50 to 60 family members who rushed down to defend those occupying the offices. Police used pepper-spray and electric taser guns on the Innu, but were forced to flee as they were hit with a barrage of stones. Five police cars were damaged, three were abandoned, and the cops had to drive away on the rims of their last two vehicles after the tires were slashed.
“They started dragging everybody out of here, giving everybody a hard time, saying to us, ‘This is private property,'” remarked one of the Innu women, “But you know this is the Band Council, this is our community.” A child was slightly injured by broken glass when the police tried to smash their way into the offices.
In the aftermath of the battle, a store owned by a non-community member was looted, the Band Council office was trashed and a bonfire was started outside the building.
The families then moved into a partially-built and unused home that is owned by the Band. But on March 12th, RCMP officers and an Emergency Response Team from St. John’s invaded the community at night and made nine arrests, including four men, three women and two youths. Their charges include assaulting a police officer, mischief, theft, and inciting a riot. Two youth were released a few days later, but the rest have been held in custody awaiting their trial.
“We’re behind the RCMP and the Child, Youth and Family Services to act on this. And we’ll be supporting them every step of the way because if we let it go this time, you know, it’s gonna happen again tomorrow,” said Sheshatshiu ‘Chief’ Paul Rich.
On May 12th, three of the detained teenagers plead guilty to their charges in court. One of the Native teens was convicted of carrying an axe as a weapon, assaulting a police officer, and two counts of damage over $5,000 to police cars and the Band Council office. Another plead guilty to carrying a piece of wood as a weapon, breaking in to a store, and attempting to steal a safe from the Band Council office. The third teen was convicted of stealing products from the store and two charges of damage over $5,000 to the RCMP vehicles and the Band Council building. All three will be sentenced next month. The trial for the adults charged in the case will begin in June.
The Innu Nation is infamous internationally as one of the poorest and most oppressed indigenous nations in Canada. The Innu were only colonized very recently, and were not put onto reserves until the 1960’s. They are traditionally a nomadic people who have no form of hierarchy or leadership within their society. In Innu culture it is considered the height of rudeness to ever impose yourself on another person.
Chiefs and Band Councils are completely foreign to the Innu people and were imposed on them by the Canadian government. The Innu have been forcefully relocated several times in recent history and the Roman Catholic church has played its role in assimilating the people. The Innu have suffered from devastating suicide rates, alcoholism, gas-huffing, and a lack of water and sewage.
Despite this, they have also fought back In the late 1980’s, traditional Innu began to reoccupy their land and hunt and gather in their traditional ways. This greatly uplifted the spirit of the children. But the traditional Innu faced a new attack in the form of low-level flying and test bombings by jet fighters from a Canadian military base at Nitassinin. The government was attempting to turn the base into a NATO installation and European jets were already training on Innu territory. More than 100 Innu were arrested, after they broke into and occupied the base’s runway 19 times between 1988 and 1990.
There have also been several confrontations and road blockades over industrial development. In 1996 the Innu managed to prevent the construction of a nickle mine. In 1993, members of the Innu community at Davis Inlet attacked a judge, trashed a police station and drove court officials off the reserve, in anger at racist sentencing decisions and the imprisonment of Innu youths.