Opitciwan First Nation taking Canada and Quebec to court over land rights after long wait

The Atikamekw Nation filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Quebec Superior Court to settle a land claim that has been under negotiation for decades.

“40 years! 40 years of negotiations that have lead to no satisfactory social projects,” said Chief Christian Awashish. “So starting today, we will cease all territory negotiations, and we will commence with a demand for title.”

Joined by elders and community members, Awashish kicked off the lawsuit that demands recognition of their ancestral land.

The suit names both Canada and Quebec who Awashish said have benefitted greatly from Atikamekw lands.

“100 years of  development on our territory, starting with the building of the Gouin dam created in 1918 until 1920,” he said. “No compensation for our community regarding forestry development that has been so prosperous for Quebec, no benefits to our community.”

There’s a large discrepancy between how much land Opitciwan First Nation currently has versus what they say is their ancestral land.

Indigenous Affairs currently lists the reserve as having 947 hectares.

Opitciwan says their entire territory encompasses 2.6 million hectares.

Located at the end of a 150 kilometre logging road in the Mauricie region of Quebec, Opitciwan’s remoteness means they still depend on their land for much of their sustenance and one of the reasons why they have been butting heads with Quebec over logging on their ancestral land for years.

“That’s where we live, from the time we’re little, we’re always in the forest,” community member Simeon Chachai told APTN News after playing a traditional song asking his ancestors for strength

Nadir André is an Innu lawyer who is representing Opitciwan First Nation in the case.

He says that the lawsuit is a calculated risk, one that he’s confident he’ll win after the supreme court ruled in favour the T’exelcemc people in British Columba last year,

“The situation with T’exelcemc is very similar with Opitciwan, it’s a semi remote community, semi nomad community, and they still use the land, they still have elders, their language, their way of life so they have what it takes to actually go and prove their title,” explained

André, who expects the case to take years to settle.

Awashish said a few more years of waiting will be worth settling the matter once and for all.

“I’m convinced that we will win our cause, the affirmation of our existence,” he concluded.

Producer Nouvelles Nationales d'APTN / Montreal

Born and raised in Montreal, Tom cut his teeth working in community television in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory before joining APTN as a cameraman/editor in 2008. In 2015 he was promoted to Video Journalist. Since 2019 Tom has been a producer for the French weekly newscast Nouvelles Nationales d’APTN.

4 thoughts on “Opitciwan First Nation taking Canada and Quebec to court over land rights after long wait

  1. It isn’t clear in my mind if these people want independence or a dependent land claim. The difference is an independent claim and settlement should mean they get the land and resources, then become self reliant. No tax dollars to suport themselves or tax dollars and no resource sharing. Can’t have both. Or can they?

  2. It isn’t clear in my mind if these people want independence or a dependent land claim. The difference is an independent claim and settlement should mean they get the land and resources, then become self reliant. No tax dollars to suport themselves or tax dollars and no resource sharing. Can’t have both. Or can they?

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