By Nina Robertson
“It’s true that there was savage development. In the IOC era we emptied oil drums onto the ground. We buried 45 gallon drums of old oil: out of sight, out of mind. It was like that at that time.”
-Gilles Porlier, Businessman, Schefferville, 2011. (Beds are Burning1)
A little over a year ago, on October 1st, 2014, if you were in Montreal and happened to walk along Sherbrook West, in front of the head offices of the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) and its majority owner the multinational corporation Rio Tinto, you might have seen the ceremonial, symbolic and healing return of two iron ore boulders by the Innu communities of Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John.
From left to right: Florent Vollant, song writer and composer, Chief Mike McKenzie, Chief Réal McKenzie (CNW Group/Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam) (Innu press release)
If you where there, you might have heard the Chief of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, Mike McKenzie’s speech: “These stones represent the only thing we have ever received from all of IOC/Rio Tinto’s mining developments on our lands. Our peoples have yet to receive any revenue, compensation, indemnity or royalties whatsoever.” (Northern Miner)
The IOC started its mega mining project on Nitassinan (Innu ancestral homeland/territory) in the 1940s. The project has grown and is now comprised of 20 abandoned mines, 9 operating mines, the QNS&L railway, 3 hydroelectric dams and several port facilities (IOC/Rio Tinto Pay the Rent Campaign Website). The project has ‘devastated’ the community and ‘forced the eviction of Innu families from their homeland while illegally dispossessing them of what was the essence of their traditional way of life.’ (IOC/Reo Tinto Pay the Rent Campaign Website) This is in addition and in conjunction with the epic environmental devastation associated with industrial mining on any scale. Since 2010 the Innu have attempted to negotiate resolutions with the IOC/Rio Tinto including an Impact Benefit Agreement2 (IBA) along the lines of four other IBAs negotiated between the Innu and other mining companies operating on their Nitassinan. However, they have, unsurprisingly, been met by IOC/Rio Tinto with indifference.
After the devastating cultural and environmental impacts on Nitassinan and the companies’ unwillingness to co-operate in an open dialogue with impacted Innu communities, in March, 2013, the people of Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John filed legal action against the IOC. They ‘seek to stop IOC’s projects in Quebec and Labrador and also seek compensation for the damages caused by IOC, which are evaluated at $900 million.’ (IOC/Rio Tinto Pay the Rent Campaign Website). The IOC attempted (and failed) to weasel out of this suit by redirecting it to the provincial government.
So what about the ‘Stones of Shame’? The stones where gifted to the Innu by IOC in 1970 in a ceremony presided over by then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of iron ore in the region. ‘Years later, these iron ore stones representing IOC/Rio Tinto’s glory evoke, on the contrary, a long and grueling trauma for the Innu…who suffered the infringement of their rights, traditional activities, Innu way of life and identity.’ The two massive stones returned to IOC/Rio Tinto kicks off the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John’s fight. “We wish to return to IOC/Rio Tinto these ‘stones of shame’” Said Chief Mike McKenzie in a press release ‘(to) send a message that the era when companies like IOC/Rio Tinto could profit from our resources all the while ignoring us is over”
Canadian Mining Journal – Brief Summary
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network Film (APTN). 2014. Stones of SHAME