Over the past few weeks, protests about the potential for methyl mercury contamination downstream of the Muskrat Falls development in Labrador made national headlines. Sierra Club Canada Foundation has voiced strong opposition to the Muskrat Falls project for years, and tried to show the damage it will cause to wildlife and the Grande River, and the people who live downstream. We also tried to demonstrate that this type of mega-hydro development was not needed to meet our climate objectives, and there were plenty of less damaging, less expensive alternatives. All to no avail. Till now.
The roots of the issues that came to a head over the past two weeks have a long history. I asked one of the organizers of a local demonstration in support of the #MakeMuskratRight movement held in Nova Scotia (where some of the power generated by Muskrat Falls is destined to be sold), Shelley Price, to give her thoughts on the events of the past few weeks.
A hard-fought deal was reached between the Chiefs of the Innu, Nunatsiavut, and NunatuKavut peoples and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, agreeing to better consultatioon and integration on traditional knoweldge and to try and clear as much of the land as possible to ensure the contamination is at a minimum. It speaks to the lack of real consultation, debate, and science surrounding this entire project that people needed to endanger their own lives to make this point. It behooves all of us to make sure what they fought and suffered for actually is implemented.
Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Program Director
My story begins when I was born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. This is my mother’s land. My mother Elizabeth May Price (nee Hope) is daughter to Isobel Grace Hope (nee Goudie) who is the daughter of the “Woman of Labrador”, Elizabeth Goudie, Great Grandmother. My father’s work with the Federal Government moved us to Nova Scotia when I was a child, but as many of my mother’s family moved with us, we built a little Labrador community in South West Nova Scotia. My mother and family kept Labrador close to our hearts through stories and traditions.
Great Grandmother was born on April 20, 1902 at Mud Lake, Labrador. She was fiercely proud of her country, Labrador. A kind, generous, happy and deeply spiritual woman, she never spoke unkindly of anyone, but she did not hold a high regard for those who changed her lands and the lands of her ancestors for benefit of profit. In particular, she explained how life in Labrador changed with the Goose Bay Air Force Base and even more with the Smallwood Economic Development plan of 1951.
The changing of the name of the Grand River-Mistashipu to the Churchill River and the Upper Churchill Hydroelectric Project were two Smallwood decisions she openly opposed. The 144,000 ha of flooded lands and the beautiful Grand Falls were stolen from Labradoreans, without consultation, without consent. This history of impacts on the Grand River-Mistashipu is not in the past, it is deeply embedded in the present Muskrat Falls Hydroelectricity Project and Make Muskrat Right protest.
Great Grandmother came from a long line of strong hard working Labrador peoples. The way of life she was taught was the way of life she handed down to her children. Her life’s work earned her a few if any luxuries, a grade 4 education and an Honorary Doctorate in Laws from Memorial University in 1975, the year I was born. She has been my mentor, my guide, my inspiration since I was a little girl and continues to be despite passing into the spirit world in 1982. She has passed on her strength and love of the land.
In the Forward of her memoires “Women of Labrador” published in 1973 Great Grandmother called to the next generation to stand proud of Labrador. "I hope the people of Labrador will take a stand for themselves...I am very proud of my country Labrador...I hope our young people will pick up where we left off and try to keep peace and be proud of this great land".
In December 2012 the Muskrat Falls Project (phase one of the Lower Churchill Falls Project), was sanctioned by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador despite a 2011 report “Where We Stand: Labradorians’ views of the Muskrat Falls proposal” which found 79% of Labradorians surveyed were worried about the environmental impacts of the project and that 80% stated they were not sufficiently consulted (Russell, http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/documents/48961/48961F.pdf, 2011).
Opposition to this proposal began long before with the visions and voices of Elders Elizabeth Penashue, Jim Learning, and others. Along with Great Grandmother, these Elders are why so many of us are deeply passionate about protecting Labrador. These past weeks, a unified Labrador – the Innu First Nation, Nunatsiavut Government, NunatuKavut Community Council and Settlers – stood together to Make Muskrat Right. Grand Mother would be so proud of our Labrador.
The Lake Melville: Avativut Kanuittailinnivut (Our Environment, Our Health) Scientific Report was made available to support the science-based management and monitoring of Muskrat Falls. The evidence-based report projects significant increases in methyl mercury in the food web, alterations in sediment and organic carbon inputs to Lake Melville, and changes in the physical lake processes affecting such things as ice formation.
The way of Life in Labrador is deeply rooted in being on and being one with the land. These are not past times, the connections to land are deeply felt every day. Labradorians depend on the land for sustenance – physical, spiritual, emotional and cultural. The history of relations between Labradoreans and industry from the times of the Hudson’s Bay Company is tumultuous. Extractive industries have always taken – fisheries, fur trade, mining, hydropower – without consideration for the impacts on the lands, culture or the peoples of Labrador.
Above anything else, Labradoreans trust the land. They know and love the land. If the Muskrat Falls Project proponent Nalcor floods the dam’s reservoir area without first removing vegetation and topsoil, waters downstream will be poisoned with methyl mercury affecting health and food sources. This will continue our cultural genocide: without trust in the physical, spiritual, emotional and cultural sustenance from the land – Labrador cultures will be stolen.
On October 13, 2016 Billy Gauthier, a internationally-renowned Inuk artist, Labrador resident, Elder and Father announced his hunger strike. He did not eat until he received a guarantee that harmful materials would be cleared from the reservoir. His voice has been loud and clear. We pretend to be in a post-colonial era, but the voices of the peoples are rising up against the ongoing colonial projects. They have been speaking loud and clear. Their voices need to be heard. Now we must all be loud and clear together for Billy and for Labrador. The Country needs to hear.
Shelley Price, B.Comm, MBA is a PhD (Management) candidate exploring how the histories of economic development impacts on Labrador have shaped its socio-present.