Sunday, December 3, 2023

In the Canadian Far North, Rio Tinto, Native Americans and the Mine of Discord

It was the time of the Iron Rush. In the 1930s, mining companies were rushing to the Canadian far north to exploit an ore that would bring them hundreds of millions of dollars. A mineral that would also forever transform the great territory of the Innu, where the communities of Matimekush-Lac John live, more than 1,000 kilometers from Montreal, and that of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam in the North Shore region, in Quebec.

A series of reports proposed by Radio Canada dives into this complex relationship that links the destiny of indigenous reserves to that of mining companies, a forced marriage where the interests of some never serve those of others.

Years of legal battles

Destination Schefferville, in the heart of the Labrador peninsula, a territory inaccessible by road, born under the blows of the excavator of the company IOC Rio Tinto, a joint venture of the Australian mining giant with the Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi.

In this region, for more than forty years, the company has exploited (and disfigured) the territory of the Innu, without ever consulting the indigenous peoples who have lived there for hundreds of years, writes Radio Canada. In the 1980s, the Innu decided to make their voices heard and demanded $900 million from society. Years of legal battles later, the result is well below their expectations: according to the terms of the agreement, the Innus will finally receive 20 million dollars, then 400,000 dollars per year, as well as more than 2 and a half million dollars for the education and training of populations.

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“We were supposed to defend the territory. This agreement is far from being the result of aggressive negotiators. The chiefs will end up extinguishing the rights of the Amerindians,” said one of the members of the Innu community of Mani-utenam, interviewed by Radio Canada.

Eighteen craters and a sweltering atmosphere

One of the community leaders who participated in the negotiations with IOC Rio Tinto, on the contrary, qualifies the text as “recognition” of the occupation of the territory by the Innu, and highlights that the money received will make it possible to carry out various projects. “Thanks to this economic contribution, we will build 200 houses in five years for a total budget of 10 million dollars, we will also build chalets for displaced families and reinvest in training and in a fund dedicated to future generations”, he said.

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In 2011, Tata Steel took over from IOC Rio Tinto, the landscape of the great Innu territory has already changed radically. Eighteen gaping craters left by mining have replaced the forests that once attracted caribou.

The inhabitants tell the hell of their summers, underlines Radio Canada, these months of the year when the red dust of iron oxide covers their city and their clothes. “We see the trees dying and we breathe all that. In the end, the mines have not given us much compared to what they prevent us from doing”, regrets a resident.


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