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Hudson's Bay Company Major Moves The 1940s The 1950s The Journey to Schefferville James Bay & Northern Quebec Agreement A Path to Self Government


The earliest reference to Naskapis appears around 1643, when the Jesuit André Richard referred to the "Ounackkapiouek", but little is known about the group to which Richard was referring, other than that they were one of many "small nations" situated somewhere north of Tadoussac.

The word "Naskapi" first appeared in 1733, at which time the group so described was said to number approximately forty families, and to have an important camp at Lake Achouanipi. At approximately the same time, in 1740, Joseph Isbister, the manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s post at Eastmain, reported being told that there were Indians, whom he called "Annes-carps" to the northeast of Richmond Gulf. In later years those Indians came to be called variously "Nascopie" and "Nascappe". In 1790, the Periodical Accounts of the Moravian Missionaries described a group of Indians living west of Okak as "Nascopies".

The Hudson’s Bay Company ᐅᒋᒪᐤ ᑕᐛᐅᒋᐛᐱᒡ

The years 1831 onwards were characterized by the first regular contacts between the Naskapis and western society, with the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post at Old Fort Chimo, or Kuujjuaq, as it is known today.

The relationship between the Naskapis and the Hudson’s Bay Company was not an easy one. It was difficult for the Naskapis to integrate commercial trapping, and especially of marten during the winter, into their seasonal round of subsistence activities for the simple reason that the distribution of marten was in large measure different from the distribution of essential sources of food at that time of year. As a result, the Naskapis did not prove to be the regular and diligent trappers that the traders must have hoped to find, a fact that the traders seem to have attributed to laziness or intransigence on the part of Naskapis.

Major Movesᑲᐃᔅ ᐊᑎᐱᓇᓄᒡ

Between 1831 and 1956, the Naskapis were subjected to several major relocations, all of which reflected not their needs or interests, but those of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The major moves were: 

1842 – Fort Chimo to Fort Nascopie 

1870 – Fort Nascopie to Fort Chimo 

1915 – Fort Chimo to Fort McKenzie 

1948 – Fort McKenzie to Fort Chimo 

1956 – Fort Chimo to Schefferville


Numerous cases have been documented in which the Hudson’s Bay Company relocated the Naskapis from post to post purely for its own commercial purposes, without any concern as to whether the areas where the new posts were situated offered the Naskapis the possibility of harvesting the fish and game that they required for food, or whether they could supply the much sought-after fur hides that were in great demand at the time by the Hudson’s Bay Company. In several instances, individual managers, apparently dissatisfied with the Naskapis’ seeming lack of commitment to trapping, withheld from them the ammunition that they needed to hunt for food, thereby directly causing a considerable number of deaths from starvation.

The 1940sᐱᐳᓐ ᑲᐃᑎᔅᑕᒡ

By the late 1940s, the pressures of the fur trade, high rates of mortality and debilitation from diseases communicated by Europeans, and the effects of the virtual disappearance of the George River Caribou Herd had reduced the Naskapis to a state that threatened their very survival. 
The Naskapis had received "relief" from the Federal Government as early as the end of the 1800s, but their first regular contacts with the Federal Government began only in 1949, when Colonel H.M. Jones, Superintendent of Welfare Services in Ottawa, and M. Larivière of the Abitibi Indian Agency visited them in Fort Chimo and arranged for the issuing of welfare to the Naskapis.

The 1950s ᐱᐳᓐ ᑲᐃᑎᔅᑕᒡ

In the early 1950s, the Naskapis made a partially successful effort to re-establish themselves at Fort McKenzie where they had already lived between 1916 and 1948, and to return to an economy based substantially on hunting, fishing, and commercial trapping. They could no longer be entirely self-sufficient, however, and the high cost of supplies, combined with the continuing high incidence of tuberculosis and other factors, obliged them to return to Fort Chimo after only two years.

The Journey to Schefferville ᑲᐃᑐᑕᓄᒡ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐅᑕᓇᒡ ᓴᐱᐸᐤ

For reasons that are not entirely clear, virtually all of the Naskapis moved from Fort Chimo to the recently founded iron-ore mining community of Schefferville in 1956. Two principal schools of thought about this move exist. One of them holds that the Naskapis were induced, if not ordered, to move by officials of Indian and Northern Affairs, while the other believes that the Naskapis themselves decided to move in the hopes of finding employment, housing, medical assistance, and educational facilities for their children

Although officials of Indian and Northern Affairs were certainly aware of the intention of the Naskapis to move from Fort Chimo to Schefferville, and may even have instigated that move, they appear to have done little or nothing to prepare for their arrival there, not even warning the representatives of the Iron Ore Company of Canada ("IOCC") or the Municipality of Schefferville.

The Naskapis left Fort Chimo on foot to make the 400-mile journey to Schefferville overland. By the time they reached Wakuach Lake, some 70 miles north of Schefferville, most of them were in a pitiable state, exhausted, ill, and close to starvation.

A successful rescue effort was mounted, but the only homes that awaited the Naskapis were the shacks that they built for themselves on the edge of Knob Lake, near the railroad station, with scavenged and donated materials. A short time later, in 1957, under the pretext that the water at Knob Lake was contaminated, the municipal authorities moved the Naskapis to a site adjacent to John Lake, some four miles north-north-east of Schefferville, where they lived without the benefit of water sewage, or electricity, and where, despite their hopes in coming to Schefferville, there was no school for their children and no medical facility.

The Naskapis shared the site at John Lake with a group of Montagnais, who had moved voluntarily from Sept-Iles to Schefferville with the completion of the railroad in the early 1950s.

Establishing a Presence in Schefferville • ᓴᐱᐸᐤ ᑲᑕᓄᒡ

Initially, the Naskapis lived in tiny shacks that they built for themselves, but by 1962 Indian and Northern Affairs had built 30 houses for them, and a further four were under construction at a cost of $5,000 each.

In 1969, Indian and Northern Affairs acquired from the reluctant Municipality of Schefferville a marshy, 39-acre site north of the town centre and adjacent to Pearce Lake. By 1972, 43 row-housing units had been built there for the Naskapis, and a further 63 for Montagnais, and most of the Naskapis and Montagnais moved to this new site, known today as Matimekush Reserve.

For the first time in their lengthy history of relocations, the Naskapis were consulted in the planning of their new home. Indian and Northern Affairs sent officials to explain the new community to the Naskapis, a brochure was published, models built, and progress reports issued. Particular interest among the Naskapis centered on the type of housing that they would receive. Possibly for financial reasons, Indian and Northern Affairs wanted them to live in row houses, whereas the Naskapis had a strong preference for detached, single-family residences. Council was eventually persuaded to accept row housing, but it did so only on the condition that the houses were adequately sound-proofed, which turned out not to be the case.

Row Houses without Trees ᒥᒍᐛᐸ ᑲᐃᔅᒋᒥᑕᐃᒋ ᑭᔭ ᐊᑲ ᐅᔅᑕᒡ ᒥᔅᑎᑯᒡ

Perhaps because it was the first such process in which they had been involved, the Naskapis placed considerable faith in the consultation undertaken by Indian and Northern Affairs. It is a source of considerable bitterness even today that, in the minds of many Naskapis, not all of the promises or reassurances that were made were lived up to. Two examples are most commonly cited: the insistence of Indian and Northern Affairs representatives that the Naskapis live in row houses that, in fact, proved not to be adequately soundproofed and which had a variety of other faults; and the fact that the brochure prepared by Indian and Northern Affairs showed a fully landscaped site with trees and bushes, whereas no landscaping was done, and no trees or bushes were ever planted.

Gaining mutual respect • ᒐᒋ ᑎᒂᒡ ᓱᒐᐃᑎᒧᐅᓐ ᑭᔭ ᔅᑕᐃᑎᒧᐅᓐ

Encounters such as these may seem very minor to persons with long experience of large and impersonal institutions such as government departments, but these incidents happened to the Naskapis during the very formative stage of their relations with Indian and Northern Affairs and when they had still not forgotten their callous treatment by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that these matters are still spoken of frequently today and that they maintain very considerable importance and significance for many Naskapis.

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA) ᒋᒥᔅ ᑭᔭ ᒋᐛᑎᓄᒡ ᑯᐸᒃ ᓂᔅᑯᒧᐅᓐ

A pivotal event in the history of the Naskapis occurred in early 1975, when, after separate visits to Schefferville by Billy Diamond, Grand Chief, Grand Council of the Crees (of Québec) ("GCCQ"), and Charlie Watt, President, Northern Québec Inuit Association ("NQIA"), the Naskapis decided to become involved in the negotiations leading to the signature of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement ("JBNQA").

The Naskapis entered into a contract with the NQIA, under which the latter was to provide logistical support, legal advice, and representation to a small team of Naskapi negotiators based in Montréal. That arrangement was not very successful, however, and the JBNQA was signed on 11 November, 1975, without the Naskapis.

Shortly before the signing of the JBNQA, realizing that the demands on the Inuit were too great to allow them to represent the interests of the Naskapis in addition to their own interests, the Naskapi negotiators retained their own non-Native advisors and started to function as an independent negotiating body.

The signatories of the JBNQA were fully aware that it provided for the extinguishment of the Naskapis’ Aboriginal rights in the Territory without granting them any compensatory rights or benefits. They also knew that the Naskapis, unlike certain others of Québec’s First Nations at that time, were willing to negotiate a settlement of their Aboriginal claims.

An Agreement-in-Principle ᓂᔅᑯᒧᐅᓐ ᑲᑐᑕᑲᓄᒡ ᑭᔭ ᑲᒥᓯᓇᑕᐅᑎᓱᓇᓄᒡ

Thus, although the Naskapis had never filed a formal statement of claim or similar document, except for a draft history prepared by the late Dr Alan Cooke, the parties to the JBNQA accepted the legitimacy of their claims, and they entered into an agreement-in-principle with the Naskapis in the Spring of 1977 to negotiate an agreement that would have the same principal features as the JBNQA. The result of the negotiations was the Northeastern Québec Agreement ("NEQA"), which was executed on 31 January, 1978.

Section 20 of the NEQA offered the Naskapis the possibility of relocating from the Matimekush Reserve to a new site.

Economic Development – A Path to Self-government ᐊᑐᔅᒐᐅᓐ ᐊᒋᒥᑕᑲᓄᒡ - ᐛᓇᓴᐃᑲᓄᒡ ᒐᒋ ᑎᐸᐃᒥᑎᓱᓇᓄᒡ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒋᓴᐅᒋᒪᑲᓂᒡ

Between 1978 and 1980, technical and socio-economic studies of the potential sites for the permanent Naskapi community were carried out. On 31 January, 1980, the Naskapis voted overwhelmingly to relocate to the present site of Kawawachikamach. Kawawachikamach was built, largely by Naskapis, between 1980 and 1983. The planning and building of Kawawachikamach provided an excellent opportunity to give Naskapis training and experience in administration and in trades related to construction and maintenance.

Between 1981 and 1984, the self-government legislation promised by Canada in Section 7 of the NEQA was negotiated. The outcome of those negotiations was the Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act ("CNQA"), which was assented to by Parliament on 14 June, 1984.

The overriding purpose of the CNQA was to make the Naskapi Nation and the James Bay Cree Bands largely self-governing. In addition to the powers then exercised by Band Councils under the Indian Act, most of the powers that had until then been exercised by the Minister of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development ("DIAND") under the Indian Act were transferred to the Naskapi Nation and to the James Bay Cree Bands, to be exercised by their elected Councils. The Naskapi Nation and the James Bay Cree Bands were also given powers not found in the Indian Act, powers normally exercised by non-Native municipalities throughout Canada.

Iron Ore • ᑲᑐᔅᑲᔅᑕᑲᓄᒡ ᐊᑲᓇᐤ ᐊᑐᔅᒐᐅᓐ

The NEQA had been negotiated under the assumption that Schefferville would continue to be an active centre of mining, outfitting, and exploration for the foreseeable future. Enquiries by the Government of Québec to the Iron Ore Company of Canada ("IOCC") in the late 1970s had apparently confirmed that assumption. Nevertheless, IOCC announced in 1982 its intention to close the mines at Schefferville immediately.

The closing of the mines at Schefferville had profound implications for the implementation of the NEQA, particularly for those provisions dealing with health and social services and with training and job-creation. Consequently, in the late 1980s, the Naskapi Nation and the Government of Canada undertook a joint evaluation of Canada’s discharging of its responsibilities under the NEQA. The evaluation was motivated more by the change in the circumstances of Schefferville and of the Naskapis than by any belief on the part of the Naskapis that Canada had willfully neglected any of its responsibilities under the NEQA.

The outcome of those negotiations was the Agreement Respecting the Implementation of the Northeastern Québec Agreement ("ARINEQA"), which was executed in September, 1990. Among other things, the ARINEQA established the model for funding capital and operations and maintenance expenditures over five-year periods, created a Dispute Resolution Mechanism for disputes arising from the interpretation, administration, and implementation of the NEQA, the JBNQA, and the ARINEQA, and created a working group to address employment for Naskapis.

Writing a New Chapter .ᐊᒋᑕᐸᑕᑲᓄᒡ ᒥᓄᐛᒡ ᒐᐃᓯᐱᒧᑕᓄᒡ

The Naskapis are now developing their homeland, notably through economic development and community reinforcement. The recent signing of the Naskapi-Québec Partnership Agreement (see “Agreements”) on 19 October, 2009, will assist the Naskapis to conclude agreements with mining companies, provides for revenue-sharing for certain types of energy projects, creates a mechanism to address a list of issues important to the Naskapis, including education and the Hunter Support Programme, and targets solutions to problem areas relating to outfitting and culture.


The Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach recently executed Impact and Benefit Agreements with Labrador Iron Mines Limited (and New Millennium Capital Corporation, two mining companies operating in the Kawawachikamach-Schefferville area, which recently announced their plans to open new mines in 2010 and 2012 respectively, with additional phases planned for the near future.


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