(People against the flooding for the Muskrat Falls dam block the construction site entrance. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
APTN National News
MUSKRAT FALLS, N.L — Dozens of protectors of the land who are trying to stop the progress of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project defied a court order and blocked the entrance to the dam’s construction site forcing workers to stay long after their shift had ended and prevented the next shift from starting for two hours.
“You know, sometimes everybody has to suffer and that’s the situation we’re in right now,” said Inuk protestor irk Lethbridge. “We’re standing up for ourselves, we’re no longer willing to lay down.”
The group is concerned that the scheduled flooding expected to start this fall will release toxins into the water and carry downstream to where they hunt and fish.
See related stories here: Muskrat Falls
Wednesday night’s action comes on the heels of the Newfoundland and Labrador’s Environment minister announcement that it ordered Nalcor, the province’s energy agency, to clear vegetation away from the flood zone.
What isn’t clear is how much will be removed.
“We’re not going to make any deals for a few trees to be cut,” said Lethbridge. “We want the entire area cleared of vegetation so there will be no Methylmercury.”
According to a study by Harvard University, methylmercury, a naturally occurring neurotoxin, will seep from the vegetation if the planned flooding of an area along the Churchill river goes ahead poisoning Inuit and Innu country food, such as fish and other wildlife.
“Nalcor has been indicating they have no other choice other than to create this flood to protect their investment.” Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Minister Perry Trimper told APTN National News. “They’ve got $7 billion spent on infrastructure now and they are asserting that they need to do this flood,”
Trimper emphasized that Nalcor has been told to clear as much vegetation as possible before the flooding and that letters inviting the three Labrador Indigenous groups to take part in an independent advisory council have been sent.
“But it’s clear that a lot of people today are clearly not happy because I’ve not stopped the project,” said Trimper.”That’s what so many people are hoping for. But that’s not my responsibility.”
Seeing some compromise on the government’s part has energized people on the Muskrat Falls line.
“We have the government of Newfoundland on the run,” said Lethbridge. “And we’re not going to back down from that.”
Wednesday’s work stoppage follows a blockade of the site Sunday that lead to a court injunction against people on the line and an early morning raid by the RCMP that resulted in nine arrests.
Three people have also joined Inuk artist Billy Gauthier in a hunger strike. They say they will not eat unless the province clears the vegetation and top soil in the flood zone.
“I think as this carries on, you will see more Innu taking part in this action,” said David Nuke, as he watches a group of Innu woman set up a tent at the protest camp across the road from the Muskrat Falls gate.
For Lethbridge, it was a welcome sight.
“We have no fear, the circle is complete, the Innu are with us now. There’s nothing that can stop the people of Labrador now, we’re no longer willing to live in a box,” he said.
— with files from Trina Roache