Billions of dollars have changed hands for the Voisey's Bay nickel discovery. . .and the Aboriginal people who have lived there for hundreds and thousands of years haven't seen a cent of it! Last week, the Newfoundland government announced that it was unilaterally withdrawing the Voisey's Bay area from the land rights negotiations table. As John Gray of the Globe and Mail reports:
The Newfoundland government has told the province's native peoples that they will be given no guarantee of sharing in the wealth from the multibillion-dollar Voisey's Bay mine development on native land in northern Labrador.
Instead, it will be up to the native people to get what they can on their own in negotiations with the giant Voisey's Bay Nickel Co. Ltd.
The government decision opens the way for a possible battle--legal and otherwise--that may delay the start of what could be the world's largest nickel mine.
Toby Anderson, chief negotiator for the 5,000-member Labrador Inuit Association, said that if the government does not revise its policy by the end of this week, the Inuit will begin a court challenge to secure a guaranteed share of the royalty revenues of the mine.
"That's unfortunate, very unfortunate in this country, after everything else that has happened. But what alternative do we have? Thank God we've got a Supreme Court that from time to time rules in the favour of aboriginal people," he said.
If the Inuit are not successful in the courts, Mr. Anderson told The Globe and Mail, they will turn to civil disobedience to stop development of the mine site.
Mr. Anderson's stand was immediately supported by Daniel Ashini, chief negotiator of Labrador's 1,200 Innu, the Indian people whose traditional hunting grounds overlap those of the Inuit at Voisey's Bay.
Mr. Ashini said in an interview that the terms set by the government for the Innu will obviously be exactly the same as those announced earlier this month to the Inuit. He promised full support for whatever action is taken by the Inuit...
The Voisey's Bay mine is obviously going to go ahead, he said, but the Innu have insisted that it should not go ahead until there is a treaty between Canada and Newfoundland and the native peoples. They have given a similar warning to the company.
"We have made it quite clear to the company: you may think you already have the green light from the government, but you still need to achieve the agreement from the Innu, who are the rightful owners of this land....
Earlier this month, Harold Marshall, who is in charge of the negotiations for the province, called LIA president William Barbour and Mr. Anderson to St. John's at the request of Premier Brian Tobin.
Mr. Marshall, who is deputy minister for Labrador and brother-in-law of the Premier, spelled out a tough new line to the Innu and the Inuit on the negotiations with the province.
He told them that Newfoundland insisted that none of the land around Voisey's Bay will be considered part of the Inuit land claim and that the Inuit can expect no surface mineral rights, no subsurface rights and no royalty-revenue sharing under a settlement.
For the native people, the bitter irony of the new policy is that in 1993, just months before the discovery of the Voisey's Bay deposit, former premier Clyde Wells offered the Inuit a 10,360-square-kilometre parcel of land that included Voisey's Bay.
The Inuit did not accept the offer because, in comparison to land-claims settlements with other native groups in the country, the package seemed small. Mr. Anderson said that the offer was still technically on the table until Mr. Marshall stated his tough new position.
"Now they've gone unilaterally against their policy and shifted the responsibility to settle with the aboriginal people onto the shoulders of the company.
"As far as we're concerned, that's not the way a government operates, not a government that was elected by the people to represent the people, aboriginal people included." (from Monday, January 27/97, page A1)
Canadians and people everywhere should be outraged by this imperious action by the Newfoundland government. The self-serving policies and positions that the province is putting forward at the land rights table clearly demonstrate bad faith in the negotiations process. 500 years later, it appears that colonial attitudes towards Aboriginal lands haven't changed: if they want it, they will take it.
Support the Innu and the Inuit by writing letters to the editor, to politicians and to the presidents of Inco and Voisey's Bay Nickel.
In your letters to the editor and to government, stress the following points:
Premier Brian Tobin
Province of Newfoundland
PO Box 8700
St. John's, Newfoundland
tel: (709) 729-3571
fax: (709) 729-5875
Hon. Ron Irwin
Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs
Government of Canada
tel: (613) 922-6418
fax: (613) 953-4941
The Globe and Mail
444 Front Street
tel: (416) 585-5225
fax: (416) 585-5085
The Evening Telegram
PO Box 5970
St. John's, Newfoundland
tel: (709) 634-2323
fax: (613) 634-3939
Letters to Inco and Voisey's Bay Nickel can include the above points, but should also stress:
Visit the Innu Nation WWW site:
P.O. Box 119, Sheshatshiu, Labrador, Canada A0P 1M0
phone: (709) 497-8398
fax: (709) 497-8396