Conflict re-ignited on Quebec's North Shore after local fisherman challenges Innu river rights

The Innu First Nation of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam says more needs to be done to inform Quebecers on land rights of Indigenous peoples, following another confrontation with a non-Indigenous fisherman on the Moisie River this week.

Video of confrontation on Moisie River shows ‘need for more education’, says Innu council

Members of the Uashat and Matimekush Lac-John band councils planted flags on the riverbed in front of the Moisie River Fishing Club on June 16, 2021, after a group was told to leave by a non-Indigenous fisherman. (Submitted by Joyce Dominique)

The Innu First Nation of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM) says a recent altercation on the Moisie River, on Quebec's North Shore, has shown once more the need to better educate the population on the legal rights of First Nations on ancestral lands.

A video posted to social media on June 15 showed the former president of the Association for the Protection of the Moisie River (APRM), Daniel Girard, yelling at a group of Innu fishermen from Matimekush-Lac John, who were on the riverbed in front of the Moisie River Fishing Club, north of Sept-Îles, Que.

Members of the Innu First Nation have been in an ongoing legal battle to seek control of the fishing club, formerly known as the Club Adams, frequented and owned by wealthy Americans for more than 100 years.

In the video, Girard, who was a guest at the club, said the group was trespassing on private property.

"I was invited to come here, you're not invited — what are you doing here?" Girard yelled at Innu fisherman Jonas McKenzie.

McKenzie responded that Girard could go ahead and fish and that the group did not want to get in his way, but that their ancestors had been crossing the Moisie River, called Mishta Shipu in Innu, for generations.

"Your ancestors never fished here in their entire goddamn life," Girard said, before the video stopped.

In a statement, the First Nation said "this incident is an unfortunate example that harms reconciliation and peaceful cohabitation between the communities."

"Our desire to reclaim possession of the Mishta Shipu River is not against non-Indigenous people," said Chief Mike McKenzie. "We are in a process of reappropriation, for the sake of historical justice, but also for the future of our people."

The APRM quickly released a statement condemning Girard's comments. He has not been on the board of directors of the association for the past two years.

The Moisie River Fishing Camp, formerly known as Camp Adams, is one of the last privately-owned fishing clubs on the Moisie River. (Submitted by Joyce Dominique)

In a letter addressed to the Chief of the Innu Council, Mike McKenzie, the president of the Moisie River Fishing Camp said Girard would be banned from the fishing club for life.

"The Moisie Salmon Club deeply regrets this incident, which in no way reflects the opinions and values we believe in," said the club president, Gordun Gund.

While the club is registered as a Quebec company, based in Sept-Îles, Gund and the other shareholders are all based in the United States.

Ongoing legal battle

After the incident was shared on social media, Daniel Girard sent a three-page letter, addressed to Chief McKenzie, in which he called the incident "staged."

He said contrary to McKenzie's claims, "this section of the river was never used by Indigenous people because they were not able to reach this section, but now with non-Indigenous technology they can."

The Minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, said he was satisfied to see Girard banned from the fishing club.

He said Girard's comments were "intolerable."

"Those kinds of situations will continue to happen, unfortunately, but we have to denounce them when they do come up," said Lafrenière. "We have to focus on the fact that the great majority of people want to work together."

On June 16, Innu from Uashat and Matimekush Lac-John took boats and landed on the riverbed where the altercation took place to plant flags of their respective band councils.

"We symbolically and peacefully went on the island in front of the club to honour the memory of our ancestors, and establish our millennial presence" on the Moisie River, said Jean-Claude Therrien Pinette, with ITUM.

With files from Radio-Canada