Nfld. & Labrador

Innu Nation suing N.L., feds over Muskrat Falls rate mitigation deal

The Innu Nation is suing Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador over the new Muskrat Falls rate mitigation deal, while a lawyer said the clock is ticking for stopping a deal they fear will "erase" promised benefits.

Intention to stop deal from 'erasing the benefits promised to Innu Nation'

Grand Chief Etienne Rich, Deputy Grand Chief Mary Ann Nui and Chief Eugene Hart stand outside Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's on Tuesday. (Submitted by Greg Locke)

The Innu Nation is suing Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador over the Muskrat Falls rate mitigation deal, according to a media release issued Tuesday afternoon. 

In the release, the nation said its intention is to stop the deal, announced two weeks ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Andrew Furey, "from erasing the benefits promised to Innu Nation by the province, in exchange for allowing the Muskrat Falls project to be built on Innu Nation's lands."

At the time the deal was announced, the Innu Nation was vocal about its disappointment over not being invited to discussions on the deal. The group has remained adamant that it should be included on all discussions regarding the over-budget hydroelectric project, from which it's expected to see millions in royalties. 

"We are left with no other option but to go to court to protect ourselves. The Innu people are very angry about this betrayal. The response of the prime minister and the premier to Innu concerns about the rate mitigation deal have been extremely disrespectful and dismissive," said Etienne Rich, grand chief of the Innu Nation, in the release.

"Canada and the province refuse to accept our reasonable conditions for discussions and instead the province has made clear that any discussions must be based on the Innu accepting the rate mitigation deal as is, regardless of the impact on the Innu."

Earlier this month the Innu Nation sent letters to Trudeau and Furey asking for three things:

  • Immediate access to the detailed financial modelling for the project.
  • A commitment to revising the agreement in principle to ensure Innu benefits are maintained.
  • A seat at the negotiating table for the Innu to ensure the final rate mitigation agreements maintain the benefits promised to the Innu people in the impacts and benefits agreement signed in 2011.

Innu Nation said it received a letter from Furey on Friday that didn't address their requests.

"The premier premised any discussions on the Innu accepting the current rate mitigation deal. The premier did not even offer to share the financial modelling information, despite telling the public in an interview on Aug. 4 that financial modelling about how the rate mitigation deal would impact the Innu's IBA had already been done," reads the release.

"Innu Nation has therefore launched a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to protect its rights and the benefits promised to the Innu for consenting to the Muskrat Fall Project. The claim is based on the fact that Canada and the province took direct, deliberate and decisive action to extinguish the financial benefits that the Innu people were promised in return for their consent that Muskrat Falls could be built."

The nation said both Trudeau and Furey were advised Monday the group would be taking court action.

It claims Canada and the province violated their duties to the Innu by breaching the Crown's fiduciary duties to the Innu, breaching the duty to consult and accommodate, and breaching the honour of the Crown.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the Department of Justice and Public Safety said it would not be commenting on the matter since it is the subject of litigation.

The Innu Nation said it understands and supports rate mitigation to help residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. However, the statement continues, "there is no justification for making the Innu bear the burden of cost overruns that they had no control over, when the Innu have already paid through the damage to their lands and Aboriginal rights."

"Canada and the province had many options and many opportunities to consult the Innu and to do things the right way: with honesty, integrity, and a genuine commitment to reconciliation," said Rich.

"Instead, they choose to mislead and betray the Innu. It angers and saddens us that once again instead of choosing to collaborate and work with the Innu in partnership, they decided to try to take from us to see if they could get away with it."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster told CBC News last week the province is committed to reconciliation and highly values its relationship with the Innu and all Indigenous groups. 

Further, Dempster said the commitments contained within the impact and benefits agreement with the Innu Nation will be honoured.

Clock is ticking, lawyer says

Senwung Luk, one of the lawyers representing the Innu Nation in the lawsuit, told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning that the lawsuit is about giving the Innu a seat at the negotiating table and ensuring that the Innu get a fair share of the benefits from Muskrat Falls.

"What's at stake is the ability of Innu and other Indigenous people to trust the government, to live up to the agreements that they signed on to," Luk said.

Senwung Luk, a lawyer representing the Innu Nation, said the lawsuit is about giving the Innu a seat at the negotiating table. (OKT, CBC)

He said that the Innu Nation has been requesting information about the negotiations and financial modelling for months. He said time is of the essence because the provincial and federal governments have set a deadline of Sept. 30 to come up with "definitive drafts" for the rate mitigation final agreement.

"At this point, they're really left with not very many options to try to enforce their rights and to try to make sure that Canada and the province live up to the crown side of the bargain," he said.

Luk said the Innu Nation is "determined" not to be shut out of the negotiation process.

O'Regan stops short of committing to treaty timeline

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a report issued on Monday calling on the federal and provincial governments to address the human rights of the Innu in Labrador.

The 70-page report outlines the gaps in government services and funding for the Innu Nation, and offers several recommendations for the federal and provincial government. 

Luk said the benefits from the Muskrat Falls agreement are meant to help bridge systemic gaps in funding.

"Muskrat Falls is a big deal for the province, but it's an even bigger deal for the Innu because this was and is a very important part of their land," Luk said. "The revenues that were going to be generated from the project were going to be a key part of the Innu building an independent and self-sustaining future for themselves."

The first recommendation from the human rights report is that the federal government make a new commitment to the conclusion of modern treaty negotiations with the Innu within three years.

In 1996, the federal government entered into a framework agreement with the Innu to negotiate a modern treaty recognizing Innu land rights, but negotiations stalled.

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O'Regan told CBC News that he is meeting with Innu leaders, but he stopped short of committing to a concrete timeline for creating a modern treaty agreement.

"We got to get things done with them. There's no question. I think that, you know, significant progress has been made, and tangible things to make their communities better," he said.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan, left, said he is meeting with Innu leaders. Labrador MP Yvonne Jones said she'll do what she can to support the Innu Nation in a land claim agreement with the federal government. (CBC)

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones said she would do whatever she can to support the Innu Nation in a land claim with the Government of Canada.

"The Innu of Labrador deserve to have a land claim and a land settlement with the federal government. They have a historic right to have that. They have an inherent right to have that," Jones said.

She said that the government has supported the Innu Nation and the Innu of Labrador through child welfare legislation and education, but she would like to see negotiations between the Innu Nation and the federal government resolved.

"I really believe that the Innu, like many Indigenous governments across Canada, have waited far too long for land claims and land settlement agreements by Canada. And no one in this day and age should have to continue to wait."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn, Leslie Amminson and Labrador Morning

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