The Innu of Maliotenam and Schefferville say they'll use all means necessary — including civil disobedience — to make sure they are compensated by IOC-Rio Tinto for iron ore mining on their territory since 1954.
"When the people express their discontent, it could go that far," said Real McKenzie, leader of the Matimekush-Lac John Innu of Schefferville.
"The people will rise up, will be heard and will settle this with whatever means it takes. And it could be serious."
McKenzie made the comments at a news conference Wednesday outside the office of IOC-Rio Tinto as Innu leaders urged the company to listen to reason.
McKenzie and Mike McKenzie, chief of the Uashat mak Mani-utenam Innu of Maliotenam, brought two huge iron ore stones to the office as part of their protest.
The rocks, now dubbed "the stones of shame" by the Innu, were given to them in 1970 by then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to mark the centenary of the discovery of rich iron ore deposits in Schefferville.
"These stones represent the only thing we have ever received from all of IOC-Rio Tinto's mining developments on our lands," said Mike McKenzie.
"Our peoples have yet to receive any revenue, compensation, indemnity or royalties whatsoever from IOC-Rio Tinto."
He said the Innu have already reached an agreement with the four other mining companies on their territory, adding it is now time for IOC-Rio Tinto to pay up.
Quebec Superior Court gave the go-ahead to the Innu on Sept. 19 to sue IOC-Rio Tinto. The $900-million lawsuit is seeking not only compensation but damages for the harm caused to their territory.
"The era when companies like IOC-Rio Tinto could profit from our resources, all while ignoring us, is over," said Mike McKenzie.
The Innu said that by 1954, IOC-Rio Tinto was operating 20 mines in the Schefferville area, which was decimated when the company pulled out in 1982.
They also said IOC-Rio Tinto now operates around 10 mines in the Labrador City area and recently increased its annual iron ore production to 23 million tonnes from 18 million tonnes.
Real McKenzie accused the company of violating the Innu's rights and aboriginal titles. He said four years of negotiations have proven fruitless.
"We are fed up," he said. "It is long overdue that IOC-Rio Tinto pays its rent."
Singer-songwriter Florent Vollant, who attended the news conference, noted his parents had lived by hunting and fishing until mining had invaded the land.
"Every shovel into the land is like a shovel into our hearts," he said.
"When those companies came into our territory, our lifestyle became illegal. We, the Innu people, became outlaws. We did not have the right to hunt or fish or the right to move about in our territory."
The Innu leaders later went to deliver a letter to the company president to ask for serious negotiations.
Calls by The Canadian Press to IOC-Rio Tinto were not returned.