The saga of Muskrat Falls is not yet over, but a dramatic new page has turned after land protectors stormed the site on Saturday, occupying it and forcing a temporary suspension of the project. The move has also forced government to agree to meet with representatives of Indigenous groups.
But this movement has done much more than simply secure a victory against a provincial government that refused to listen and a crown corporation that refused to care.
Labrador’s land protectors have taught all of us an amazing lesson in what can be accomplished by even a small group of people determined to stand up for their rights and for what they believe in.
You have shown us that even in a province and a country grown weary with cynicism and pessimism, victories can still be won and people—each and every one of us—can still make change happen.
While so many of us on the Island shrugged and assumed that because the work was so advanced and there was so much wealth and power behind the project that nothing could be done, you refused to accept that. You—the peoples and land protectors of Labrador—ignored cynicism and pessimism alike and simply went and did the thing everyone else said could not be done: you stopped the project. It’s a temporary reprieve, to be sure, and there will doubtless still be battles to be fought. But that temporary reprieve is still far more than everyone else thought possible.
And you did it without money, without lawyers, without consultants or lobbyists or even the sort of training that activists are told they need to have before they can accomplish anything. So many other organizations with far greater resources at their disposal are so often afraid to use all that money and resources to actually confront and challenge those in power. Yet a group of Labradorians with hardly any resources besides their own bodies and sense of solidarity rose up and accomplished the thing everyone else said could not be done.
“People think just because a law has passed or a certain event has happened, that it’s too late—it’s never too late. It’s never too late.”
You showed us that, indeed, it is never too late. When I interviewed prominent Mi’kmaq lawyer Pam Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, earlier this week, she said “People think just because a law has passed or a certain event has happened, that it’s too late—it’s never too late. It’s never too late.”
You showed us the truth of those words.
And you showed us that the way we do these things matters as well. Live broadcasts from the occupation showed the world this was no knee-jerk protest but a movement with profoundly deep roots and tremendously articulated democratic convictions. The sight of Elders training younger generations to prepare for RCMP violence and how to respond non-violently was both chilling in its indictment of the RCMP’s moral fall, and inspiring in its clear demonstration of the powerful ethical position of the land protectors.
You taught us that democracy matters, and democracy works. The livestreams showed us that when decisions were made, they were made democratically. Members of the community of all ages and identities listened to each other respectfully and considered each other’s words. Elders—the ones with a natural aura of authority—reminded everyone passionately that there were no leaders in the group: they were all leaders. Everyone’s words counted and were worthy of respect. And you showed us there are still elected leaders who are actually accountable to the communities they represent; municipal officials who climbed aboard trucks and helped lead the storming of the site.
As hunger strikers place their very bodies on the line, they show us that the alienating force of cynicism and selfishness does not prevail the way many of us think it does; that there are those willing to risk their very lives out of a sense of love and caring for their neighbours, their family, their community, and their collective future. A hunger strike is not just a protest; it is an act of love and the ultimate expression of care for your community and the people around you.
You have taught us the power of hope, of resilience, of faith, of solidarity, and of determination. You have shown us that a small group of people, without legal teams, with worrying about money or media slant or public opinion or “capacity”, in one of the most remote parts of the country, can bring powerful corporations to their knees simply by standing up courageously to do the right thing.
As the world watches, amazed, at the courage and fortitude of Labradorians who stood up for their rights and their self-determination in a remote corner of the country, we are all learning something here. We are learning that the simple yet awesomely powerful force of community, caring, and courage can overcome all the power and wealth and pessimism that have shaped the cynical view many of us have of the world. Pessimism and defeatism is a self-perpetuating philosophy, and while the struggles are not easy—and the violence and suffering you have faced is horrifying and unconscionable—you have taught us that the power of courage, conviction and community trumps all the cynical forces arrayed against it.
Newfoundland and Labrador will never be the same after what has happened at Muskrat Falls these past weeks, and neither will Canada. We are still uncertain what the outcome of this struggle will be, but the lessons you have taught us will shape the thoughts and inspire the actions of future generations no matter what happens next.
So for that we all thank you, Land Protectors of Labrador.