Most of the estimated 18,000 Innu live in Quebec, where they are believed to have lived for 7,000 years. Traditionally a nomadic people, they were among the last aboriginal groups in North America to settle. Attempts to resettle them off their resource-rich lands in the 1960s, to reservations built for this purpose like Uashat Mak Mani-Utenem, were disastrous. Cut off from their traditional way of life, communities fell prey to crushing poverty and drug abuse.
Much of the Innu's resistance to the mining projects stem from a sense of having been forgotten after the Iron Ore Company of Canada left the area in the early 1980s. The town of Schefferville was officially shut down and its facilities razed, leaving native employees, many of whom had relocated for jobs, to struggle in dismal living conditions. They are unmoved by the promise of jobs this time around.
A march to preserve identity
Talking to the marchers, it becomes clear much of the protest is about identity. Hunting is important to the Innu, who have managed to hold on to their customs despite attempts to resettle them in houses and to assimilate their children in church-run residential schools.
Today parents are trying to teach their children the old ways: how to fish salmon, hunt Canada geese and caribou, and gather medicinal plants from the forest.