The Innu word Naskapi is said to mean “people beyond the horizon”, describing their homeland is what is now northern Quebec and Labrador. A nomadic people for hundreds of years, the Naskapi people were subjected to major relocations for the commercial benefit of the Hudson Bay Company between 1830s and 1950s, which, along with the dissemination of Caribou herds and diseases from settlers threatened the Naskapi way of life.
The Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach came to be in the late 1970s and early 80s though the Northeastern Quebec Agreement(“NEQA”), when the Naskapi voted to relocate to present site of Kawawachikamach, 16 square miles of Category IA-N land covering an area of approximately 40 acres northeast of Schefferville. There is ample room for expansion, whether for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes.
Though the Naskapi people have a very difficult modern history, the pride and resourcefulness in their community has helped them persevere and entre into a modern chapter in its history. Many young, educated Naskapi are choosing to stay in their home, many even taking positions in their town council.
Curtis Tootoosis, Director General, Kawawachikamach, says “A very young council was recently elected, Four of the councillors will be in their 30s, and Chief Noah Swappie is in his early 40s,” explains Tootoosis. “We have started initiatives, building capacity initiatives within the community to become more independent. There is a lot of planning involved, and we are in initial stages of it right now.” In practical terms, this means initiatives like increasing the police force from 30 per cent Naskapi to 100 per cent, adult education courses at Jimmy Sandy Memorial School, and continuing Naskapi employment at the Sachidun Childcare Centre.
The dynamics in Kawawachikamach have changed, says Tootoosis. The community is working towards independence from outside consultants, back to a place of autonomy.
The Naskapi are now developing their homeland, notably through economic development and community reinforcement. Economic Development Projects include the Schefferville Airport Corporation – Runway Maintenance (with Naskapi Development Corp./Montagnais of Matimekosh/Lac John ); the James Bay TransTaiga Road Maintenance (with Naskapi Adoshouana Services/NDC subsidiary); Naskapi Typonomy Project (with Naskapi Adoshouana Services/NDC subsidiary); the Menihek Power Dam and Facilities (with Kawawachikamach Energy Services Inc.); the Enterprise, Resource, Planning, and Management Software (Naskapi Imuun Inc. (Naskapi Nation)).
These endeavours are being used to create resources that can be returned directly to the community, and to address social issues—of which housing is the biggest, says Tootoosis. Currently, 900 Naskapi live in the area.
“Understand cost of living in the north is very high,” he says. “Social assistance is not going to really alleviate that problem. We are pursuing job creation and a focus on education so they can do these jobs.” In 2017, the community invited in a training program called First Feather Skills Development Program, an 8-week basic maintenance course which brings an instructor into the community to train local people to do some of that work.
Another massive initiative will be connecting the community to the Internet. Naskapi Imuun, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, provides Internet and cellular telephone services in Kawawachikamach, Matimekush-Lac John and Schefferville. It also provides Internet and VoIP services to Nalcor at the Menihek Generating Station. Environment and Climate Change Canada announced over $5 million in funding for four environmental projects based in the Québec region, garnered from the largest Environmental Damages Fund award to date: $6.83 million.
A Government of Canada investment of more than $16 million in high-speed Internet will bring connectivity to Kawawachikamach in 2019, in a program designed to connect more than 2,800 households in 13 rural and remote communities in Quebec to the Internet.
The Connecting Canadians program allows Canadians in every region of the country to participate fully in the digital economy, seize new business opportunities, and connect with friends and family around the world.
“The Government of Canada is committed to investing in infrastructure that strengthens the middle class, promotes economic prosperity and provides municipalities with the building blocks they need to support a high standard of living for Canadians and their families,” said the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. “Access to better, more reliable broadband connections will provide Kawawachikamach residents with new opportunities to participate in the digital economy and take advantage of advances in telehealth, e-learning and remote access to government services.”
“We are trying to expand the number and types of businesses that are investing in which also creates employment for the local people.” Says Tootoosis. “The optimism in the community shows, and there is a lot of opportunity on the horizon.”