First Nations input urged for Quebec’s Plan Nord

Sep 25, 2012 | News


By Alex Lambert

A mammoth sustainable development project known as the Plan Nord is underway in northern Quebec, and some First Nations voices are being ignored, experts say.

The Plan Nord, which was originally brought forth in 2011 by then Quebec premier Jean Charest, seeks to exploit the natural resources in the province’s northern territory, while at the same time protecting a huge swathe of Quebec’s north from industrialization.

The 25-year plan will invest $80-billion for sustainable development and conservation in northern Quebec, and aims to protect 50 per cent of the territory from industrial development. The proposed protected area will span 600,000 square kilometres, about the size of Ukraine.

Before this plan can be realized though, the provincial government needs the support of First Nations people in Quebec’s north, who according to a provincial government report, own a lot of the territory in question.

According to a press release from the Canadian Boreal Initiative, a conservation advocacy group, the implementation of all aspects of the plan has been “inadequate.” The release focused mainly on the fact that First Nations’ voices are being neglected.

“So far, the Plan Nord, in addition to violating the rights of some First Nations, has unfairly favoured industrial activities at the expense of conservation and the needs of the affected populations,” it reads.

One goal of the Plan Nord is to protect 600,000 square kilometres from industrialization. COURTESY GOVERNMENT OF QUEBEC

So while the conservation group supports Plan Nord’s commitment to protecting territory, it also said that more discussion of these issues with First Nations is essential.

“The Canadian Boreal Initiative generally works in support of governments and industries that are adopting policies that proactively meet our vision of having the boreal ecosystem best protected,” Suzann Methot, a regional director with Canadian Boreal Initiative told Humber News.

But, at the same time, effort must not undermine “sustainable development of local populations, particularly Aboriginals.”

A number of First Nations communities in Quebec supported the plan from the beginning, but there are still aboriginal groups opposed to the plan whose voices are not being heard, Methot said.

“There are seven out of nine Innu communities that are totally against the Plan Nord and the (Charest) government was not really proactive in trying to sit with them and fix the problem and find an agreement with them,” Methot said.

“Most of the big mining projects are on their territory, so this is why there was a lot of opposition from Innu communities.”

More discussion between aboriginals and the province is needed, and First Nations need more say in the way these projects are implemented, said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador in a letter released before Quebec’s Sep. 4 election.

Now with the new Parti Quebecois government of Pauline Marois, native groups are hopeful more of their voices will be heard as Marois has said she wants better relations with native groups.