Resistance is on the rise in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as in the rest of Canada. October 7 marked a protest at the Confederation Building, at Memorial University, and outside the Nalcor Energy building in St. John’s. Protests continued at the proposed dam site itself as well in Rigolet. The demonstrations were organized by Coordinated Approach NL, and the Nunatsiavut government of Labrador. A die-in was later held on October 11 outside the Rooms Provincial Museum during the Liberal Government’s ‘Way Forward’ economic plan for Newfoundland and Labrador.
The main concern is centered around methylmercury contamination to the reservoir water. "It will have a major impact on our people because there will be methylmercury in our fish and in our seals," said the Nunatsiavut government's minister of education and economic development, Patricia Kemuksigak. "It's our traditional ways and we won't be able to hunt and fish anymore. It's very important for food security, our way of life and our culture."
A second risk from the proposed dam construction is the safety of the North Spur, an area which would be built into the dam and reservoir. This area contains high amounts of quick clays—clays that easily liquefy and shift when disturbed. The area also contains layers of sand, creating the perfect conditions for landslides. If the North Spur area fails, losses of life would occur in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and surrounding communities as well as over $60 million in damages. Nalcor and the Liberal government have stated that they have safety measures in place, but these measures have been criticized by professional engineers and hydroelectric consultants. One Muskrat Falls protester stated that, by continuing the project, it will “devastate a way of life, and that’s putting it mildly.” The Council of Canadians have now just released a joint-statement against both Site C and the Muskrat Falls development. The 9-point critique (http://canadians.org/blog/9-point-critique-dams-vs-muskrat-falls-and-site-c) cites economic, environmental, and cultural destruction as reasons for opposisiton.
Sadly, the case of Muskrat Falls is not unique in Canada. “Deeds, not words,” was the call of many across Canada targeted at the Trudeau government. The Liberals have approved the Site C dam in Treaty 8, despite the destruction it will cause to First Nations. The government is also reviewing the Teck Frontier tar sands mine. If approved, this would be the largest construction of its type. This is not a unique symptom of Trudeau, but the latest step in the footprints of Canadian colonialism and capitalism. What has caught many voters in Canada off-guard was the decidedly ‘un-Harper’ image of Trudeau as well as his campaign promises. It is now clear that Trudeau plans on doing nothing outside of backing the Canadian state, and we must unite together and let Nalcor, the provincial and federal government know that "Poisoning children is a crime, not on our watch, not our dime.”
Events escalated, including solidarity protests across Canada, hunger strikes by Labrador residents and First Nations, and occupations of the Confederation building in St. John's, the Aboriginal Affairs office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the work site itself.
The catalyst occurred on October 15, the day Nalcor declared that they could start flooding the reservoir. A blockade of the Muskrat Falls site was set up at the entrance that day by protesters from all over the community. Early in the morning, the RCMP arrested many protesters on the basis of an injunction issued by Nalcor. Happy Valley-Goose Bay has also stated that they will not allow Nalcor to land its heavy industrial transformers on its port in order to transport them to the site. A similar statement was made by the NunatuKavut Community Council, by which they are pledging resistance to the project and will create blockades to keep Nalcor out.
Occupation of the Muskrat Falls worksite evolved into an occupation of the site itself. "I wanted to be here to help keep my culture and traditions alive,” says Allyson Gear, a 13 year-old drum dancer. The protests and occupations have all been non-violent, with any property destruction or personal injury being caused by RCMP or security officers. More and more resistance to the project is coming from Innu, Inuit, as well as other First Nations and settlers.
Premier Dwight Ball dodged questions on the subject, stating only "It's a very difficult situation right now," and that he plans to meet with community and First Nations leaders. Other politicians in the provincial Liberal party haven't fared any better. MP Nick Whalen stated that those community members concerned with methylmercury poisoning should "Eat less fish while MeHg levels are too high, and compensate." Again, Whalen's statement is emblematic of Canada's ongoing conquest against First Nations' traditions and practices. Whalen's statement was made on Twitter in response to a comment made by NDP leader Earle MCCurdy where he said "If we can't afford to clear the reservoir, we can't afford to do the project."
Victory in sight for Muskrat Falls, but fight not over
After an 11-hour meeting that ended early Wednesday morning, Premier Dwight Ball and representatives from the the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government and NunatuKavut Community Council have come to some consensus over the management over the Muskrat Falls site. Initial flooding of the site has been pushed back until "independent assessment confirms the timing and rationale of initial impoundment." Further flooding has been set to spring 2017 in order to allow for more clearing of the reservoir area. An Independent Expert Advisory Committee will also be established which will seek to look at options for reducing health risks and possible methylmercury contamination.
While these actions are certainly all steps in the right direction, pressure must be kept on Ball and the rest of the provincial government to follow through on their promises and follow any recommendations put forward by the advisory committee. This meeting has created the potential to "Make Muskrat Right," but we must all be cautious following these talks and keep Nalcor and the government accountable.
Thankfully more and more and rising up against the disastrous Muskrat Falls project, not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but across Canada and the globe. From Site C in BC to the Dakota Access Pipeline, people are rising up and demanding a system based on human need, not corporate greed.