Innu win court victory against Rio Tinto

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The Innu of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John are encouraged by the Quebec Court of Appeal decision in their $900 million lawsuit against Rio Tinto and its subsidiary, Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC).

The Innu sued the mining giant last March over alleged damages from company projects. They are also seeking an injunction to end all Rio Tinto projects on their territory. Rio Tinto tabled a motion to have the case dismissed, arguing that the Innu should instead be suing the government for their alleged damages.

That motion was rejected last September in Superior Court. Now, Rio Tinto lost again at the Court of Appeal after it refused January 6 to hear an appeal of the original Superior Court decision. This means the case is still on track to eventually go to trial.

“It’s not just the government’s responsibility when it comes to violations of First Nations rights,” said Jean-Claude Therrien Pinette, leader of the Rio Tinto-IOC Must Pay Its Rent campaign and director at the Office for the Protection of Rights and the Territory at the Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam Band Council.

“Private companies also have a responsibility and they shouldn’t be let off the hook and be allowed to hide behind the government. They’re the ones who actually run these projects; they’re private investors, private shareholders and private profits.”

Last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Tsilhqot’in v. BC determined that First Nations communities that had never ceded their traditional homelands were still the rightful titleholders of the land and entitled to compensation for development on the territory, as well as the right to refuse future development.

The Innu are optimistic that this precedent will allow the communities of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John to obtain compensation for the exploitation of resources on their lands over several decades. As with the Tsilhqot’in, the Innu never formally ceded their ancestral lands in treaties with the government.

“First Nations have to stand up for themselves and that’s what the Innu are doing,” said Therrien Pinette. “They’re going to try and show in court that this company has violated their rights and caused widespread environmental damage in the process for which the Innu are entitled compensation. And also, the Innu are asking the court to stop Rio Tinto’s mining projects from going any further in order to stop the company from continuing to harm their lands.”

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