The Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John, whose traditional territory (Nitassinan) covers a large part of northeast Quebec and Labrador, have won the right to sue Iron Ore Co. of Canada (owned by Rio Tinto) for $900 million. Rio Tinto sought to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the First Nations should have sued the government rather than the company.
Rio Tinto’s filing was rejected in September 2014 by the Quebec Superior Court, and the Court of Appeal refused to hear the case, handing down its decision on Jan. 6, 2015.
This is only the latest decision in a changing legal landscape. No longer is it enough to consult with local aboriginal communities. Now it requires their consent to move forward on development. That shift follows the Supreme Court of Canada decision in June last year that the Tsilhqot’in First Nation holds aboriginal title to lands in central British Columbia and must be party to development on its land.
First Nations are becoming more outspoken about their demands. Four First Nations that are part of the Secwepemc nation in central British Columbia have tabled a 54-page document covering their mining policy for all mineral development in their traditional territory.
The dispute between IOC and the First Nations goes back to the middle of the last century.
“Rio Tinto and its subsidiary IOC continue to try to ignore us, just as they always have. IOC’s president even refuses to meet with us personally. But after this judgement, Rio Tinto (IOC) will no longer be able to hide. The highest court in Quebec has made clear that Rio Tinto’s subsidiary IOC will have to answer in court for its violations of our constitutionally protected rights, which violations date back to the 1950s”, declared the Chief Mike McKenzie of the Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam.
The First Nations are also seeking an injunction to halt operations at IOC. Neither the possibility of an injunction or the First Nations’ last minute offer to make peace last fall, seems to move Rio Tinto toward the negotiating table.
The time for Rio Tinto to step up and share the benefits of the IOC operation with the people who own the land is overdue.