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‘If Plan Nord goes through, we’re finished’
ST-HILARION, QUEBEC—Elise Vollant would not consider herself a political person. Yet, the former nursery school teacher is currently leading members of her Innu community on a 900-kilometre march to Montreal to protest the Quebec government’s Plan Nord, a multibillion-dollar scheme that will open the north to mining and energy companies.
The group, originally comprising 14 women, left Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam near Sept-Îles nearly two weeks ago. They plan to reach Montreal on April 22 to join wider environmental protests against the Plan Nord. Along the way, they’ve picked up supporters from other reserves and a French ethnologist. Now, midway, they are nearly 40 strong.
“I would never have imagined we’d get this far,” says Vollant, raising her voice against the din of passing trucks on a dismal stretch of Highway 138. Her political odyssey began last month after she joined a five-day blockade of a road running through her reserve to the $6.5 billion La Romaine hydroelectric project.
The community was protesting Hydro-Quebec’s installation of transmission towers over their ancestral lands, which had been done without their consent. They were also concerned about the potential flooding of their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. The Uashaunnuat still fish for salmon and hunt Canada geese and caribou.
Vollant was arrested along with 12 others. Once released, she took to Facebook to vent her frustration. “I said all Innu had to be strong and united, to work together as one people,” she says. The comment prompted a huge reaction, with messages of support from as far afield as Poland and Japan. “At one point I was going to pack it all in, but I began to feel a new strength inside,” says Vollant, who is funding the walk with donations from supporters.
The marchers take turns walking five-kilometre stretches. Those who are off-duty drive cars and pickups laden with pans, provisions and mattresses, arranging accommodation for the nights ahead and posting Facebook updates from their phones.
“If the Plan Nord goes through, we’re finished,” says Selena Grégoire, as she watches her three children play on the rocky ground by the highway. “It will damage our territory. I’m doing this for them, so they don’t lose our way of life, so they can go out and hunt in the forest when they’re older. We have to protest so they recognize our rights.”
The people of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam have voted in two successive referenda to turn down agreements with Hydro-Quebec that included an $80 million cash payment, $45 million in jobs and construction contracts and a development fund. The band council was even taking legal action against Hydro-Quebec for mounting the transmission towers without permission.
So, where’s the problem?
According to marcher Clemence Simon, marchers feel the project will eventually go through anyway. The band council has already agreed to drop its court action in return for a compensation package. And, Hydro-Quebec is making inroads into the community, signing a contract with local Innu-owned company Nemetau, which is cutting down trees to make way for its transmission lines.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1161467–innu-women-march-against-hydro-quebec-project