Reserve Land Claim Innu of Pessamit

History of the claim

In the early 1850s, An Act to authorize the setting apart of Lands for the use of certain Indian Tribes in Lower Canada (1851) and the order in council dated August 9, 1853, provided for the creation of a reserve at Manicouagan. The Act was implemented by the province of Canada, and 230,000 acres of land in present-day Quebec was set aside for the use of the Indians. The Manicouagan Indian reserve encompassed 70,000 acres.

An order in council dated April 20, 1861, approved a request by Mgr. Charles Arnaud, an Oblate priest serving the region, to move the reserve further west. The Betsiamites Reserve was also supposed to cover an area of 70,000 acres.

In 1886, the Crown was involved in a lawsuit concerning illegal forest operations on the Betsiamites Reserve. A legal survey was ordered to identify the land on which the illegal operations were taking place. It was then discovered that because of an error in the description of the lands in the 1861 order in council, the northern boundary of the reserve was a mile south of the boundary that had been provided for. The legal survey showed that the reserve did not in fact cover an area of 70,000 acres.

In 1984, the Council of the Innu of Pessamit submitted a claim, Revendication de la Bande des Montagnais de Betsiamites contre la Couronne du chef du Canada pour une compensation et la restitution d'une superficie de 6 900 acres de terres concernant la réserve indienne des Papinachois de Betsiamites, Québec.

The claim was accepted under the Specific Claims Policy on July 3, 2002, on the basis of the following breaches of the legal obligations of the Crown:

  1. Errors in the description of the boundaries of the reserve at the time of the adoption of the 1861 order in council approving the exchange of the lands of the Manicouagan Reserve for lands of similar area located in Betsiamites, resulting in a loss of 6,900 acres of land.

  2. The failure to correct the reserve boundaries in a civil lawsuit, in which an 1886 legal survey recorded an area of 63,100 acres instead of 70,000 acres of reserve land.

According to the information available, at the time the claim was accepted, the area was assessed at 6,900 acres. Additional work has since revealed that the area of the land covered by the specific claim is in fact, 7,543 acres. The studies carried out by the parties were conducted on the basis of an area of 7,543 acres.

Key components of the settlement agreement

The settlement agreement concluded between the Innu of Pessamit and Canada includes the following provisions:

  • Payment of financial compensation for economic losses incurred by the First Nation since 1861 and for the market value of the claim lands.

  • As set out in this type of settlement agreement, the Innu of Pessamit will have the option of purchasing replacement lands located inside a selection zone negotiated between the parties and requesting that the lands be added to the current reserve, in compliance with the federal Additions-to-Reserve Policy.

Third-party interests were taken into account during the negotiations. Private property is not expropriated to settle land claims, nor are private property owners asked to sell their land unwillingly. Any land transactions in connection with a settlement will be on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis.

This settlement agreement has been rejected by the Innu of Pessamit through a ratification vote in February 2009.

The Innu of Pessamit community is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, 54 km southwest of Baie -Comeau. The community has 3,538 members, with 2,764 living on the reserve.