NEWS: Nunavik June 20, 2012 - 5:40 am

At Rio +20 sustainability conference, Nunavik teen seeks Quebec premier

Minnie Molly Snowball asks Nunavimmiut for messages about Plan Nord to deliver to Jean Charest


Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Minnie Molly Snowball, a 2012 graduate of Ulluriaq School in Kangiqsualujjuaq, are each visiting Rio de Janeiro this week to attend the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

But so far, the two haven’t crossed paths.

Snowball is in Rio as a member of the Students On Ice delegation, which includes students who participated in its educational polar cruise program.

Charest is there with regional and national leaders, thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, non-government organizations and other groups, who are meeting on how to reduce poverty, advance social equality and, at the same time, ensure environmental protection.

Charest’s goal in Rio: to promote Plan Nord, his 25-year development scheme for northern Quebec.

In Rio, Snowball is arguing for more recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples in Arctic resource development.

But, due to the long trip from Kangiqsualujjuaq to Brazil, Snowball missed hearing Charest speak June 17 during a conference side event on an issue that’s close to her: Plan Nord.

Snowball said she heard that Charest said northern communities supported Plan Nord — if she’d been there, she said she would have set him straight.

“This is really wrong,” she said.

Now on Facebook, on the news page “Your voice on Nunavik Issues,” Snowball (known on Facebook by the Inuktitut version of her name, Minimaali Sinuupa) is asking Nunavimmiut to send her questions for Charest.

“I might have a chance to meet with Jean Charest,” she said. “So if you would like me to say anything for you, if it’s appropriate, I don’t promise I will say everything, but I would say something.”

Others who attended the June 17 side event in Rio did criticize Charest’s presentation on Plan Nord.

Although the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group heaped praise on Charest and Plan Nord, reports say Suzann Méthot, the president of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, told Charest that his Plan Nord has neglected environmental conservation and social issues.

Quebec’s Bill 65, an “act respecting natural heritage conservation and the sustainable development of the area covered by Plan Nord,” needs to be more specific about industrial activities prohibited, Méthot said.

The wording of Bill 65 is vague and could open the door to industrial development in the 50 per cent of northern Quebec which is supposed to be spared from industrial development under Plan Nord, she said.

Méthot also slammed Charest for not yet meeting with and speaking directly to those who are personally affected by Plan Nord.

“People do not know what it is. They don’t know. When we don’t know about something, we are afraid,” said Méthot, who called for an extensive tour to tell people more about the Plan Nord.

While Méthot said she doesn’t doubt Charest’s commitment “to the sustainability” of Plan Nord, she said his government needs to “act differently.” Otherwise, Plan Nord will “fall back into old patterns of development,” she said.

Charest, who plans to stay at the conference until it wraps up June 22, said he would make changes to the proposed environmental protection plan for northern Quebec.

Many non-government organizations from Quebec and the rest of Canada are also in Rio where they have disputed Charest’s promotion of Plan Nord as “the largest land conservation plan” in the world and “a new global model for sustainable development.”

“Northern Quebec is a fragile environment which contains among the last pristine ecosystems on the planet, yet the government is planning large industrial projects operating before these ecosystems are adequately protected. Common sense, however, requires the opposite approach: to protect and then build,” said Michel Lambert, in a June 18 news release. Lambert, who was also in Rio this week, is director of Alternatives, a Montreal-based group which focuses on economic, social, political, cultural and environmental rights.