As part of a province-wide speaking tour, individuals representing the Labrador Land Protectors – a group who are trying to stop the threat posed to a number of Indigenous nations by a massive hydro project at Muskrat Falls, Labrador – will speak at a free public presentation on Wednesday, November 22 at St. Paul’s United Church, 25 Gore Street West, at 7 pm.
Organized by the Ontario Muskrat Solidarity Committee and supported locally by Lanark Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation, the evening will discuss the issues surrounding the $12.7 billion project, which is backed by over $9 billion in federal loan guarantees even though it has doubled from its original price, and will likely cost even more if completed. A significant concern is whether the dam will hold, given a significant portion is being built on quick clay (sand subject to liquefaction under pressure), as well as the flooding of sacred territories.
In addition, during the fall of 2016, Harvard University produced a report documenting the alarming rates of methylmercury poisoning that could be expected if specific mitigation measures were not undertaken at Muskrat Falls (especially clearance of vegetation, trees, and soil in a large area slated for the dam’s reservoir). The issue of mercury poisoning’s severe impact on Indigenous people is well-known in Ontario because of the international attention focused on the Grassy Narrows community. For Indigenous people and settlers living in Labrador, poisoning of traditional food webs that include seal, fish, and other creatures would likely have a devastating impact.
“I can’t help but ask why it’s okay to disregard the concerns of Indigenous people affected by a hydroelectric dam,” says Kelly Morrissey, a Nunatsiavummiuk Inuk woman from Labrador who will be speaking at the Perth event. “I can’t help but wonder why it’s okay for the government to complain more about the ballooning costs of this mega-project than the human health effects. What about my Indigenous sisters and brothers who wonder if their children and grandchildren will be born with developmental concerns, and those who wonder if the dam, built on clay and sand, will hold.”
Morrissey notes that forcing Inuit and Innu to turn away from eating their traditional foods will not only affect their culture, but also pose the economic challenge of purchasing exorbitantly-priced store-bought foods. “And even if they can, how will this affect their ties to the land? In turn, how will this affect the culture?”
The Perth speaking event takes place two days before Prime Minister Trudeau will travel to the province to deliver an apology to Labrador residential school survivors. Some of those survivors are among the three dozen Indigenous and non-Indigenous protectors who have been criminally charged for peaceful acts of protest, including one journalist facing contempt of court proceedings for covering the issue (a case which has drawn the attention of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression).
Also speaking at the Perth panel will be Emily Philpott, originally from Newfoundland, who is researching the movement against Muskrat Falls and local perspectives on the environmental, social, cultural, and health and safety impacts the Muskrat Falls project will have for people in Labrador. A local perspective on Indigenous resistance will be presented by Mireille LaPointe, a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation community who sits as Head of Family on the Heads of Family Council.
“A historic community, Ardoch has taken uncompromising positions in defending the Land, manoomin [wild rice], and water from extractive interests,” Lapointe says.