Land protectors shut down government office in Labrador

Muskrat Falls protests continue Friday as land protectors deny access to Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Labrador land protectors have denied government employees access to the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, effectively shutting the building down as part of the ongoing protests against the Muskrat Falls hydro project in Central Labrador.

Shortly after 8 a.m. local time about a half dozen protectors denied a group of employees access to the building, which serves as Lake Melville MHA and Environment Minister Perry Trimper’s constituency office and Premier Dwight Ball’s office as minister of Labrador and Aboriginal affairs.

“Government refused to listen to us on Monday and dismissed us and disrespected us,” Land Protector Denise Cole told the eight or 10 employees who had shown up for work.

“This has nothing to do with the staff on the ground, but the two ministers who like to call this office home, who are never here, they have not listened to our demands. And we are not opening this office until we start to have some conversations. So we respectfully ask you not to try to enter the premises today.”

On Monday a group of about 20 land protectors occupied the same government office for about three hours and demanded Trimper’s resignation and the resignation of Premier Ball as minister of Labrador and Aboriginal affairs.

The two ministers who like to call this office home, who are never here, they have not listened to our demands. — Land Protector Denise Cole

Cole said in a live stream of Friday morning’s protest that government never responded to the land protectors, who have maintained throughout the ongoing protests that they are acting in self-defense to protect their traditional food supply and way of life.

In September and October hundreds of Innu, Inuit and settler Labradorians united in an attempt to halt Muskrat Falls before the first phase of reservoir flooding began because, they have said, the government did not adequately address the projections outlined in a peer-reviewed scientific study that flooding the dam’s reservoir would poison fish, seals and other country foods Indigenous people have depended on in the region for thousands of years.

The study projected increases in methylmercury in the downstream Lake Melville estuary, where thousands of people harvest food in a northern region where grocery prices are high and where hunting, trapping and fishing are crucial practices to locals’ Indigenous and Labrador identities.

The protests last fall culminated in an occupation of the Muskrat Falls worker’s camp by about 50 land protectors. On the third day of the occupation Premier Ball met with Labrador’s three Indigenous leaders, who negotiated an agreement based on four demands devised by three hunger-striking Inuit and one of the lead researchers on the methylmercury study.

Land protectors ended the occupation following the announcement of that agreement, on Oct. 26, but have reignited protests because, they say, they have lost faith in Nalcor and the provincial government’s commitment to protect local’s health and way of life and to respect Indigenous rights and the government’s prior commitment to reconciliation.

In October, days after the occupation ended, Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall publicly stated that he doubted there would be any harm caused to people from methylmercury, effectively undermining the findings of the scientific study led by researchers at Harvard University.

Land protectors also maintain that local ancient Indigenous knowledge held by Innu elders predicts the dam is unsafe due to the hostile nature of Spirit Mountain, which serves as part of the North Spur on the south side of the river and will help to anchor the dam.

Moments after land protectors denied government employees access to their office Friday morning the group erected a Labrador tent as others joined the protest and Inuit drum dancers began drumming.

Cartwright Mayor Dwight Lethbridge, whose town council vowed last fall to block the transport of equipment headed for Muskrat Falls via the community’s port, said on social media Friday that he’s hoping to join the protest later in the day.

At 8:30 a.m. local time CBC reporter Katie Breen reported on social media that there was an RCMP presence at the protest but that the police had not interacted with the land protectors.

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