Nitassinan: Reclaiming Innu land

Sam and Manianeshe Pijogge with caribou en route from Pants Lake to Misteshuapi, 2009. Photo by Colin Samson

The homeland of the indigenous Innu, Nitassinan, ‘our land’, is a boreal landscape of spruce, fir, rock, lakes and rivers stretched across the Labrador-Quebec peninsula. Innu hunting families occupied and maintained this landscape for close to 8,000 years before being forced into village settlements by the Canadian government during the mid-20th century.

Since then, the Innu, along with other indigenous groups, have been engaged in a protracted battle with the Canadian government in a bid to claim their rights to their land.  In order to do this, they must participate in Comprehensive Land Claims, a legal and bureaucratic process described as ‘Kafkaesque‘: the process demands that the Innu must forfeit most of their lands and their aboriginal rights in exchange for minute amounts of the proceeds from extractive industries encamped on their lands and a small measure of self-government.

This is contrary to numerous UN standards, specific UN reports to Canada and the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The plight of the Innu and their struggles against extinguishment have been extensively chronicled by Colin Samson, a member of the Ecocultures consortium, who has worked the community for over 20 years. His book A Way of Life that Does Not Exist: Canada and the Extinguishment of the Innu extensively chronicles the effects of the forced assimilation of the Innu into the present-day Canadian state, and his more recent book A World You Do Not Know: Indigenous Peoples, Settler Societies and the Attack on Cultural Diversity looks at the edifice of ideas that make indigenous dispossession possible. Attached to this post is an article by Samson and Elizabeth Cassell published in The International Journal of Human Rights, describing the Canadian land claims negotiation strategies as human rights violations.

A hydroelectric dam will be constructed at Muskrat Falls despite protests from environmentalists and Innu leaders. Dam construction is reportedly causing landslides, with stands of spruce trees on sandy soil falling into the river. This causes deoxygenation of the water and the death of fish. Photo by Colin Samson.

Survival International has begun a campaign, asking people to write letters to the Canadian government demanding changes to the land claims process.

Please take a moment to click through, sign and post this.

To read more about the places and lifeways of the Innu, please click here.

Muskrat Falls, July 2013. Construction work on the dam proceeds before the final agreement to legitimate it. Photography is banned at the site. Photo by Anthony Jenkinson

To read more about Colin Samson’s work with the Innu, including a list of his publications on the subject, please click here.