During the tour of the Des-terres-minées project in the spring of 2016, we had the opportunity to participate in a circle of discussion at the Shaputuan museum, in Uashat. Here, we want to relay and disseminate the inspiring speech of Ilnu women we met on that occasion.
Let’s recall that Ilnus are the most populous of the first nations of so-called Québec, with a population of around 16, 000 people in 9 communities.
Ilnus and land: culture and links of identity
The Ilnus have occupied the Nitassinan for millennia.
The animals question us: “Are you still Ilnu? Are you going to hunt us?”
The Québécois speak of the territory in a very different way. You speak of the land “as if just buying a chair.” Even if there is a will to protect the land, there is a self-destructive dynamic attached to the way in which the Québécois see it. For us, we don’t think solely about the present; we also need to think about the 7 future generations.
Although the communities formerly followed a semi-nomad way of life, the colonisation process has led most of the Ilnu to settle.
The individuality of an Ilnu is always in relation to the land. If we don’t have land, we will no longer be Ilnu. I am neither Canadian nor Québécois; I am Ilnu. And I refuse to have Canadian and Québec laws govern me.
Colonisation, notably through the imposition of the French language, has profoundly modified the usage of the Ilnu language - a vector of identity. In the reserves, many words and expressions are disappearing or being modified.
You should have heard my father when he spoke of the land - he would always have tears in his eyes. It was so moving. We haven’t lived on our land as our parents did. With settling, something has been lost.
I was raised in the woods until the age of 7. That’s my history, the values of my parents; all that is rich for me. I learnt my culture and to keep my language, and I will never renounce them. I get up for the land because it’s part of my identity, of my dignity. I am proud to be an Ilnu woman: I saw my mother make Moccasins, my big sister go to boarding school; my father continued to live by hunting.
When pillaged land goes hand in hand with imposed structures
The Ilnu living in the territory of ‘Québec’ have neither signed a treaty nor ceded their territories, aboriginal title, and ancestral rights by any other means.
We have never learned how to do a good negotiation; these things are always imposed upon us. We have always occupied second place. The oppression is perpetual.
The negotiations involve the renunciation of rights. We are in the process of renouncing our traditional practices; we are in the process of our own extinction by signing agreements with developers.
The agreements, as well as being unjust in their process and implementation, are often not respected.
I asked our leader how it so happened that he accepted it. The developers negotiate directly with the communities without going through the Québec government.
Nobody listens to us. The elites grease their pockets while our children are malnourished. The populations are not even consulted for exploration projects. We are never able to consult on these types of agreements. We aren’t kept up to date with anything. When I look at the Band Council, it hasn’t had all the financial compensation promised.
Among many others:
- The agreement signed for the construction of the Sainte-Marguerite 3 dam
- The agreement signed with Hydro-Québec for the Romaine hydro-electric dam
- The current treaty of the Petapan global territorial negotiation (with five Inuit communities)
The ecosystem, the animals; everything is distur