My Turn: The bravery and solidarity of the Pessamit Innu

For the Monitor
Monday, December 25, 2017

A few months ago, New Hampshire was honored with a visit from the Pessamit Innu, First Nations people from Quebec. These brave indigenous leaders traveled hundreds of miles to come and to share the truth of their ongoing ecological hardships in their homeland. They had the support of the N.H. Sierra Club, and the local Cowasuck Band of Abenaki Leaders, Denise and Paul Pouliot. During their trip they visited many places including in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to raise awareness of the harm Hydo-Quebec has caused their people and their land, as well as the harm of Northern Pass.

One of the key moments I witnessed was when the Pessamit Innu leaders stood proud and strong in front of over a hundred people at the Northern Pass hearing. Paul Pouliot read their testimony because their first language is Innu and their second language is French. The delegation from the Pessamit include three elders and three tribal council members. Their crucial mission here was to raise awareness of the genocidal atrocities committed by the government of Quebec and the government owned monopoly Hydro-Quebec.

These proud leaders stayed strong. Being part Native American, I know the challenges to stand up for our rights. I am a descendant of the Blackfeet Nation. We have had to fight to keep our land and protect it. Like the Pessamit, my people have lost many battles in the fight to protect our land. But like them we have persevered. It was with great pride as I sat with the leaders of the groups who supported the Pessamit visit and presentations. As we stood at the Northern Pass hearing with Paul speaking for the Pessamit, I could feel our ancestors with us. It was a powerful moment as the whole room was quiet. Time stood still as words were shared explaining why the Pessamit were here and the harm that Hydro-Quebec has caused. You see, a long time ago, the Pessamit Innu lived, worshiped, hunted, fished, taught generations and survived along the river and their traditional land called Nitassinan (traditional territory). Hydro-Quebec profoundly harmed the Pessamit Innu’s way of life by flooding the river and the traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

The Pessamit Innu do their best to live but it is hard. Their traditional homes and land have been washed away. Their strength in their resolve to continue to played a major role in their testimony. For the first time ever I witnessed a standing ovation at a public hearing. The energy and power of the moment is still present in my mind.

Recently Chief Rene Simon has led the Pessamit Innu to challenge Hydro-Quebec’s mistreatment of the First Nations in the Canadian Court system, which could potentially stop Nothern Pass. I know these resilient and proud indigenous people will not give up. Neither will the No Northern Pass groups here in New Hampshire. We, like the Pessamit, hold our people and land sacred as well.

(Fawn Gaudet lives in Campton.)