Resistance to repackaged neoliberalism grows in Quebec’s North
One year after the student strikes and Maple Spring that erupted in Quebec in 2012, the ongoing wave of social protests is having to recalibrate itself to meet a new set of challenges.
Former Liberal premier Jean Charest incited popular outrage with a proposed university tuition hike and broader austerity measures, but with last September’s election of Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Pauline Marois, many are finding that the neoliberal policies of the Charest government are only taking on slightly subtler forms.
In late February, Marois held a two-day summit on post-secondary education and announced that her government would continue to increase tuition costs, much to the chagrin of the student movement.
Also continuing is the northern Quebec development project known as Plan Nord under the previous provincial government and recently rebranded Le Nord Pour Tous under Marois. According to its official website, Plan Nord is a 25-year project estimated to bring in $80 billion in investments and create 20,000 jobs in mining, forestry, and dam projects.
On February 9, 36 people were arrested at protests outside a trade fair on natural resource industries in Montreal, where demonstrators chanted “Charest, Marois, même combat!” (“Charest, Marois, the same fight!”) and decried what they saw as the same colonial development plan with a new name.
Several Innu communities of Nitassinan, the name for the traditional Innu territory of northeastern Quebec and Labrador, have for years been engaged in a heated struggle against Plan Nord. On January 1, Jeannette Pilot, an Innu grandmother and long-time activist for the defence of Nitassinan, began a hunger strike. She was joined by Aniesh Vollant, an Innu youth from the Uashat reserve on the north shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, in eating only fish broth, a cultural symbol for hardship, sacrifice, and strength for many nations, according to Indigenous scholar Leanne Simpson. Their action was directly inspired by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement. Vollant continued her hunger strike for 43 days, and Pilot, 82 days.
Asked why she decided to take up a hunger strike, Pilot weaves together many different issues of different scopes. Like many in the Idle No More movement, she wants Bill C-45 abolished. But she also wants an end to Plan Nord and an autonomous government for the Innu.
“Right now, Indigenous people all across the country are rising up and demanding that the government recognize their autonomy,” says Pilot, her voice noticeably weakened from her hunger strike.
Pilot’s struggle began long before Idle No More took off. In 1992 she was arrested for protesting the SM-3 dam near Sept-Îles. In 2012, she marched over 900 kilometres from Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam to Montreal to protest Plan Nord.
The Innu have never signed a treaty with the Canadian or Quebec governments, although one is currently being negotiated with the Innu band councils. Pilot sees the Idle No More movement as a way to open up the dialogue for Innu self-determination, rather than a treaty.
“The Idle No More movement has really touched me personally, and others in our territory as well. This is why we are demanding self-government,” says Pilot. “Now is the time to manage ourselves, to make our own laws, and to cut the ties with the federal and provincial governments.”
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