By Alana-Kateri La Rosa Dancoste
In 2007, the Conseil des Montagnais du Lac-Saint-Jean, the Domaine-du-Roy MRC and the Maria-Chapdelaine MRC finalized a partnership agreement focused on energy development in the region. The Société de l’énergie communautaire du Lac-Saint-Jean aimed to ‘’maximize local benefit of projects that respect the values and interests of the settings in which they are established’’.
One of the projects already in discussion, even before the finalization of the agreement, was the Mini Power Plant in the historic village of Val-Jalbert. Now operational, since February 2015, it consists of a small hydroelectric station and a 37,5m long dam upstream of the Ouiatchouan waterfalls in the patrimonial site of the village. Though finalized, the plans and the realization of this project were not received well by all; especially not by the Mashteuiatsh Innu First Nations community.
The Innus of Mashteuiatsh have been living in the area for thousands of years and have a long-standing connection with the Ouiatchouan River. “It’s a spiritual site for us. The water is life for us,” says Michael Paul, member of the community and spokesperson for the Pekuakamiulnuatsh Alliance. The rocks on the riverbed are said to symbolize its grandfathers; the water, its grandmothers.
The Pekuakamiulnuatsh Alliance, formed in 2012 in reaction to the Val-Jalbert project, spoke out about not only the spiritual importance of the river for it’s people, but of other issues; the environmental impact on the river, the economical burden put onto the community by the 24 million dollars invested by the Pekuakamiulnuatsh band council and the lack of importance the decision makers have put on the approval of the members of their community. In November 2013, Michael Paul told the CBC that most inhabitants of Mashteuiatsh were not aware of the project and when told about it, were against it.
A study made in 2013 showed that the Pekuakamiulnuatsh were not the only ones against the project. In Roberval, Chambord, Saint-Prime and Mashteuiatsh: 51% were opposed to the project and 61% wished to have the construction of the site cancelled or suspended while waiting to have a public consultation on the matter.
Pekuakamiulnuatsh Alliance members and others opposing the project gathered in protest at the entrance of the historical site in Janurary 2013 and more than 500 others signed a petition to the same effect. For a project that could have been cancelled just like the six other mini-hydro dam projects the Parti Quebecois government cancelled due to a surplus of energy in Quebec until 2027, the completion of Val-Jalbert, without any complications to the construction process, came as a disappointment for the Mashteuiatsh Innu First Nations community, many others in the Lac-Saint-Jean region and the province of Quebec. The Société de l’énergie communautaire du Lac-Saint-Jean’s purpose is not yet fulfilled and other projects of the sort should arise in the near future. We will most likely be hearing more of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh and their implication in the plans for future projects. “In the Innu mentality, we are protectors of Mother Earth”.
CTV Montreal. 2013. Town divided over plans to dam Val-Jalbert waterfall.
Radio Canada (RDI). 2012. Minicentrale de Val-Jalbert : des Innus de Mashteuiatsh dénoncent le projet.
Société de l’énergie communautaire du Lac-Saint-Jean : Nos objectifs et nos valeurs. 2015.