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NEWS: Innu walk 900-km to protest Plan Nord and La Romaine dams

Last May, the Globe and Mail reported, “Premier Jean Charest has unveiled an ambitious multibillion-dollar plan to develop Quebec’s remote northern region… The economic proposal, Plan Nord, involves a (1.2 million square kilometre) region north of the 49th parallel that is twice the size of France and covers more than 70 per cent of the province’s territory. The proposal involves $80-billion in public and private investment over the next 25 years…”

The Montreal Gazette adds, “Already, 11 mining projects are planned… The region contains deposits of nickel, cobalt, platinum, zinc, iron ore, lignite, gold, lithium, vanadium and rare earths. …In energy development, the Plan Nord calls for developing 3,500 megawatts more in hydroelectric projects (including the 920-megawatt Eastmain-Sarcelle-Rupert dam on the North Shore; the 1,550-megawatt La Romaine dam on the North Shore; and the 1,200-megawatt Petit-Mécatina dam, also on the North Shore)…”

When Plan Nord was first announced, Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir; Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador; the Innu of Uashat Mani-Utenam; Greenpeace Quebec; and Nature Quebec expressed opposition to the plan.

Today, the Toronto Star reports that 40+ Innu and others are participating in a 900-kilometre march from near Sept-Îles to Montreal to protest Plan Nord, arriving on April 22, the day of a major environmental rally in that city. (The rally starts at 2 pm at the Place des Festivals, more information can be found at http://22avril.org.)

Last month, walker Elise Vollant was arrested with twelve others “after she joined a five-day blockade of a road running through her reserve to the $6.5 billion La Romaine hydroelectric project. …The community was protesting Hydro-Quebec’s installation of transmission towers over their ancestral lands, which had been done without their consent. They were also concerned about the potential flooding of their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. The Uashaunnuat still fish for salmon and hunt Canada geese and caribou.”

“The people of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam have voted in two successive referenda to turn down agreements with Hydro-Quebec that included an $80 million cash payment, $45 million in jobs and construction contracts and a development fund. The band council was even taking legal action against Hydro-Quebec for mounting the transmission towers without permission.”

“So, where’s the problem? According to marcher Clemence Simon, marchers feel the project will eventually go through anyway. The band council has already agreed to drop its court action in return for a compensation package. And, Hydro-Quebec is making inroads into the community, signing a contract with local Innu-owned company Nemetau, which is cutting down trees to make way for its transmission lines. …(And) the band council has already signed agreements with four iron mining companies.”

La Romaine, which includes four dams along the Romaine River, is set to begin operation in 2020. In 2009, the National Post reported, “Charest said the new project is crucial to secure Quebec’s energy supply, but his government has made it clear any extra power will be offered for export to Ontario, Eastern Canada and the United States.”

Last April, during the federal election campaign, the Montreal Gazette commented, “That politicians believe there are more votes in damming a river than developing clean energy is clear from the recent billion-dollar loan guarantee promises from the Conservative Party to help finance hydro in Newfoundland and Labrador. …Lost in the politics of dam building are the rivers. From the Ontario border to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, only three major or mid-size rivers have not been harnessed for their electric power. …By 2020, the (Romaine River) will be replaced by four new dams, seven dikes, giant spillways and canals and 279.2 square kilometres of reservoirs. Once Hydro-Québec finishes damming the Romaine, it plans giant hydro dams for the neighbouring Petit Mécatina and Magpie Rivers. …Faced with this astonishing assault on nature, one question remains. Has hydro become an anachronism in a world where there are alternative energy solutions that do not destroy the environment? …(Apart from the destruction of the rivers), hydro reservoirs across Canada annually emit as much as one million tonnes of greenhouse gases. They come from the breakdown of biomass (dead trees and plants) left in the flooded area.”

On May 2-3, there will be a forum on Plan Nord in Quebec City. The forum’s website notes, “Initiated by Nature Québec and the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Sustainable Development Institute (FNQLSDI), and organized jointly with the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), the Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ), Quebec Native Women (QNW) and the Canadian Research Chair on Aboriginal Territorial Governance(CRC-TAG), the forum is intended to debate the issues and opportunities represented by the Plan Nord, in particular the recognition of the rights and interests of the Aboriginal nations, environmental protection, the responsible development of lands and resources (mines, energy, forests, wildlife, etc.), along with the potential short and long-term impacts to the affected communities. The forum also intends to reposition the Plan Nord within the context of the broad social, environmental and economic debates that characterize the world and Quebec today.” More at http://www.forumplannord.com/en.