The town of Schefferville, Que., said the mining boom is straining the remote northern community’s infrastructure, and it needs help from the provincial government to support the sudden influx of temporary workers.
Schefferville is in northeastern Quebec — a community due north of Sept-Îles that has no road access, just a few kilometres from the Labrador border.
It was built near rich iron deposits along what’s known as the Labrador Trough.
The mine pits were abandoned about 30 years ago, but a spike in iron prices in 2011 sparked interest in the old sites, and mining companies have returned to the region.
The town population has doubled with “fly-in/fly-out” workers — mining employees who don’t live in town, but fly in for several days, then return home when they get time off.
Province should pay for new infrastructure, said town
Schefferville administrator Paul Joncas wants provincial money to pay for major infrastructure investment.
“We have work to do on the drinking water system, the sewage system, the infrastructure,” he said.
“When the price [of ore] goes up, the mining companies are coming back and they want to go fast.”
Joncas estimates it would cost about $25 million to fix the roads, drinking water and sewage systems. That’s too large a burden for the local taxpayers, he said.
The town of 230 has an annual budget of $1.8 million.
Joncas said the companies that use Schefferville’s services don’t pay industrial taxes because all their mining activities are in Labrador, but he said it’s just a matter of time before the companies start digging in Quebec.
Joncas said the town is so ill-prepared for a local boom now, it would be “madness” if there was one.
Proposed Plan Nord leaves Schefferville out
Gilles Porlier is a longtime resident of Schefferville who owns many businesses in town. He is frustrated with the so-called Plan Nord, the province’s plan to develop natural resources in northern Quebec.
“There is no PlanNord in Schefferville,”Porlier said.
However, Joncas said he’s hopeful as the Plan Nord moves forward, the province will come up with solutions to help towns like his, because the current system isn’t nimble enough to react quickly, to get the most out of mining’s boom cycles.
“I think they don’t adapt all the regulations to the mining boom,” he said of the government. “And with the Société du Plan Nord, I think they will do exactly that.”
The province has set up a Plan Nord Society to determine how best to develop Quebec’s north in conjunction with communities that are already there.
Wildlife officers had travelled to the area and determined a number of caribou had been killed and are investigating the illegal hunt.
Dwindling caribou numbers in the Labrador region have been a concern for years, prompting government to impose some bans on hunting herds of caribou.
However, Levesque said the Pakua Shipi Innu have hunted caribou in the region for centuries, adding it’s their way of life and a significant part of their culture.
“That’s what they did all their lives. Their father, their grandfather, for centuries they’ve been hunting caribou,” he said. “Telling the Pakua Shipi Innu not to hunt is like telling them not to breathe.”
Wildlife officers are investigating the illegal slaughter of caribou in the Birch Lake region in southern Labrador earlier this week, with a representative of a Quebec Innu group stepping forward to claim responsibility for the hunt.
Newfoundland and Labrador fish and wildlife officers received a complaint from the public Monday, alleging caribou were being hunted illegally.
On Friday, Francois Levesque, the lawyer for the Pakua Shipi Innu from Quebec’s Lower North Shore, said about 20 hunters were responsible for the hunt, but added that the action will not harm the herd.
Levesque added the hunters bring the meat back to their community and share it as it’s needed with other members.
While he said the Innu are “of course” worried about the declining caribou herds, the Innu hunt is not the cause.
“The decline has reasons and these reason is probably years and years of projects, of mining, of cutting trees, of commercial hunting,” said Levesque.
“They kill thousands of caribou, the American tourists. Why don’t you worry about that?”
Levesque added there aren’t other options available to the community when it comes to getting fresh meat, because there’s no access to a grocery story.
A ferry will bring in frozen meat occasionally, he said, but the cost to purchase isn’t something residents can afford.
The justice department declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come names men who died, describes community’s loss as ‘unfathomable’
The Cree community of Mistissini in northern Quebec is mourning the deaths of five men in a cabin fire.
The men were on a hunting trip north of the town, according to Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come of the Grand Council of the Crees.
In a statement, Coon Come gave the men’s names as:
- David Jimiken.
- Emmett Coonishish.
- Chiiwetin Coonishish.
- Kevin Loon.
- Charlie Gunner.
Mistissini, with a population of about 3,400, is 785 kilometres north of Montreal and home to the Cree Nation of Mistissini.
A snowmobiler came across the burned cabin Wednesday afternoon near Lake Bussy, according to Quebec provincial police, although when the fire occurred isn’t clear.
Sgt. Claude Denis said police used a search plane to find the cabin, located in a remote stretch of wilderness about 300 kilometres north of Chibougamau.
Investigators arrived at the scene around 10 a.m. ET on Thursday. The cottage was destroyed in the fire, Denis said.
“At a time of such unfathomable loss, we can only express our deepest sympathies to the families, and pray that the knowledge of the full support of the entire Cree Nation will help in some way in providing comfort and easing the terrible pain they are suffering,” Coon Come said.
“May their memories be a blessing and a source of sustenance as we collectively come to terms with this frightful occurrence.”
Tributes also poured in on social media.
A message posted on a Facebook page for Mistissini youth remembered Coonishish as being passionate about his culture, as well as a good hunter who “respected the land.”
Gunner was awarded a Medal of Bravery by the Governor General in 2013.
Premier Philippe Couillard, who was in Quebec City on Thursday, also offered his condolences to the community.
There has been a successful conclusion to a search for two young men who went missing following a snowmobile trip from Hopedale to their homes in Natuashish.
The men — 20-year-old Troy Rich and 25-year-old Gilbert Rich — were found Tuesday shortly after 10 a.m., after a helicopter discovered the pair walking towards Natuashish, about 10 nautical miles south on Sango Bay.
The two men left Hopedale around 7:30 p.m. Sunday on a journey that would normally take two to two-and-a-half hours.
Soon after learning of the missing men, residents of Natuashish began a ground search Sunday night, enlisting multiple helicopters and search teams.
“I stayed awake all night. I stayed awake all morning,” said George Rich, father of Gilbert Rich.
“I was thinking I was going crazy for a while until my wife calmed me down. I couldn’t think straight. I was going to search myself in the snow squalls but a lot of people stopped me from doing that.”
Took turns staying awake
While worry was mounting in Natuashish and Hopedale, the cousins were stuck in the middle of a snowstorm, with no gas in their snowmobile.
“They [didn’t] panic at all. They just used their knowledge of the outdoors to clear the snow away and build up enough fire wood for the night,” George Rich said.
Rich said his son and his cousin were familiar with the landscape and took turns sleeping by the fire on Sunday and Monday nights.
The pair did have an extra can of gas, but because they couldn’t travel during the storm they used the remaining gas to start a fire.
Back at home, George Rich and his family began praying for the safe return of the two men, often getting updates from Hopedale’s fire chief and the RCMP.
‘Yesterday was [a] really, really stressful time for us as a family. We just couldn’t take it. It was just wait and wait and wait.’– George Rich
“They went as far as Hopedale and they didn’t see any tracks,” Rich said.
“Yesterday was [a] really, really stressful time for us as a family. We just couldn’t take it. It was just wait and wait and wait.”
Once the snowstorm moved out of the area, the men began walking to their home community, eventually being spotted by a helicopter overhead.
No medical attention was needed.
“It was a really, really happy moment. My sister and I, and all my brothers were crying for joy, and they told us our son would be here in a few minutes,” George Rich told CBC News. “Our prayers had been answered.”
Gilbert Rich was greeted by his family immediately after stepping through his front door Tuesday morning.
Besides being tired, Rich’s father said the young man was in good shape. He spent most of the day sleeping.
When the community of Kuujjuaq first came into view March 24, Dr. Stanley Vollant fell to his knees. Then he cried.
When Vollant and 18 other Innu, Naskapi and Inuit left Matimekush (Schefferville) on foot 27 days earlier, Kuujjuaq had seemed like a world away.
More than 450 kilometres later, the site of the Nunavik community was a welcome one for the group of tired walkers.
“This is it,” Vollant recalled. “It was very emotional.”
The group spent the night about eight km outside of town, before walking the final leg and arriving to a group of family, friends and well-wishers along the frozen Koksoak River March 25.
Vollant, Quebec’s first Innu surgeon, has walked thousands of kilometres between Aboriginal communities across eastern Canada as part of his Innu Meshkenu project, to promote physical activity and healthy living among Aboriginal people.
But this walk was Vollant’s first overland journey onto Inuit territory; even a first for its three young Inuit walkers Michael Petagumskum, Brian Kauki and Elijah Etok, and two Inuit guides, Norman Cooper and Willie Kulula Jr.
It might have been his coldest, too. Many in the group succumbed to frostbite.
“It was the most difficult expedition I’ve organized so far — I’ll never forget it,” Vollant said.
“But this was an historic event because no one has walked this trail in 60 years,” he explained. “For us, it was like walking in the footsteps of our Innu, Naskapi and Inuit ancestors.”
The hunting and trading route between Schefferville and Ungava Bay has long served as a link between Innu and Inuit families.
Elders say the last group to cover the distance on foot may have been the Naskapi, who migrated from Kuujjuaq — then Fort Chimo — to the iron-ore town of Schefferville in 1956.
“It was tough at first, having to walk so much,” said 20-year-old Petagumskum of Kuujjuaq. “But we were taking it day by day.”
The group set goals of completing 23 kilometres each day, but that depended on weather and the group’s energy level, he said. On top of walking, the group had to set up camp, prepare food and melt snow for water.
“Every morning our water bottles were frozen, and we had to defrost them,” Petagumskum said. “Sometimes I told myself, why I am doing this?”
“But then I thought, if I can do this, I can do anything,” he said. “And it’s a very good experience — you get to see your land and it’s pure.”
Since he returned home to Kuujjuaq March 25, Petagumskum is still running on adrenaline. He’s already called the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., to kick-start the application process to get into the school’s Aboriginal leadership program this summer.
And that’s exactly the impact Vollant hopes his walks will have on youth in the communities he visits.
On March 26, Vollant and Petagumskum will visit Kuujjuaq’s Pitakallak and Jaanimmarik schools.
“That’s the goal of these trips — to talk to these kids,” Vollant said. “And I’ll tell them: you have to believe in your dreams and never give up on them.”
“All the great men and women of this world were able to rise up over obstacles to realize their dreams.”
Vollant will take with him what he considers his most powerful tool: a walking stick an elder gave him years ago, which has accompanied him on all of his walks.
“Over the last few years, more than 3,000 youth have put their dreams into that stick,” he said. “So I’m going to ask every youth I meet in Kuujjuaq to put their dreams in there too.”jjuaq.
In between basketball games at the Central Quebec School Board tournament this weekend, Christian Thibault and his teammates were introduced to traditions that have served the Naskapi for generations.
The tournament, the first of its kind ever held in the northern Quebec First Nations community, aimed to knit together two worlds through sport and tradition.
High school students from across central Quebec took part in workshops that included caribou skinning and butchering, ptarmigan plucking and ice fishing.
“I’m taking full of advantage since I’ve never done this and I’ll probably never do it again,” Thibault, a Secondary 4 student, said while plucking snow-white ptarmigan with two Naskapi women.
The tournament was held at the board’s northernmost school, Jimmy Sandy Memorial School, in the Naskapi community of Kawawachikamach, located near the Labrador border, about 15 kilometres from Schefferville.
Students said they left Schefferville with a better understanding of First Nations communities and the Naskapi culture after the “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
Some admitted they arrived in the community with cliché ideas about aboriginal people.
“[I had heard] that people are lazy. And they are not. I just saw firsthand at the game they all try really hard,” 16-year-old Cédrick Perreault said.
He plans to return to Kawawchikamach next summer with two classmates to learn more about the Naskapi ways.
Hoop dream to reality
Hosting the tournament in Kawawchikamach was the brainchild of the former principal of Jimmy Sandy Memorial, Curtis Tootoosis. He had been dreaming about it for a decade but only managed to sell the school board on the idea last year.
It cost about $190,000 to host the tournament. The money came from school surpluses, Ministry of Education grants for cultural exchanges, a gift from the Naskpi Band Council and donations.
Much of the organization fell into the hands of the former vice-principal, Joanne Strasser, who took over Tootoosis position as principal in January.
“I think they finally see us more than the school from the north with the First Nations kids,” she said.
“They see us as everyday kids but they have a better perspective of where we are coming from and the difficulties and the lifestyle that we lead.”
Students from Jimmy Sandy Memorial have always had to travel outside of the community to participate in tournaments, so their parents and friends never have the opportunity to see them play.
During local games at this weekend’s tournament, the spectator side of the gym was so full, some fans’ feet were on the court.
Naomi Einish took the day off work to watch her daughter play for the Jimmy Sandy Memorial Hawks.
“I’m proud of her, win or lose she’s a winner to me,” she said.
Her daughter, Secondary 1 student Ruby-Jade Jake, said being able to play in front of friends and family made her “feel proud. For once.”
That comment brought tears to the eyes of several teachers and staff members.
The tournament may have been driven by competition, but being able to play in front of loved ones was definitely exciting for the young players, said coach Cory Meehan.
“That’s the cherry on top of this whole basketball cake,” she said.
‘Everyone is ecstatic’
The boys’ team from Jimmy Sandy Memorial won a banner in the B-division of the tournament.
“I think you can tell on everybody’s faces in the crowd or on my team that everyone is ecstatic,” said coach Kyle Schroeder.
Shane Peastitute,15, was all smiles as he carried his seven-month-old daughter on the court after the game.
“I feel great! I’m happy she’s here to watch me play,” he said.
Peastitute won the most valuable player award on his team.
Strasser said all the planning and preparation paid off and the weekend was a great success.
The principal said she hopes the tournament comes back to her community one day.
“But not next year,” she added.