Hydro-Québec and The Northern Pass Project: impacts on the Betsiamites River
The Pessamiu Ilnut (members of the Pessamit Innu First Nation) were driven from their Nitassinan (traditional territory) by the establishment of Hydro-Québec hydroelectric complexes.
As of early 1950, the Bersimis-1 and Bersimis-2 stations were put in place and operational in 1962. In 1956, a dam was built on the Toulnoustouc River. In 1958, work began at the Hart-Jaune station. In 1960, construction was started for Manic-5, followed by Manic-2 in 1961 and Manic-3 in 1970. Installations for Manic-1, Outardes-3 and Outardes-4 started in 1964. The last work to be performed on the Manic-Outardes complex involved the Outardes-2 station, which was commissioned in 1978. Since then, additional production equipment has been added in several stations, always without the consent of Pessamit.
All aforementioned Hydro-Québec’s projects were implemented without impact assessments, without the agreement of Pessamit, and without compensation. This constitutes a precedent and a unique event in Quebec. These stations, located and operated illegitimately in the Nitassinan represent 29% of Hydro-Québec’s installed capacity. Together, they have resulted in the creation of 3,200 sq.mi of reservoirs.
Pessamit has paid and continues to pay a heavy price for the development of Quebec. Several generations of Pessamiulnut have literally lost their cultural reference points, with all the consequences this entails. In the last century, their forced departure without warning from the Nitassinan where they practiced their traditional activities, paired with their low level of education and poor mastery of French led the majority of adults who were supporting families to live exclusively on social cash transfers at the time. In addition, the new permanent living environment, the reservation, was at the time not structured enough to provide jobs for such a large influx of population.
Among the many power stations installed by Hydro-Québec without prior impact assessments, two of them are located on the Betsiamites River. These are Bersimis-1 and Bersimis-2. These stations are facilities designed to meet the peaking needs of the Hydro-Québec network. Moreover, it is important to note that the Betsiamites River was rightly considered as one of the most productive salmon rivers in Quebec before its harnessing for energy purposes. Today, the river hosts but a remnant of spawners compared to its original potential.
Since the second half of the nineteenth century, Pessamit has been trying to uphold its legitimate rights associated with the Betsiamites River. Over the past five decades, we have actively participated in all democratic exercises to enforce our rights: parliamentary committees, briefs submitted to the Quebec government, scientific studies on the fragility of the salmon resource, and public hearings. But all in vain. Quebec and Hydro-Québec’s bad faith always quashes our efforts. Faced with this new threat, the Northern Pass Project, and faced with Quebec’s age-old complacency, Pessamit have no choice but to undertake national and international action to change the course of history.