[Note: This letter was presented to Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Sheshatshiu on June 26, on behalf of the Innu people]
Her Majesty The Queen
Delivered by hand
by Jonathan Pinette, aged 6 and
Chelsea Rich, aged 6
26 June 1997, Nitassinan
We would like to bring to your attention the fact that the Innu People of Labrador and Quebec - we call our homeland Nitassinan - feel gravely threatened by the way our rights are denied by the Canadian government.
We believe we are entitled as a People to full ownership rights over the lands which we have lived upon since the glaciers retreated from this peninsula 10,000 years ago. And we believe that both natural justice and international law support our position. As far as the Canadian government is concerned, however, it is only prepared to discuss our land rights if we first agree to surrender our ownership. This is manifestly unfair and unjust. It amounts to the bullying of a numerically small People into the surrender of their birthright by a large and powerful industrialized state.
The history of colonization here has been lamentable and has severely demoralized our People. They turn now to drink and self destruction. We have the highest rate of suicide in North America. Children as young as 12 have taken their own life recently. We feel powerless to prevent the massive mining projects now planned and many of us are driven into discussing mere financial compensation, even though we know that the mines and hydro-electric dams will destroy our land and our culture and that money will not save us.
The Labrador part of Nitassinan was claimed as British soil until very recently (1949), when without consulting us, your government ceded it to Canada. We have never, however, signed any treaty with either Great Britain or Canada. Nor have we ever given up our right to self-determination.
The fact that we have become financially dependent on the state which violates our rights is a reflection of our desperate circumstances. It does not mean that we acquiesce in those violations.
We have been treated as non-People, with no more rights than the caribou on which we depend and which are now themselves being threatened by NATO war exercises and other so-called 'development'. In spite of this, we remain a People in the fullest sense of the word. We have not given up, and we are now looking to rebuild our pride and self esteem.
We have many friends in Great Britain where thousands of ordinary people have spent many years supporting our rights. We would like to count you, Your Majesty, as one of those friends.
Vice-President, Innu Nation