APTN National News
Beatrice Hunter, the Inuk land protector put in jail for protesting peacefully, had some tough questions for the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador but said she was “disappointed and disgusted” with his answers.
Hunter confronted him at an event in Goose Bay on Tuesday evening and used Facebook Live to grill Premier Dwight Ball about Muskrat Falls, a controversial hydroelectric project outside of town.
A big shock for Hunter was that Ball had not read an open letter from Senators Murray Sinclair and Kim Pate.
“When the Senate sends you a letter, wouldn’t you respond ASAP? Especially when it’s the Senate?” said Hunter, in an interview from her home in Labrador. “And it shows that even just by him not reading the letter is a lack of respect for our lives and a lack of respect for the Senate.”
On Monday, two senators wrote a joint letter to the premier about the “unjust incarceration” of Hunter for “engaging in a peaceful protest.”
Sinclair and Pate said the “actions of the government in this regard have been shameful.”
But on Tuesday evening, Ball told Hunter, “I’ve been travelling today and I haven’t really seen the letter yet. I’ve seen some media reports on it, we’ve had some conversations with it, so we need to clearly figure out exactly what the senators were asking for.”
The senators asked the province to conduct a “review of its laws to ensure they do not derogate from existing Indigenous rights.”
Hunter asked Ball if he would help get the charges against Labrador land protectors dropped.
She’s one of 37 people facing criminal charges, including mischief over $5,000 and disobeying a court order, stemming from protests last fall.
“I think none of us, yourself, would want a premier or any elected official that’s willing to interfere with a court process,” answered Ball. “I find the whole process very frustrating. I followed your story. It is a very frustrating thing for me to be into. Let’s keep in mind this is not a project I supported.”
But Hunter was not appeased and replied, “You say you were very frustrated. How do you think I feel about it being in prison for 11 days?”
On May 30, Hunter was sent to a men’s prison in St. John’s, 1,600 km to the south, after she told a judge she could not promise to stop protesting at Muskrat Falls.
One concern of the ongoing opposition to the project is that unstable geography at an area of the dam called the North Spur could cause a breach in the dam and massive flooding for communities along the Lower Churchill River.
Another, and the main focus of the ongoing protests last fall is methylmercury.
A 2015 study by Harvard University indicated that leaving the trees and topsoil in the reservoir when it was flooded would create methylmercury that could contaminate traditional food sources downstream.
After a marathon meeting last October, the premier reached a deal with Indigenous leaders.
It promised an Independent Expert Advisory Committee to review environment impacts. Ball told Hunter that it’s now set up, and the government is just waiting for Indigenous leaders to find someone to chair the committee.
And while the land protectors demand to have the reservoir cleared was not met, Nalcor Energy, the provincial crown corporation developing Muskrat Falls, promised it would release the flood waters from the spillway this spring.
But in a recent update on its website, Nalcor reported, “Current water elevation upstream of the spillway remains around 21.5m above sea level. The plan is to keep the water at this level until mid-July. The water must remain at this level to install the necessary equipment that will ensure the safety of river users near the spillway and facility. Once this work is completed, the water level in the reservoir will be lowered.”
Hunter has lost trust in government, including the Indigenous leaders in Labrador.
“Todd Russell and Yvonne Jones had tried to visit me in prison,” said Hunter. “But I had denied them because I felt that I wouldn’t probably be in prison if they had done their job.”
Russell is the leader of the NunatuKavut Community Council. And Jones is the Liberal MP for Labrador.
Jones is the Liberal MP for Labrador and the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett.
“We’re fighting for Labrador lives to ensure that no one gets poisoned or drowned,” she said but isn’t looking to politicians for answers, including Dwight Ball.
“There was nothing in his answers that said okay, Beatrice, we’re going to help Labrador,” said Hunter. “It seemed he avoided giving real answers to my questions.”
And that included her repeated question, asking if Ball would resign as NL Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.