Testimony of Chief René Simon
Pessamit Innu First Nation
July 20, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen of the State of New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, my name is Paul Pouliot. I am the Sag8mo of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People, based in Alton, NH. Chief René Simon asked me to deliver the message of the Pessamit Innu First Nation to the NH SEC.
Chief René Simon and the elected officials of Pessamit have asked me to thank you for the opportunity to speak at the Northern Pass public hearings. It is with confidence in a better future that the “Pessamit Innu First Nation” is addressing you today.
Message from Chief René Simon
The Context of Pessamit’s Intervention
It is not Pessamit’s intention to take a position on the impacts of the Northern Pass Project in New Hampshire. However, we want to shed some light on our experience with regard to the source of electricity and its environmental and social legitimacy.
Pessamit Ancestral and Treaty Rights
Our ancestors lived and prospered for some 8,000 years on a large part of the territory that would eventually become the province of Quebec. When the Europeans first came into contact with our ancestors in the 16th century, the Innu occupied a specific territory in northeastern Quebec and formed an organized society. We still occupy this same territory, known as “Nitassinan,” which means “Our Land.” The Pessamit Nitassinan covers more than 53,000 square miles and the community of Pessamit has some 4,000 members. The recognition of our continued occupation of Nitassinan before and after the period of contact with Europeans is the basis of our « ancestral rights ».
Moreover, as early as 1603, Innu Chief Anadabijou concluded a treaty of alliance with Samuel de Champlain, which gave permission to the French to settle on the Innu lands. In 1763, during the conquest of Canada by England, the territorial rights of the Innu were again recognized by the “Royal Proclamation,” which came from the King of England, George III. These two historic events are the foundation of our « treaty rights ».
The economic importance of the fur trade with Europe allowed us to retain our traditional territories until the 1850s. Indeed, the Innu Nitassinan was, until that time, under the direct control of the British Crown (King’s Domain), which was the exclusive beneficiary of the sale of our furs.
Negation of Our Rights
In the middle of the XIXth century, our multi-thousand-year-old way of life began to shift. At that time, the balance of power irrevocably reversed with newcomers. The pressure from forestry entrepreneurs was such that the government ended the concept of the “King’s Domain” as established under the French and English regimes. We were gradually pushed back into the territory and the Pessamit Reservation was created by the government in order to make us sedentary and prevent our traditional activities from impairing economic development. Fortunately for us, this did not work since we only returned to the reserve in the spring and summer depending on the presence of salmon, which has always been our main summer food resource.
In 1876, as the measures to control us were deemed insufficient, the government adopted the “Indian Act” which established a tutelage system that made us minors within the meaning of the Act.
The Innu Nation has never been conquered, has never given up its rights over its Nitassinan, and has never accepted the attempts to relinquish its rights.
The Government of Quebec’s Illicit Schemes
Beginning in 1973, in a series of historic judgments, the Supreme Court of Canada again recognized our Ancestral Rights and the value of treaties with France and England. This led the Canadian Government to enshrine our rights in the Constitution in 1982. From that point on, however, Quebec was the only province to refuse this movement. The Quebec Government challenged the validity of historic treaties and the existence of our Ancestral Rights. In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned Quebec’s ill-founded position.
The Government of Quebec’s ill will, strategically allowed enough time for Hydro-Québec, a government entity, to invade our Nitassinan. As such, between 1952 and 1978, thirteen (13) hydroelectric plants and eleven (11) reservoirs were, with one exception, implanted on our Nitassinan without impact studies, without our consent and without compensation. This state-run fraud now makes 29% of Hydro-Québec’s installed capacity illegally acquired at the expense of Pessamit. The Government of Quebec, which is Hydro-Québec’s sole shareholder, has enabled the latest to become one of the largest and most profitable energy companies in the West. In return, Pessamit has been plunged into economic, cultural and social chaos that has no historical equivalent since the contact with Europeans in the sixteenth century.
Hydro-Québec’s flooding of all the major rivers of Nitassinan, which served as transport routes based on the availability of seasonal food resources and fur harvesting, resulted in the forced and brutal removal of the Pessamiuilnut and their settlement on a reserve that was not and is still not structured to ensure the economic well-being of its population.
What’s more, the Betsiamites River near the reserve, whose salmon is the historic summer source of our diet, was also destroyed by Hydro-Québec. This salmon is currently on the verge of extinction. Pessamit’s right to fish for traditional purposes, although recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, is simply no longer applicable. The salmon are not there.
It goes without saying that the Government of Quebec and Hydro-Québec are, directly and with impunity, violating several historic treaties, provincial and federal laws and three international conventions, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The venality of the Quebec Government, Hydro-Québec’s sole shareholder, is thus a form of state delinquency that seems impossible to curb.
Since decades, Pessamit has tried to work within the confines of the democratic and political venues in Québec to enforce the recognition of its rights. Our action outside of Canada’s borders aims to change the course of history or, at least, to make New Englanders aware that 29 % of the electricity that Hydro-Québec intends to sell was acquired in an immoral and illegal manner, to the detriment of Pessamit.
We thank you for your devoted attention.
Chief René Simon,
Pessamit Innu First Nation
 Historic treaties : « La Grande Alliance – 1603 » – « Royal Proclamation – 1763 »
 Provincial laws : « Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife » section 128.6 – « Environment Quality Act » section 20 – « Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms » section 46.1 – Federal laws : « Migratory Birds Convention Act » paragraph 5 (1) – « Fisheries Act » sections 34 (1), 35 (1) and 36 (3) – « The Constitution Act » 1982 section 35
 « Convention for the Conservation of North Atlantic Salmon » – « United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea » – « Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples »