Mining vs. Aboriginal Rights in Canada - Rio Tinto told to pay its rent to the Innu People

LONDON, UK, April 16, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - Three First Nations chiefs, dressed in traditional garb and aware of the historic nature of their action, have come to London to address the shareholders of mining giant Rio Tinto directly during their annual general meeting in today, April 16, 2015. On the floor of the meeting, they asked Rio Tinto's president and CEO, Sam Walsh, and its board of directors to intervene to end a longstanding conflict between the Innu Nation in Quebec, Canada, and mining company IOC, majority owned by Rio Tinto.

Inspired by Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning, a political song demanding the return to Australian aboriginals of ancestral lands stolen 200 years earlier by British colonists, the Innu chiefs informed Rio Tinto that "it's time to pay the rent," 60 years after exploitation of their territory began.

Supported by international law recognizing that indigenous peoples have rights—notably free, prior and informed consent—the Innu chiefs wanted to inform Rio Tinto shareholders that they can shed light on the negligence of IOC in Canada.

The Innu chiefs sought to inform Rio Tinto shareholders that there is specific legal precedent in Canada, where a recent Supreme Court ruling recognized the existence of First Nations ancestral title and stated that Aboriginal peoples holding this title, including the Innu of Quebec, "have the right to the benefits associated with the land—to use it, enjoy it and profit from its economic development" (excerpt from the ruling).

The declaration render to the shareholders:

On behalf of our people, and the Chiefs of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, Ekuanitshit and Matimekush-Lac John, of the Innu Nation, we travelled across the Atlantic to inform you that your mining operations in Quebec, Canada, are affecting our lands, our people and our culture. For more than 65 Years, with no respect of our aboriginal rights, recognized by the United Nations and the Canadian constitution, your companies have exploited our territory's resources without our consent and without compensation. As a consequence, we have had no choice but to begin legal proceedings. You need to know that, at this very moment, Rio Tinto is facing a 900 million dollars lawsuit. In August 2014, instead of dealing with us, Rio Tinto signed a benefit agreement with people that never lived on this land, our land; a shameful decision from all investors who accepted and supported this decision.

We came here in peace and to be respected as the first owners of this beautiful land. Our question is: when will Rio Tinto negotiate and sign a reconciliation agreement with us like the one signed with our brothers and sisters from Australia? When will you respect us with the highest standard of your industries and the level of ethic that you say you uphold? You are taking all the resources without sharing the benefit with us, the children of the Nitassinan. For decades, our people have been ignored and are being treated as a problem instead of partners.

Our message is clear: the time has come to pay the rent to the real owner of the land: the Innus of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, Ekuanitshit and Matimekush-Lac John.

The mining company's megaproject on the Innu people's territory includes 20 mines that have since been abandoned, nine operating mines, a railway, three hydroelectric dams and port facilities. Rio Tinto's activities have devastated the Innu territory permanently and have forced the eviction of families from their native territory, dispossessing them illegally of what formed the essence of their traditional lifestyle. IOC has reached impact and benefit agreements (IBAs) with other Aboriginal groups in Canada, but not with those who hold ancestral title to the territory affected by mining activities.

After the meeting with Rio Tinto shareholders at the annual meeting, the Innu delegation will head to Paris for other awareness-raising and information activities on April 17 and 18.

For information on this campaign: http://paytherent.info/

Attached: PHOTO; Video: Chief's intervention at Rio Tinto AGM

Rio Tinto AGM takes place at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (Broad Sanctuary, Westminster, London)

 

SOURCE Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM)

For further information: and for interview requests: In Canada: Jean-Alexandre D'Etcheverry, Communication Advisor, 514-843-2369; jadetcheverry@national.ca; Raoul Vollant, ITUM Communications Division, 418-964-6289, Raoul.vollant@itum.qc.ca; In Europe: Éric Cardinal, Communications Advisor, UK: 0203 5952 599, CAN: 1-514-922-9246, ecardinal@national.ca

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