Muskrat resistance and the failure of formal politics

Elected officials need to step up.

First of all, I want to acknowledge the bravery and determination of land defenders, community organizers, and all those rising up in opposition to Muskrat Falls.

The impending flooding of the reservoir creates a sense of urgency, as the reality of methylmercury contamination reaches a broad audience across the province and country. And make no mistake, the recent wave of protests is building on years of resistance, stretching back to the project’s environmental assessment and before, with many of the same activists and groups at the centre of things.

But while the tenacity of grassroots peoples from communities throughout the province is a source of inspiration, the woeful inadequacies of formal politics and of elected politicians is shameful.

People's March for Representation PosterI’m not going to waste time describing the disgrace that is our premier and cabinet ministers. No one even expects better of them anymore. The elected officials I want to talk about here are those from communities in Labrador, those who will not stand with grassroots people in defiance of injustice. There is even a march happening Thursday called “The People’s March for Representation”, demanding that Labrador political leadership get involved in the fight.

Take for example Liberal MHA for Torngat Mountains Randy Edmunds, who in a recent interview with The Independent said he will not do what he knows is ethically right. He said he knows Muskrat Falls will poison the river and contaminate sources of food in Lake Melville. He knows all the associated risks and repeated that he was against the project all along.

But asked if he will stand with his people, with the constituents who elected him and who are badgering him to act, he said no. He doesn’t think it’ll make a difference. He doesn’t see why it’s necessary to represent the views of those he was elected to represent. He’d rather go along to get along.

And the same goes for the leadership of Nunatsiavut, of NunatuKavut, and of the Innu Nation. Are the governing bodies and the politicians of these Indigenous communities content to sit idly by as the land is devastated and the water is poisoned, even as the people they presume to represent are in open revolt against the Muskrat madness?

I know there are complicated histories and difficult realities for Indigenous people in Labrador. But unless these governing bodies want to prove the thesis that autonomous Indigenous political structures are no more than an extension of colonialism, they need to do more than make strong statements.

This is a critical moment. How do the politicians and the elected leaders of our communities, Indigenous and settler alike, want to be remembered at this juncture of history? If the elected officials and formal political structures are unable to step up, and if reason falls on deaf ears, then all that is left is direct action.

Photo by Justin Brake.
Grassroots people spanning all three Indigenous groups and settlers have joined peaceful acts of civil disobedience in walking to the North Spur and Spirit Mountain at Muskrat Falls. Photo by Justin Brake.

Jon Parsons is a writer and researcher whose work focuses on cultures of resistance. Catch up with him on Twitter @jwpnfld

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