1. Who are IOC and Rio Tinto?

The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) has been illegally operating a mining megaproject in our traditional territory (Nitassinan) for decades, in blatant violation of our rights, without our consent, and without having paid a single penny of compensation to us, the true owners of the land. IOC’s megaproject has devastated parts of our land and continues to do so today, all the while preventing us from practising our unique way of life and traditional activities in these areas. IOC is the largest manufacturer of iron ore pellets in Canada and has reaped billions and billions in profits by illegally exploiting our land and natural resources.

Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining multinationals in the world, is the majority shareholder and operator of IOC. Rio Tinto boasts about its commitment to Aboriginal Peoples across the world and values its image as model corporate citizen. Yet, our experience over the last decades has unfortunately taught us that those are just empty words.

2. What is IOC/Rio Tinto’s “megaproject”?

As of 1954, IOC/Rio Tinto started operating its megaproject in our territory, which includes:

  • 20 iron ore mines in the Schefferville area (before abandoning them in 1982, while at the same time laying waste to the city of Schefferville);
  • 9 iron ore mines on our lands in the Labrador City area which IOC/Rio Tinto still operates today;
  • a railway called the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway (QNS&L) that brings the iron ore to IOC/Rio Tinto’s port facilities in Sept-Îles;
  • 3 hydroelectric dams on our lands: Menihek, Twin Falls (later, Churchill Falls) and Sainte-Marguerite 2, the last of which IOC/Rio Tinto stills owns today.

IOC/Rio Tinto recently increased its annual production capacity from 18 to 23 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate and hopes to open a new mine in Labrador City called Wabush 3.

3. On what basis are you challenging IOC/Rio Tinto’s projects?

We assert Aboriginal title as well as other Aboriginal rights with regard to our traditional territory and its resources. These are inherent rights that we have as a result of our occupation of the territory prior to the arrival of Europeans. Moreover, these rights are protected by the Canadian Constitution. Our rights were never extinguished or surrendered in any way whatsoever. We therefore consider ourselves to be the owners of the land and the resources in the same way the Tsilhqot’in First Nation in British-Columbia successfully proved its Aboriginal title in Court (see the June 26, 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada).

IOC/Rio Tinto’s megaproject, since its beginning in 1950, has ignored our Aboriginal title and our Aboriginal rights and therefore was built and has been operating illegally – without valid surrender and without our consent. IOC/Rio Tinto’s megaproject also runs contrary to international law and violates the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

4. What is the role of governments in IOC/Rio Tinto’s mining operations?

The governments have certainly played a part by authorizing IOC’s projects without the consent of both our peoples, but it is not like we are dealing with a “public” project. It is after all IOC/Rio Tinto, therefore private money, that chose, without any regard for the people that have been living on the land since time immemorial, to build and operate a mining megaproject that has been devastating to us, our land and our way of life, and whose sole objective is to generate billions and billions in profits for IOC’s shareholders, including Rio Tinto.

Legal proceedings and negotiations:

5. What are the current legal proceedings against IOC/ Rio Tinto?      

On March 18, 2013, we filed a court action against IOC and its subsidiary QNS&L in order to obtain an injunction to stop IOC/Rio Tinto’s megaproject permanently. We seek to put an end to the violation of our rights and the pillaging of our lands by IOC/Rio Tinto. Our court action also seeks the payment of $900 million from IOC/Rio Tinto to compensate for the damages done to our land and our traditional way of life.

Our court action asserts our Aboriginal title on the part of our Nitassinan where IOC/Rio Tinto’s megaproject is located, in the same way the Tsilhqot’in First Nation successfully did in their historic victory at the Supreme Court of Canada on June 26, 2014.

IOC recently attempted to have our court action dismissed by trying to convince the Court that we should sue the governments instead of IOC. On September 19, 2014, the Court rejected IOC’s argument, thus ensuring the continuation of our court action against IOC.

In fact, since IOC/Rio Tinto persists in ignoring our rights and the impacts of its projects on our land and our traditional way of life, we plan on filing other legal proceedings with respect to the tenth mine (called “Wabush 3”) that IOC/Rio Tinto plans to build in the heart of our traditional territory.

6. Why file a legal proceeding more than 60 years after the beginning of IOC and QNS&L’s operations in your Nitassinan?

We did not have the capacity to defend our rights and interests before, but we now have the means to do so. We could have sued IOC/Rio Tinto a few years ago, but we wanted to give the company the chance to demonstrate that it had changed its ways and finally caught up with the times. We tried to negotiate a fair economic agreement with IOC/Rio Tinto, just as we have successfully done with all the other mining companies that operate on our lands (four other companies in total), but we now see that IOC/Rio Tinto has maintained its antiquated view and colonizing approach towards us.

7. On what do you base your assessment of damages of $900 million?

We based our claim on the damages caused by IOC/Rio Tinto as well as the estimation of the profits they have made by mining the resources of our land.

8. Is that amount abusive?

We have sustained substantial damages that deserve just and fair redress. What we have lost can never be replaced nor recovered. Moreover, IOC/Rio Tinto has extracted and sold nearly a billion tonnes of iron ore from the mines in Schefferville and in Labrador City, which allowed them to pocket billions and billions of dollars in profits. IOC/Rio Tinto must return to us the profits gained while violating our rights, illegally dispossessing us of our Nitassinan, alienating our resources without our consent and without ever paying us any compensation or royalty, destroying our land and preventing us from practising our unique way of life and our traditional activities.

9. Why do the “Innu of Quebec” demand an injunction against IOC/Rio Tinto and seek compensation from IOC/Rio Tinto for their mines and other operations located in Labrador?

Our Nitassinan covers a significant part of Northeastern Quebec and Labrador. This did not change with the arrival of Europeans in America, nor with the 1927 decision that drew the border between Quebec and Labrador. We have exclusively and continuously occupied, possessed and managed the Nitassinan. We do not recognize Labrador’s imaginary border.

10. Why sue IOC/Rio Tinto – is the company not a good corporate citizen as it claims?

We have already reached agreements with all the other iron ore mining companies – a total of four – on our territory, while the first and largest of them, IOC/Rio Tinto, is the last one without an agreement with us, the true owners of the land. IOC/Rio Tinto is therefore a rogue company that has distinguished itself by its disregard for the Innu people.

IOC/Rio Tinto’s megaproject blatantly violates our rights, particularly our Aboriginal title and our Aboriginal rights, and is contrary to current international law, including the principle of “free, prior and informed consent”. IOC/Rio Tinto’s activities cause irreparable harm to the environment in addition to having negative social, economic and personal impacts on the Innu.

The extent of the damage caused by IOC/Rio Tinto is visible by satellite (Google images), particularly near Wabush Lake, just north of Labrador City. For us, it is not just the image of a mining complex: for us, and particularly for the Innu families who used to live on such lands and who were dispossessed by IOC/Rio Tinto, it is the image of the destruction of our Nitassinan, the decimation of our forests, the pollution of our lakes and rivers and the annihilation of our way of life.

11.What did you seek to achieve in your negotiations with IOC/Rio Tinto?

Respect. We wanted the company to stop ignoring us and to show us the same respect that the other mining companies on our land show us.

For four years now, we have shown great openness and a real willingness to find an honourable way to solve our conflict with IOC/Rio Tinto, such as trying to negotiate in good faith with the representatives of IOC/Rio Tinto an Impact and Benefit Agreement (IBA), as we successfully did with the four other mining companies that have been operating on our Nitassinan, one of which, ArcelorMittal, has been operating since the 1960s.

Partnership agreements (often called “Impact and Benefit Agreements” or “IBAs”) between natural resource industries and First Nations are now an integral part of the economic landscape in Canada. There are over one hundred such agreements in Canada. These agreements enable First Nations to meet the urgent social and economic needs in their communities while allowing industry to operate with certainty, even in the case of projects subject to pending rights claims.

IOC/Rio Tinto has been trying by all possible means to resist this new reality even though it ensures the orderly development of natural resources in Canada, thus benefiting all Canadians. Indeed, IOC/Rio Tinto’s behaviour is all the more surprising since the Supreme Court of Canada recently delivered a clear and unequivocal message (in a case similar to that of the Innu against IOC in the Superior court of Quebec) to governments, as well as to developers, in the Tsilhqot’in v. BC judgment. Indeed, in this historic and highly publicized judgment of the Supreme Court reminded governments and developers that they cannot ignore the rights of First Nations to their traditional land and to their natural resources.

12. Why did you publicly come out against the agreement between IOC and the “Innu of Labrador”?

On August 1st, 2014, IOC/Rio Tinto announced the signing of an agreement with two Innu communities in Labrador, and this, despite the fact that the mining company’s activities take place in our traditional territory and do not touch the territory and activities of the two Innu communities in Labrador.

We were very disappointed when we found out about the agreement because we are the people who are most affected by IOC/Rio Tinto’s activities: we are the ones who have suffered and who continue to suffer the negative impacts of IOC/Rio Tinto’s activities on our land, our traditional activities and our way of life.

The news was all the more insulting since IOC/Rio Tinto has still not concluded any agreement with our peoples – the true owners. Therefore, IOC/Rio Tinto cannot claim to have resolved the issue of the rights of the Innu in relation to their projects.

Campaign against IOC/Rio Tinto:

13. Why launch a campaign against IOC/ Rio Tinto?

The “IOC/Rio Tinto must pay its rent” campaign arises out of a context of exasperation and discontent in both communities. Even after 60 years of confrontation with a company whose vision has remained colonial, we have tried to reach an agreement on various levels with the company, without success.

The most recent negotiation process with IOC expired at midnight on September 16, 2014. It appears that the company never had the intention of reaching a fair agreement with us. Our patience has its limits, hence the “IOC/Rio Tinto must pay its rent” campaign. And the legal proceedings against IOC/Rio Tinto continue on with the aim of stopping the company’s megaproject permanently and obtaining just reparation for our peoples.

14. Why should IOC/Rio Tinto pay its “rent”?

IOC/Rio Tinto has been operating illegally in our Nitassinan for several decades without our consent and without us having received any compensation or royalty. We are the owners of the lands affected by IOC/Rio Tinto’s megaproject and we have the right to the exclusive use of the land and natural resources in such parts of our Nitassinan. The “rent” demanded of IOC/Rio Tinto aims, therefore, to correct a historical injustice: IOC/Rio Tinto must pay its rent in exchange for its presence in our Nitassinan and the substantial profits pocketed by IOC/Rio Tinto through developing our lands and natural resources.

 15. How much does such “rent” amount to?

The “rent” should be established based on the extent of IOC/Rio Tinto’s activities in our Nitassinan, and more specifically on the volume of its iron ore production.

This approach was adopted in our agreements with the other mining companies operating in our Nitassinan. These agreements also provide for other benefits such as measures to foster economic development, employment and training, as well as measures to mitigate the environmental impacts of the mining projects. Such standards are part of all the economic agreements negotiated between Aboriginal groups and mining companies in Canada.

The financial demands we made to IOC/Rio Tinto are very reasonable and even modest considering the mining company’s profits. Our demands do not in any way jeopardize IOC’s projects, even in the current context of lower prices on the iron ore market.

16. Could the campaign have an impact on the cities of Sept-Îles, Schefferville or Labrador City?

No. The campaign only targets IOC’s activities. We also wish to stress the fact that we are not against development and do not want to hinder regional economic development, but we do insist that development respect our rights, that it not supersede concerns over the protection of the environment and that it be carried out in a responsible fashion.

17. Do you think that the proceedings and the “IOC/Rio Tinto must pay its rent” campaign could impact the potential sale of Rio Tinto’s shares in IOC – is this the goal?

The news of the potential sale of Rio Tinto’s shares in IOC is quite new compared to the history of IOC on our traditional land, which goes back to the 1950s. The legal proceedings do not target Rio Tinto’s shares, but any potential buyer would be wise to learn more about the case because we do not intend to give up so long as IOC/Rio Tinto continues to trample on our rights.

18. Have you not received certain benefits from IOC, such as the northern part of the QNS&L?

We do not deny that we have received some small benefits. However we have never received any financial benefits whatsoever, even though IOC/Rio Tinto has pocketed billions of dollars in profits. It is true that we have taken over the northern part of the railway built by IOC, a part that IOC no longer wanted. But there is a considerable difference between offering something you wanted to get rid of anyway (the no longer needed northern portion of the railway) and offering to share the revenues generated by your projects (which IOC/Rio Tinto continues to refuse to do).

It is also true that some Innu worked for IOC at the start of its projects; however, the work environment was discriminatory towards all such Innu. Today, almost no Innu from our communities work for IOC/Rio Tinto.