MUN Students’ Union pledges support for Make Muskrat Right

“Students call on government, Nalcor to take action to protect Indigenous lives.”

On Monday Memorial University’s undergraduate student union announced it was supporting Nunatsiavut Government’s Make Muskrat Right campaign that aims to minimize the impact Muskrat Falls is expected to have on Indigenous communities living downstream from the dam in Central Labrador.

“Our membership at Memorial includes hundreds of students from Labrador and Indigenous students, and we’ve heard loud and clear the concerns they have about the safety of their families and the future of their communities if Muskrat goes ahead without meeting the minimum safety requirements of the Make Muskrat Right campaign,” said Lindsay Batt, MUNSU’s Director of Finance and Services and N.L. Aboriginal Student Representative with the Canadian Federation of Students.

Nunatsiavut Government launched the Make Muskrat Right campaign last fall, following the release of the first phase of a study led by researchers at Harvard University that discovered Lake Melville, which is bordered by five communities that rely on the estuary’s abundance of country food, is likely to produce higher levels of methylmercury than Nalcor, the project’s proponent, originally stated.

A second phase of the study was released last spring and reveals that unless the Muskrat Falls reservoir is fully cleared of vegetation and topsoil hundreds of Inuit living in the Lake Melville region could be pushed above safe levels of methylmercury.

Make Muskrat Right also calls on the provincial government to establish an independent environmental monitoring and an impact agreement with Nunatsiavut.

The MUNSU press release alluded to the provincial government cut the Labrador Air Foodlift Subsidy program, “as well as various other support programs which will render Labrador communities even more reliant on local foods harvested from the land.”

 Government is cutting corners because the project is late and over-budget, but they’re doing so at the expense of the safety and lives of Indigenous and rural Labrador communities. — Lindsay Batt, MUNSU

“This is an issue of justice and respect for Indigenous and Labrador communities,” said Batt. “Government is cutting corners because the project is late and over-budget, but they’re doing so at the expense of the safety and lives of Indigenous and rural Labrador communities.”

On Friday Nalcor announced the first phase of reservoir flooding will proceed on Oct. 15 or later, and the province has said it will only commit to further discussions with Nunatsiavut regarding potential clearing of the reservoir for the second phase.

Nunatsiavut’s Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Darryl Shiwak told The Independent on Friday that the Inuit government is “extremely disappointed” and is considering all its options in determining how to respond.

With first flooding only days away, none of the three Indigenous groups in Labrador have committed to on-the-ground action, however a grassroots movement is growing, uniting members of all three Indigenous groups who are calling for the dam to be stopped altogether. An act of civil disobedience is planned for Monday, when a group of people, including elders, will walk to the North Spur on the Muskrat Falls construction site.

Another protest is planned for Oct. 7 outside Nalcor’s office in St. Joh’s.

MUNSU, which represents thousands of students at MUN, says it is encouraging its members to attend rallies in St. John’s, and “will be supporting other actions in St. John’s to pressure Nalcor and federal and provincial governments to accept the demands of the Make Muskrat Right campaign,” the release said.

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