Hydro-Québec, the world's largest hydroelectric utility, ended fiscal year 1998 with a net income of $679 million. These profits "contribute to economic growth [and] benefit society as a whole," according to the corporation's latest annual report. No such benefits reach the Innu community. Crowded and sedentarized into pre-fabricated houses, the Innu live in poverty and suffer the highest suicide rate in Canada.
The Innu are not the only ones to lose out to Hydro-Québec. The province of Newfoundland is now trying to recuperate profits ceded to Québec in the Churchill Falls deal. Newfoundland expects to finalize a memorandum of understanding with Québec for joint construction of a second hydro project, this time on the Lower Churchill and La Romaine rivers, with more profits retained within Newfoundland.
The proposed new system of dams and dykes would flood another 800 square miles, including approximately 680 square miles in the La Romaine River and Burnt Lake areas, and 125 square miles in the Lower Churchill River valley. A $10-12 billion investment, the financial success of the Lower Churchill project depends on the unpredictable New England electricity market. To speed the negotiations and confer legitimacy on this environmentally and fiscally dubious project, the two provinces are pressuring the Innu to conclude a meager land-claims settlement and yield the rest of their original territory for unrestricted development. The Innu are trying to negotiate with the government for compensation from the first project at Churhill Falls at the same time that they are being rushed to a settlement so that construction of the second project can begin.
The Innu Nation is currently conducting a community consultation to share information, gather voices, and plan for the future. Our next issue will report on their remarkably inclusive approach to community decision-making and on the unfolding land rights negotiations with Canada and Newfoundland.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.