Updated at 10:18 p.m. — Oct. 22, 2016
An ongoing blockade against the Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador took a dramatic turn on Saturday as land protectors stormed and occupied the Muskrat Falls work site itself.
As about 200 people gathered at a NunatuKavut rally early in the afternoon, about 60 land protectors cut the lock on the site’s gate and entered the site.
Led by residents of Rigolet who said they were defending their food and way of life, they were joined by several trucks, including one driven by the mayor of Cartwright.
Land protectors who entered the site included Elders, children and even one Anglican minister.
They encountered several roadblocks en route to the main site, including trucks and heavy equipment. The land protectors eventually continued on to the site by foot.
Once at the site, the land protectors shook hands with Nalcor Energy workers who had been flown in by helicopter in an effort by Nalcor to circumvent the blockade.
Innu Elder David Nuke was among those who occupied the site.
“Canadians and the international community need to know, you can’t do this to the Aboriginal people in Labrador,” he said, noting the strong solidarity messages they’ve been receiving from all across the country. “The Mohawk are watching, the Mi’kmaq are watching, the Canadians are watching.”
While Nalcor issued a statement expressing concern for the safety of everyone at the site, Nuke emphasized the protest was a peaceful, non-violent one. As rumours spread that RCMP tactical units were on their way, Nuke and other Elders instructed those present in how to respond in a non-violent manner to possible violence from the RCMP.
“Let them do their violence. Don’t fight back,” Nuke instructed a crowd in the site’s cafeteria.
“Even if they body-slam me down on the cement, don’t you guys go yelling,” explained another land protector.
13-year old Allyson Gear, the drum dancer whose photos of drumming in front of Nalcor trucks captured national attention, was among those participating in the occupation.
“I wanted to be here to help keep my culture and traditions alive,” said Gear.
Around 8 p.m., the premier’s office issued a statement that the premier would meet with leaders and representatives of local Indigenous groups and that no flooding of the reservoir would take place before then. Land protectors met following the announcement and decided they would be staying on-site overnight. They are currently awaiting a phone call from Premier Ball.
“We’re asking the premier to come tomorrow, not Tuesday, because we’ve got people on a hunger strike,” said Kirk Lethbridge, one of the land protectors.
As workers and land protectors at the site mingled and shared the news, reports emerged that workers would be laid off by Nalcor until the situation was resolved. When asked whether this would create divisions between employees and local residents, one worker replied that the majority of employees supported the land protectors’ demands that the reservoir be cleared to reduce risks of methylmercury contamination.
(With files from Justin Brake.)
More to come. Follow @JustinBrakeNL and @IndependentNL on Twitter for further updates, and follow our Facebook page for Livestream coverage by editor Justin Brake who is on-site.