Tuesday, October 6, 2020 St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador – The Innu Nation of Labrador announced  today that it has filed a $4 billion claim against Hydro-Québec in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and  Labrador as compensation for the illegal taking of their land in Labrador in 1969 to build the Churchill Falls  hydro-electric project. This project was built on land that forms part of the land claim of the Innu Nation that is  being negotiated with Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada.  

“Over 50 years ago, Hydro-Québec and the provincial utility in Newfoundland and Labrador now called Nalcor  Energy, through the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation, stole our land and flooded it in order to take  advantage of the enormous hydro potential of the Churchill Falls,” stated Grand Chief Etienne Rich. “This  project was undertaken without consulting us and without our consent.” 

“For decades,” continued the Grand Chief, “we have tried to meet with Hydro-Québec officials to get them to  take responsibility and compensate us for this injustice. Despite its stated commitment to working in  partnership with indigenous communities and nations, Hydro-Québec has repeatedly refused to address our  issues. Many of our elders have passed on without seeing justice done. We were left with no other alternative  than to seek justice through the courts.” 

For thousand of years, the Labrador Innu lived, hunted, trapped, and were buried on this land. An area larger  than Prince Edward Island was flooded to create the Smallwood Reservoir. Other Innu lands were taken for  transmission corridors and access roads. As a result, many areas of cultural, historical, and spiritual significance  were submerged or affected, Innu gravesites were destroyed, and many Innu hunters lost equipment when  their seasonal campsites were flooded. The flooding and the ruined shorelines caused irreparable damage to  the ecosystem, traditions, and livelihood of the Innu people. 

Hydro-Québec played an essential role in the construction of Churchill Falls. Without Hydro-Québec, this  project would never have been built. 

Until 2011, the Innu had never been compensated for these damages. In 2011, with the signing of the Upper  Churchill Redress Agreement, Nalcor Energy agreed to provide some compensation for the damages caused by  the Churchill Falls project.  

“While Hydro-Québec has made tens of billions of dollars from taking the power from Churchill Falls and selling  it to the US, it has repeatedly refused to engage in dialogue and to address this travesty,” asserted Deputy  Grand Chief MaryAnn Nui. 

The Innu claim flies in the face of Hydro-Québec’s positioning as a socially and environmentally responsible  crown corporation. For example, Hydro-Québec suggests that it strives “to develop sustainable, mutually  beneficial partnerships with indigenous communities and nations, based on respect for values and cultures.  Communities work with us from the initial stages of a project and, together, we make sure that the facilities  remain socially acceptable throughout their service lives.”1 

The Innu know that the flooded reservoir lands will never be restored. They cannot get the land back. As a  result, they are asking for a fair share of the tremendous profits being made by Hydro-Québec from the  destruction of their lands.  

“What has been lost is priceless,” explained Nancy Kleer of Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP which represents the  Innu Nation. “In this case, there is no going back to fix what was lost. The only measure of justice left that the  courts can give is a share of Hydro-Québec’s profits. Some have estimated that Hydro-Québec has already  made up to $80 billion from Churchill Falls – and stands to make up to $150 billion by the end of the power  purchase contract in 2041. In this claim, the Innu are asking for a fair share of Hydro-Québec’s profits, which  will be at least 4 billion dollars based on estimates.” 

“We are asking the courts to afford us justice for the damages done by Hydro-Québec to our land, our culture  and our traditions, and we remain open to negotiations with them,” concludes Grand Chief Etienne Rich.  “Hydro-Québec’s bill is fifty years past due. The time has come for them to take responsibility for their actions.”