Plan Nord and the First Peoples of Quebec

By Shiann Wahéhshon Whitebean, Kelly Marquis, & Stephen Karchut

Indigenous peoples have political, economic, and spiritual motives to resist globalization. The Quebec Government’s Plan Nord is a primary example of the forces of globalization and the impact on Indigenous peoples. Plan Nord opens up Northern Quebec to neoliberal development, which globally has translated into free-market rule, a reduction in public expenditures on health and social services, deregulation of resource extraction industries, privatization, and a shift away from community-based values in favor of an individualistic pursuit of profits (Corpwatch, 2015). In general, neoliberal development requires investments from international corporations with little or no restrictions or regulation of industry, commerce, or labour (Corpwatch, 2015). In addition, there are a number of significant concerns over industrial activities such as deforestation, mining, and hydroelectric dams that would compromise the integrity of the watershed, local wildlife habitat, and introduce contaminants and pollution to the ecosystem (Jordan, 2013). There is little study on the long-term impacts of Plan Nord on the environment, wildlife, and Indigenous populations which is a serious cause for concern. Plan Nord developers have proposed creating protected areas for conservation that will essentially open up areas outside of the protected zone to overdevelopment (Mulrennan et al, 2012).

There are over 33,000 Aboriginal people (Inuit, First Nations, and Métis) living within the Plan Nord development zone (Berteaux, 2013). The First Peoples indigenous to this area are the primary stakeholders and title holders to the land and resources with an existing inherent right to self-determination, reaffirmed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations Assembly in 2007 (Anaya, 1996). However, since the Quebec Government launched Plan Nord in 2008, the Indigenous in the far North such as the Inuit, Cree, Innu, Naskapi, and Atikamekw Nations are not partners in the decision making process and have been relegated to negotiating compensation through federally and provincially recognized governmental organizations such as band councils that may not necessarily represent the sentiment of the indigenous people they claim to represent.

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Aside from the obvious economic motives, Canada has been relocating Indigenous peoples in the North for decades in order to stake a sovereign claim on the land and resources (Jordan, 2013). By extension, development in Northern Quebec began in the early 1960s and contributes to Quebec’s sovereignty aspirations (Roussel, 2011). Many Indigenous groups in Northern Quebec have since signed agreements with the Quebec Government to cooperate with developers yet there has also been conflict over Plan Nord in Quebec.

There has been active Indigenous opposition to Plan Nord since it was first announced in 2008. First Peoples from Northern Quebec have opposed development projects through community referendum and consultation and have staged protests and roadblocks within their territories. Resistance efforts have also been concentrated within Montreal as a central location with access to government officials, industry headquarters, and a host city for Plan Nord conferences and job fairs. This has also provided an opportunity for First Peoples outside of the Plan Nord development area to join in solidarity forming a cooperative relationship between Indigenous groups. This momentum has rippled throughout Quebec and has drawn in supporters from Settler society (non-indigenous Canadian citizens) who have also staged protests to Plan Nord due to the impact on the environment. Ironically, these cooperative relationships have been built as a result of globalization revealing a positive aspect that benefits Indigenous Peoples.

The First Peoples in Canada are still recovering from past traumas yet globalization is bringing in a new form of colonization to add pressures to communities that are struggling to rebuild their languages, cultures, and identities. A vital aspect of indigenous worldview is a spiritual connection to the land. Indigenous knowledge must be lived and practiced which entails cultural activities on the land such as gathering food, medicine, and hunting which are severely impacted by development (Dei Sefa, 2011).

Globalization has a particularly negative impact on Indigenous women and children, evidenced by the feminization of poverty worldwide (Kuokkanen, 2008). Poverty has played an instrumental role as a motivator for Indigenous groups to sign agreements with the Quebec Government under Plan Nord in order to create opportunities for economic development, health, and education. First Peoples have the right to enter into such agreements in the best interests of their communities. This situation is not unique to Quebec as Indigenous peoples are living in some of the last resource rich areas in the world which they have protected through their ability to resist globalization. It is imperative that the Government of Quebec include adequate Indigenous representation in order to take into consideration the lived realities of the First Peoples indigenous to the area who are directly impacted by Plan Nord.

 

References

Anaya, J. “Self-Determination: A Foundational Principle.” Indigenous Peoples in International Law. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 75-96.

Berteaux, D. 2013. “Quebec’s Large-Scale Plan Nord”. Conservation Biology. Vol. 27, No. 2, 242–247. Society for Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12018.

Corpwatch. “What is Neoliberalism?” Retrieved November 19, 2015.

Dei Sefa, G.J. 2011. Revisiting the Question of ‘Indigenous’. Counterpoints, 379: 21-33.

Jordan, S. 2013. “Quebec’s Plan Nord and Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Social Science” In, World Social Science Report. Changing Global Environments. ISSC, UNESCO, pp.456-459.

Kuokkanen, R. 2008. Globalization as Racialized, Sexualized Violence, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 10(2): 216-233.

Mulrennan, M. R. Mark, and C. H. Scott. 2012. “Revamping community-based conservation through participatory research”. The Canadian Geographer. 56(2): 243–259.

Roussel, S., and J.F. Payette. 2011. “The Other Sovereignties: Quebec and the Arctic”. International Journal. Autumn, Vol. 66, pp.939-955.