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Churchill Falls: Labrador Innu “in the dark”

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Nov27,2023

Churchill Falls: the Innu of Labrador “in the dark”” /></p>
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<p class=Negotiator and former grand chief, Peter Penashue, says the Labrador Innu will do everything possible to block a new agreement on Churchill Falls concluded without their consent.

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If formal negotiations on he future of the Churchill Falls power station has been going on for 10 months between Saint-Jean and Quebec, there has still been no consultation with the Innu of Labrador.

The latter threaten to block any new agreement if history repeats itself and new hydroelectric installations are announced on ancestral Innu lands without their consent.

We are in the dark, says Peter Penashue, former grand chief and long-time Innu negotiator.

It was possible to completely exclude indigenous peoples in the 1960s and 1970s and move forward with such a project. But that’s not the case these days.

A quote from Peter Penashue, negotiator and former grand chief, Labrador Innu Nation

Quebec and Saint-Jean announced the start of talks last February formal discussions on the future of the Churchill Falls contract, which expires in 2041. Under the current agreement, Hydro-Québec buys electricity produced in Labrador at the ridiculous price of 0.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

The government of François Legault, in search of new sources of clean energy, nevertheless signals that it would be ready to reopen the agreement immediately if Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to increase hydroelectric production on the Churchill River .

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The Churchill Falls lines transporting electricity produced at the power station to the Quebec border, 200 km to the southwest.

Peter Penashue recalls that the consent of the Labrador Innu, whose relationship with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is already tense, is not given. However, it is necessary, he emphasizes. Otherwise, Saint-Jean and Quebec can expect lawsuits and demonstrations.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey promises consultations with the Innu, but says it's too early to include them in current discussions. Discussions will take place at the appropriate time, he says.

According to Peter Penashue, the Innu's consent first depends on a compromise with Newfoundland and Labrador on royalties from the Muskrat Falls project, an 824-megawatt power station on the Churchill River, downstream of Churchill Falls. /p>

In 2021, when the governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada restructured the finances of the Muskrat Falls project – a deal that avoided skyrocketing electricity rates due to numerous cost overruns on the dam – they did it at the expense of the Innu.

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The eldest Innu, Mary Adele Penashue, 95, spent part of her childhood on the territory flooded during the construction of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric complex. She is calling for consultations with the governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec.

According to Peter Penashue, the agreement reduces the income promised to members of the Innu Nation of $1 billion over 50 years.

They did not keep their promises. There are so many people who are disappointed with the province's behavior, he says.

The Innu also want to participate fully in discussions on the construction of new facilities on the Churchill River, which the Quebec government wishes to do to meet the growing demand for electricity in its province. Two projects are possible: the development and expansion of the existing power station at Churchill Falls, and the construction of a new 2,200 megawatt dam at Gull Island.

I don't see how these projects can move forward with the participation of the Innu Nation.

A quote from Peter Penashue, negotiator and former grand chief, Labrador Innu Nation

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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey answers questions from reporters outside the House of Assembly in St. Jean, last Thursday.

When the Churchill Falls complex was built in the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of hectares of ancestral Innu lands were flooded. The Churchill Falls watershed extends over an area the size of New Brunswick.

The Innu were never consulted before the destruction of their hunting grounds and their cultural sites, as Mary Adele Penashue recalls. The 95-year-old eldest, with worn hands, has never been able to return to the territory where she spent her childhood.

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Mary Adele Penashue (right) and her son, Basile, live in Sheshatshiu , an Innu community in central Labrador.

They violated our hunting grounds, they violated our rights, because at the time we didn't know what was happening to us. We didn't speak English. […] We have completely destroyed our traditional way of life.

A quote from Mary Adele Penashue, Innu elder

We must consult before building other hydroelectric developments, explains the unilingual great-grandmother in Innu-Aimun.

In the 1990s, Daniel Ashini, at the time president of the Innu Nation of Labrador, traveled the territory flooded by Churchill Falls in search of heritage sites. His daughter, Jodie Ashini, says he found a burial site partially washed away.

The Innu excluded from discussions around Churchill Falls? -focus:text-deepSea700 dark:parent-peer-hover-focus:text-deepSea400″>Innu excluded from discussions around Churchill Falls?


Listen to the audio (Innu excluded from discussions around Churchill Falls?. 7 minutes 7 seconds)

I remember very well the sadness in her voice, explains the woman who, inspired by her father's journey, became an archaeologist in order to preserve the culture of her people . They found a seal and pieces of a plate. There was almost no evidence that the Innu had been on the territory, that they had gathered there for millennia.

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Jodie Ashini is a cultural heritage guardian at the Labrador Innu Nation in Sheshatshiu.

In 2008, the Innu Nation, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Hydro-Newfoundland and Labrador, which owns 64.5% of the shares of CF(L)Co, the company operating the dam, announced an agreement to compensate the Labrador Innu for the environmental destruction caused by Churchill Falls.

The Tshash Petapen agreement(the dawn of a new day in French) promises $2 million per year to the Innu Nation until 2041 and 3% of Newfoundland revenues from Churchill Falls, when a new agreement is signed .

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In Sheshatshiu, half of the population is under 19 years old. The Innu Nation of Labrador wants to extract maximum royalties from hydroelectric production in order to improve the quality of services and housing.

Peter Penashue highlights the social and economic problems of the Innu Nation. Half of the 3,200 residents of Labrador's two Innu communities, Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, are under 19 years old. There is a lack of space in schools and housing for families.

We need to participate in current discussions to know the impacts of these discussions on our current agreements, underlines Peter Penashue.

Hydro-Québec is a minority shareholder in CF(L)Co, holding 34.2% of the shares. Since 2020, she has been the subject of a $4 billion lawsuit filed by the Labrador Innu Nation. Since last January, the Innu of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, the largest Innu community on the North Shore of Quebec, have also sued Hydro-Québec for 2.2 billion.

Last April, the leader of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, Mike McKenzie, also accused the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to exclude his people from discussions on the future of the Churchill Falls dam.

With information from Michèle Brideau< /p>

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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