Albion Monitor /News

Native Canadian Court Victory Raises Hope In U.S.

by Danielle Knight

"Any development on our land must be done on our terms, with our consent"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- A court ruling in favor of the Innu and Inuit of Labrador, Canada, in their fight against the Voisey's Bay Nickel Mine has sparked hopes of similar success among other indigenous groups in North America.

"I think that this is a fantastic, unexpected step in the right direction and perhaps this represents a change in the way the courts have traditionally treated indigenous issues," said Richard Martin of the Indigenous Environmental Network in Alaska.

Following a week of protests against the mine, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal Aug. 26 ordered the Voisey's Bay Company to halt all construction pending the outcome of an appeal against work at the mine proceeding until an environmental study is complete.

"I think that we have made a real breakthrough," stated Innu Nation President Katie Rich after learning of the court ruling. "Being here this week, in solidarity with the Inuit, we showed Inco that aboriginal people must come first. Any development on our land must be done on our terms, with our consent," she added.

Neither the Innu nor the Inuit nations were consulted before construction of mine
It is these united actions that enable environmental and indigenous groups to fight multinational corporations, according to Zoltan Grossman of the Midwest Treaty Network (MTN), a Native American Sovereignty organization based in Wisconsin.

MTN has fought its own battles against a Toronto based copper mining corporation, INMET, in Michigan. "Only multinational alliances that fight for the environment and indigenous rights can effectively challenge the activities of multinational corporations,"said Grossman.

But he believes that it is to early to call the court decision a lasting victory. "It may be a temporary victory that we are all happy about. But the only real way to achieve victory is (to win) permanent sovereignty," Grossman said.

Voisey's Bay Company, a subsidiary of Inco, based in Toronto, released a statement last week saying that it is still assessing the impact of the recent decision. "We have not yet determined whether the temporary injunction will prevent the company from getting its exploration support work done this year," it said.

The company wants to develop an open cast sulfide ore mine-and-mill complex at Voisey's Bay, site of the world's largest nickel find estimated at 150 million tons. The Voisey's Bay area is an important habitat for many species of animals that the Innu and Inuit hunt for food, being home to caribou, as well as wolves, small mammals, and migratory birds, including the endangered harlequin.

Inco, the largest multinational nickel producer in the world, applied in May for permission to forge ahead with the construction of a road and airstrip at the site. The Innu and Inuit responded by taking their case to the Newfoundland Court Supreme Court where they sought to halt construction until an environmental assessment is complete.

According to a 1996 agreement between the Innu, the Inuit, the Canadian government, and the local government, a rigorous environmental review process of corporate activities are required on indigenous land before projects begin.

Rich says she regrets having to take the matter to court but that Inco ignored the environmental review process and the Nation thus had no choice.

Martin added, "It's very important that this environmental review is completed before construction begins because the brunt of environmental devastation usually falls on the indigenous people in the area, while the corporations remain unaccountable."

"Neither the Innu nor the Inuit nations were consulted before their land was invaded by this $40 billion mine," commented Kevin Thomas of the Voisey's Bay-Innu Rights Coalition. "Hopefully our recent court victory will spark the public debate needed about how corporations disregard the environment and indigenous rights."

Since the court ruling, protesters have decided to leave Voisey Bay and concentrate on the upcoming negotiations and legal battles.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor September 22, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page