A New Dawn for the Labrador Innu

Canada, Newfoundland, and Labrador and the Innu of Labrador participated in a signing ceremony for a trio of agreements that hold the potential to profoundly and positively impact the future of the Innu of Labrador and the Lower Churchill Project. “The Innu of Labrador have been waiting for this moment for a long time. I am here today to congratulate all the leaders in the communities who, throughout the years, have believed in this accomplishment which is so significant for the future of Natuashish and Sheshatshiu,” said Minister Penashue, the former Innu leader who now serves as the first Innu in the federal Cabinet.

Innu Nation’s Grand Chief Joseph Riche and Deputy Grand Chief George Rich joined Deputy Chief of the Mushuau Innu First Nation Simon Pokue and Chief of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Sebastian Benuen to welcome guests to Natuashish. Guests included the Honourable Peter Penashue, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, as well as the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and Ed Martin, CEO of Nalcor Energy. They were joined by the newly appointed Honourable Nick McGrath, provincial Minister of Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs and Minister Responsible for Labrador. The three documents signed during the ceremony included the Land Claim and Self-Government Agreement-in-Principle, the Upper Churchill Redress Agreement, and the Lower Churchill Innu Impact and Benefits Agreement which, collectively, have become known as Tshash Petapen or the New Dawn Agreements.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Joseph Riche recognized the contribution of elders and past leaders. “Today as we celebrate this moment in our history, I want to recognize and acknowledge the courage and wisdom of the elders and the leaders who went before us. Many of them did not live long enough to see this day, but it is their vision that we will carry forth as the foundation for future generations of Labrador Innu.”

Chief Sebastian Benuen of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation expressed the appreciation of the Innu people to the federal and provincial governments and to Nalcor. “It has been a long road for us to get to this day, and many times we questioned whether it would ever happen. But we are here, and I want to thank Minister Duncan, Premier Dunderdale, and Mr. Ed Martin for their leadership and their confidence in the Innu people. We look forward to working with you as we implement the agreements being signed today.”

Innu control over their lives and their communities is taking a giant step forward with the signing of the Tshash Petapen Agreements. “These agreements will change the course of Innu history,” said Mushuau Innu Deputy Chief Simon Pokue. “We can see a future now where Innu once again will control our lives and our communities. The benefits from these agreements will be felt in our communities for literally hundreds of years.”

Today the Innu of Labrador have enhanced their ability to take responsibility for their own future, to provide for the health and well being of their society, and to contribute to the broader provincial and Canadian societies. “This signing is a proud moment for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, for Canada, and especially for the Innu people,” said Premier Dunderdale. “Our government and the Innu have worked together to build an effective partnership to ensure that the interests of the Innu are respected. The signing of the Innu AIP and other New Dawn Agreements will secure important benefits for the Innu and represents another major step forward towards the development of Muskrat Falls, which is a significant project with benefits for this province and for our country.”

Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, stated, “This Agreement-in-Principle provides the basis for us to pursue negotiations towards a Final Agreement and helps build a foundation for economic growth for the Innu people, for the Province, and for this important region of Canada. All the leaders, past and present, in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish have contributed to this accomplishment that will shape the future of the Innu people of Labrador, a promising future based on partnership and opportunities.”

“The settlement of land claims brings clarity to ownership of land and management of resources, creating a more stable environment for the economic, social and cultural development of Labrador,” said Minister McGrath. “This government acknowledges the weight of responsibility that rests with the Innu as they consider historic land claims agreements that will shape the future of their children while paying tribute to their ancestors. We have made a firm commitment to negotiate a land claims and self-government agreement with the Innu Nation and we continue to offer support and encouragement as they work to secure a final agreement.”

The signing of the three agreements is another important step towards the development of the Lower Churchill Project. “Nalcor Energy is focused on building partnerships that will provide long-term benefits for the people of the province. The company’s commitment to a productive partnership with the Innu Nation will provide great benefit to all parties involved,” said Ed Martin. “We are developing relationships with our new partners as we move forward with Phase One of the Lower Churchill Project Muskrat Falls.”

On June 30, 2011, the Innu of Labrador voted in a referendum on the Agreement-in-Principle. A strong majority of the eligible members (70%) of the two Innu communities voted. Of those who participated, 88% voted in favour of the Agreement-in-Principle. The Innu of Labrador have a population of approximately 2,400 members living in the communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, located respectively 55 km outside of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and 300 km north of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.