Resistance to the Muskrat Falls hydro dam continued Friday in Labrador as a group of about 30 people walked on to the project’s construction site north of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in an act of civil disobedience.
Friday’s direct action marked the second time this week Elders, land and river protectors and other concerned locals demonstrated in advance of Crown energy corporation Nalcor’s plans to begin the first phase of reservoir flooding as early as Oct. 15.
For the second time this week people joining the walk marched passed employees of private security firm Speuata, who read out a statement informing those participating in the direct action that they were trespassing on Nalcor property.
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Once the group reached the North Spur Happy Valley-Goose Bay resident Jacinda Beals read a statement directed at Nalcor on behalf of the land protectors.
“We, the Land Protectors of Labrador, do not recognize your authority at Muskrat Falls, Labrador which is on our traditional lands,” she said. “We are guardians of our ancestors and defenders of the next generations of Labradorians. You are here in violation of our ancient ways and destroying our mighty Grand River and sacred lands of Labrador with this mega-dam project.
“By being here, you are assisting the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in the continued cultural genocide of the Labrador people. We ask you to consider your actions and the consequences that will be felt for future generations…
“We are here by the authority of many generations before us and our bloodlines will continue for many generations after us.”
Methylmercury poisoning and North Spur top concerns
Peggy Blake of Goose Bay was also concerned about the methylmercury increases that, once the reservoir is flooded, will put families and communities downstream at risk, particularly those who harvest country foods from Lake Melville.
The more than 3,000-square-kilometre estuary is home to five communities, including some on Innu and Inuit territory.
“This is not right what they’re doing here in Labrador. In the past there’s been lots of destruction to the land here, and it’s time to stop,” Blake said while walking to the North Spur with two RCMP vehicles behind her.
“This is going to poison us if it doesn’t drown us first,” she added, explaining her main concerns centre around methylmercury and the North Spur, which critics of the dam argue will not be stable since the river banks are primarily made up of sand and clay.
This is going to poison us if it doesn’t drown us first… Mud Lake would be wiped out. Mud Lake would disappear. — Peggy Blake, Happy Valley-Goose Bay
“There is nothing Nalcor can say” to make people downstream comfortable, Blake continued, “because we know it is unsafe. No matter what they put there, no matter how much concrete they pour, no matter what they tell us, it is still going to give way eventually.”
Like many, Blake wants the project stopped altogether.
“Mud Lake would be wiped out. Mud Lake would disappear,” she said. “My mother’s home would disappear. My mother was born and raised in Travespine, just across the river. There are graves over there. My family and ancestors are there. It would be devastating.”
Sophie Tremblay-Morissette lives in Nain, but was in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Friday and decided to join the walk to support those who are protesting the dam.
She said even though Nain is removed from the immediate impacts of methylmercury and the North Spur, many of the fish and other wildlife that will be contaminated by the dam migrate north.
“Rigolet will be the most affected, but it’s all connected,” she said. “People in Rigolet, same as people in Nain — families depend on whether they can fish to feed themselves. And not just by obligation, but also by choice culturally.”
On Thursday provincial NDP leader Earle McCurdy issued a statement saying he wants any reservoir flooding put on hold until concerns around methylmercury are adequately addressed.
“The government of our province should not be rolling the dice with the public health of hundreds of people,” he said. “The Nunatsiavut Government has identified the need for a robust water monitoring regime. It’s inconceivable to me that Nalcor did not put that in place as part of the plan for flooding.”
Protecting future generations
“I’m here for my little ones,” 32-year-old Goose Bay resident Craig Brown told The Independent as he walked alongside his family.
“My parents showed me how to live off the land, how to hunt, how to fish in the Lake Melville area, and I want my kids to be able to do the same thing when they grow up,” he said. “And I don’t want this project to poison them. I want the project to be done proper — I want the sod to be cleared, I want the trees to be cleared, and I want all the appropriate measures taken care of.”
North West River resident Christine Saunders attended the walk with her three children.
“I don’t want my kids poisoned,” she said, explaining they eat fish and birds harvested from Lake Melville.
“I want it to stop, but the government’s not going to allow that,” she continued, urging others to join the movement to stop Muskrat Falls before the reservoir is flooded.
“There’s power in numbers — more people needs to come together. If all of Labrador came here, who’s going to stop us?”
Asked what she thought about how provincial, federal and Indigenous leaders are handling the situation, and their absence at the rallies, protests and other actions where people are expressing their concerns over the dam, she said: “I got nothing nice to say about them, so I’m keeping my mouth shut.”
Brown said he doesn’t have high hopes leaders will join the calls for Muskrat Falls to be stopped until all concerns are addressed.
“Living in Labrador, silence just seems to be the way it is around here,” he said. “I think if anything is going to happen with this, everybody, all the groups, even non-status people, need to show up if they want to see change.”
Blake said what’s at stake is “the future for our children, and our grandchildren.
“My grandson is two, and he actually went and fished for the first time in his life on our bay, and when he’s a little older he won’t be able to do that. My other grandchildren won’t be able to do that,” she said.
At the end of the walk organizers planned another action for Monday to coincide with the national Indigenous day of action, when Indigenous communities and allies will unite to protest pipelines and other industrial activities that threaten Indigenous lands, waters, and sovereignty. Organizer Kirk Lethbridge announced on Facebook shortly after the walk that people will meet on the Trans Labrador Highway West and walk “to the waters above Muskrat Falls to have special prayers for the River and the People.”