Innu First Nation sees largest federal government claims compensation in Quebec history

The federal government is awarding more than $30 million in compensation to a northern Quebec First Nation, making it the largest such claims settlement in the province’s history.

The Innu of Pessamit and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the news Friday during an official ceremony honouring the agreements.

The compensation breaks down into two separate claims – the Licence 160 and Merchantable Timber Management and Lands claims – each totaling about $20.8 million and $9.5 million, respectively.

According to a press release, the settlement is meant to mitigate the community’s “historical grievances,” including treaty obligations or the way the Crown managed the First Nation’s funds.

The Licence 160 and Merchantable Timber Management claim refers to the poor management of logging leases between 1918 and 1967. The Lands claim addresses the lack of surveying during an amendment to the Betsiamites Reserve, resulting in a 7,543-acre land shortfall. This breached an Order in Council passed in 1861 when the original reserve was created.

“The signing of these agreements betokens Canada’s intent to rectify the wrongs inflicted on the Innu of Pessamit in these two cases. Since the past cannot be undone, our First Nation has accepted these settlements,” René Simon, Chief Innu Council of Pessamit, said in the press release. “The real challenge for Canada, though, will still be fully implementing and applying the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and avoiding future recurrence of similar wrongs and the need to conclude reparatory agreements like this.”

The settlement also covers the costs incurred negotiating the agreements and having them ratified by the Pessamit First Nation members.

Bennett called the agreements “a step towards reconciliation between the Crown and the Innu of Pessamit.”

“By balancing the interests of the parties in a spirit of reconciliation, openness and collaboration, it is possible to reach agreements such as those concluded with the Innu of Pessamit,” she said in a press release.