Indigenous Responses to Mining and Colonialism in Schefferville

By Charles O’Connor

Premier Phillippe Couillard says, that in re-launching Plan Nord, “[n]ous le faisons dans le but d’optimiser les retombées économiques dans les communautés locales et autochtones du Nord et dans toutes les régions du Québec (Gouvernment du Quebec, 2015, III)”.  Unfortunately for the Innu, the new Plan Nord offers no promises of restoring abandoned mine sites around Schefferville, Quebec.

A Tent on Mars and Wapikoni Mobile present unique images of two Innu reserves located near Schefferville.  The Indigenous Peoples of these communities, and others in and around Schefferville must be at the centre of any evaluation of the effects of the Quebec government’s devastating mining laws and policies in Innu territories.  On the Nametau Innu website, an Innu man expresses a profound connection with the land: “Pour moi, vendre son territoire, c’est comme vendre son âme (McKenzie, 2010)”.  Natural ecosystems in Innu territory have been severely disrupted.  Extensive strip mining of a vast iron ore deposit called the Labrador Trough has been a major part of the colonization of the Innu and their territories.  Mining companies, their equipment, and their promises, come and go with global booms and busts in the price of iron ore.  The Native peoples, and the devastated landscapes remain.

CJO-Case-Study-Plan-Nord-Mines-MapThe Innu are responding to mining and colonialism through film and art.  Leanne Simpson offers important ideas about the role of art in addressing relationships between Canadian society and Indigenous Peoples (Simpson, 2015).  In terms of decolonial struggle, she asserts that instances of artistic creativity make possible momentary feelings of freedom.  Through art, we can get a brief glimpse of what decolonization might eventually feel like.

Documentary film is a medium uniquely suited to combining emotionally charged, creative possibilities with historical information and intellectual argument.  In A Tent on Mars (dir. Bureau and Renaud, 2009). Territory, identity and legitimacy are at the heart of a dialogue between two people, Quebecers and First Nations, living the same combat. Two civilizations that proclaim to be colonized. Although the first one often times acts as the colonizer (les films du 3 mars, n.d.)

The Innu protagonist of the film,  Essimeu “Tite” McKenzie, offers insights into the extra-terrestrial effects of strip mining iron ore in Northern Québec and Labrador; how Indigenous peoples experienced the decades-long mining boom, and the subsequent abandonment of the town by mining companies; the ongoing effects of religion, experienced through residential schooling, and Catholic mass in the Native language; and, the extraction of caribou by big budget sport hunters from the United States.  A Tent on Mars connects resource extraction with the ongoing, complex and tragic fall-out from the colonization of Innu and their territory.

Wapikoni Mobile, a mobile video production  company working in First Nations communities, has also produced documentary film with Innu around Schefferville (Wapikoni Mobile, 2015).  Concordia Phd. student Kester Dyer describes Wapikoni Mobile as “a transportable/transnational cinema (Dyer, 2015)”.  Recently, they presented an installation of short films and photography at World Press Photo 2015 in Montreal.  The production team spent the month of September 2015, with the Anishnabe community of Kitcisakik, “l’une des deux communautés autochtones québécoises toujours nomades”.  The Innu communities in and around Schefferville are among the 26 native communities that Wapikoni Mobile has visited.  Short films produced by Pishu Pilot and Nemnemiss McKenzie present unique, indigenous perspectives on the mining industry around Schefferville, and the perseverance of traditional culture.

Atikuat Nimeteut / Le Sentier du Caribou (dir. Pilot, 2013) addresses issues of racism in the mining industry, and grassroots resistance to unrestrained economic development.

 

Eshi Mishkutshipanit (dir. McKenzie, 2013):  “Sous des images de marche en raquettes traditionnelles, Grégoire Ambroise raconte le mode de vie d’antan, en opposition avec les changements de la vie d’aujourd’hui (Wapikoni Mobile, 2015)”.

The full restoration of abandoned mining sites is a major demand of the Innu.  For the sites around Schefferville, Plan Nord falls far short of meaningful “retombées économiques dans les communautés locales et autochtones (Gouvernment du Québec, 2015, III)”.  According to the province’s list of abandoned mine sites, the size of the open pit mines around Schefferville are “indeterminate” as are the plans to restore them (MERN, 2014).  Before embarking on more ambitious resource extraction projects through Plan Nord, the Quebec government and the mining industry should pay more attention and dollars to restoring the devastated landscapes around Schefferville.

 

References

Despars, Sonia (producer), & Bureau, Martin and Renaud, Luc (Directors). (2009). A Tent on Mars       [Motion picture]. Canada: Les films du 3 mars.

Dyer, Kester. (2015) “A transportable/transnational cinema: The Wapikoni Mobile,”    Lecture/Presentation at Concordia University.

Gouvernment du Quebéc, (2015).  Le Plan Nord à l’horizon 2035: Plan d’Action 2015-2020.

Pilot, Pishu Pierre (Cinéaste). (2013).  Atikuat Nimeteut / Le Sentier du Caribou [Motion Picture].         Canada: Wapikoni Mobile.

McKenzie, Uldéric, (2010) Transcription de la vidéo, Nametau Innu.

McKenzie, Nemnemiss (cinéaste). (2013).  Eshi Mishkutshipanit [Motion picture].  Canada: Wapikoni Mobile.

Ministere de l’Environment et Resources Naturelle, (2014) List des sites miniers abandonnés, au 31 mars 2014.

Simpson, Leanne. (2015) Presentation at Concordia University

Wapikoni Mobile. (2015) Qui sommes nous?

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