Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Left out in the cold

Some aboriginal communities in Canada, like for instance, the Crees and Inuit of Northern Québec, are lucky enough to have strong land claims on vast territories that are rich in coveted natural resources. I say they're lucky because the riches of their ancestral lands provide them with they potent leverage they need when negotiating agreements with corporations and governments.

In 1994, the Innus of Uashat mak Mani Utenam (near Sept-Îles, in the Côte-Nord region in Québec), successfully stroke a deal with Hydro-Québec for the development of the SM-3 basin and plant on the Ste-Marguerite river, which is situated at the heart of their traditional hunting grounds.

The Innu obtained close to $20 millions from Hydro-Québec as compensation for the destruction of their lands, and as funding for the reconstruction and preservation of other areas. They also obtained $300,000 per year for 50 years to subsidize hunting, trapping and fishing.

But the major benefit of this deal for the Innu are spelled out in terms of short and long term employment opportunities with Hydro-Québec and its subcontractors.

However, many Innu women noted that the benefits for women were practically inexistant, as the bulk of the jobs created by the SM-3 project belong to traditionally male fields, such as construction, truck driving, electricity, etc... Moreover, they complained that most of these jobs had been created on a short term basis only, and that the male leaders of the community had favoured unsustainable development in an attempt to gain political support from the population:

Kathleen Saint-Onge, qui a été directrice adjointe de l’emploi, de la formation et du développement au Conseil de bande et qui, à ce titre, a participé aux travaux de la SOTRAC, s’est battue en vain pour obtenir un centre de formation professionnel, plutôt que de créer des emplois temporaires qui ne profitent qu’aux hommes. «La plupart des gens autour de la table étaient tous des hommes d’expérience. J’étais trop jeune pour leur faire face et le Conseil de bande voulait créer immédiatement des emplois». Kathleen déplore ce manque de vision à long terme. «On ne mise pas sur le développement durable dans la plupart des communautés... parce qu’il n’y a pas de capital politique à faire».

Hydro's response? Well, how could they have possibly known that women would not benefit from these jobs?

Ces commentaires étonnent Richard Laforest, représentant d’Hydro-Québec à la SOTRAC. Que les femmes aient éprouvé de la difficulté à se faire entendre ne lui a jamais effleuré l’esprit. «À ma connaissance, aucun projet pour les femmes ne nous a été présenté», dit-il, tout en reconnaissant que les critères pour les travaux rémédiateurs ou les activités traditionnelles ne les favorisent pas vraiment.

There you go. *sigh* It's so easy to hid you head in the sand, while patting yourself on the back for being to generous towards those poor Aboriginals...


The Innu of Uashat mak Mani Utenam are currently involved in negotiations with Consolidated Thomson with respect to the Bloom Lake iron mining project. Let's just hope that the interests of women will be taken into account this time, and that they'll be able to reap substantially equal benefits as the male half of the community.

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