Annette Hollett testified Thursday that she went to a Muskrat Falls protest in Oct. 2016 because her 12-year-old son said he wanted to stand up for his culture.
Editor’s Note: As a journalist with the online publication theIndependent.ca, Justin Brake followed the land protectors onto the Muskrat Falls site and workers accomodations complex and covered the duration of the occupation. He is facing criminal and civil charges from the event.
A Métis woman who lives in Labrador told a judge Thursday that when she went through the gates and briefly joined the occupation of the Muskrat Falls site in October 2016, she was doing it for her 12-year-old son.
Annette Hollett, who moved to Labrador from Alberta 15 years ago, is one of more than a dozen land protectors in provincial Supreme Court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this week defending themselves against charges of violating a court injunction in the course of resisting the controversial hydroelectric project in Central Labrador.
Despite living with post traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety, she recalled in her testimony, Hollett took her son, who is Inuit, to the peace camp across the Trans Labrador Highway from the main entrance to the Muskrat Falls site, where upward of 200 people were gathered that day.
“My son asked to go to stand up for his beliefs,” Hollett told APTN in an interview following her testimony, referring to the Oct. 22, 2016 Indigenous-led protest outside the Muskrat Falls site, which led to an occupation of the project’s accommodations complex.
“He was born here so he wanted to fight for what he thought was his rights. And I’m his parent, so I supported him.”
With just one day left in the scheduled week-long hearings only three land protectors have testified, while a dozen remain. Earlier in the week APTN reported that 17 land protectors were pleading not guilty but learned today that two changed their pleas and won’t appear in court this week.
Nalcor Energy, the provincial crown energy corporation building the dam, was granted an injunction on Oct. 16, 2016 amid an ongoing blockade of the Muskrat Falls site by land protectors.
The following day RCMP arrested several land protectors and ended the blockade. But a few days later, amid growing resistance to the project ahead of anticipated reservoir flooding and projected methylmercury contamination of traditional foods, dozens of people reinstated the blockade.
Days later, on Oct. 22, about 50 land protectors went through the project’s main access gate and occupied the worker’s accommodations complex for four days.
Most of those on trial this week are facing charges related to the occupation, while others are accused of breaching the injunction during protests and ceremonies carried out in late 2016 and early to mid 2017.
Mark Gruchy, the lawyer representing land protectors, called Hollett, Kim Campbell-McLean and Linda Saunders-McLean to testify.
Nalcor attorney Chris King cross-examined the land protectors, using video evidence from media and security workers on site in an attempt to prove that the women knew of the injunction and knowingly contravened it, or ought to have known.
The three women all testified they weren’t aware of the injunction at the time a lock on the Muskrat Falls gate was cut, after which they, and dozens of others, flooded through and on to the site.
Saunders-McLean, an Inuk social worker who works with Indigenous children, told the court she encountered many security personnel and other workers on the site, and that none of them told her she and the others were breaking the law.
Linda Saunders-McLean said in court Thursday that she doesn’t “think anyone owns a piece of land and can destroy it to the extent it’s destroyed.” Justin Brake/APTN photo.
During her cross-examination Saunders-McLean got emotional, in one instance while explaining her mother recently passed away, and in another while recalling the destruction she saw while walking more than 11 kilometres down the access road to the worker’s camp on Oct. 22.
“I don’t think anyone owns a piece of land and can destroy it to the extent it’s destroyed,” she said, as she began to cry,
Justice George Murphy, who granted Nalcor the injunction two years ago, offered Saunders-McLean to take a break.
She chose to continue.
“When I walked into that camp and I saw all the destruction, and all these buildings, these temporary structures, it was devastating. I almost threw up, what I saw, because I just think about what had to happen in order to place these buildings there — all the animals, all the wildlife, all the fish.”
Breaking free from King’s line of questioning for a moment, the mother and grandmother identified what she thought was an unfair contradiction between the legal system and her Indigenous values.
“I know that you guys are taking us and holding us accountable for what we did, but who’s holding you guys accountable for what you’re doing?” she told King. “The flooding. The wildlife. Who’s going to speak for them?”
Campbell-McLean, who told the court she was born into a Mi’kmaq family in Newfoundland but was adopted into an Inuit family in North West River when she was five months old, is the Executive Director of the AnanauKatiget Tumingit Regional Association, a not-for-profit organization that helps women in violent relationships.
She testified Thursday that she attended the Oct. 22 protest outside the Muskrat Falls site “because that’s where I needed to be.”
Asked by Gruchy why she went through the project’s main entry gate, an emotional Campbell-McLean told the court, “I have two children in heaven, but I still have my motherly instincts.”
Though the 41-year-old no longer has children of her own, she told the court she’s helping teach her disabled niece Inuit customs such as fishing and preparing traditional foods.
“She loves, loves, loves salmon, trout and smelt — it’s her favourite food,” she said.
“I want her to have what I had, which was the best Labrador cultural Inuit life. I have never ever had any better life anywhere else in this whole country or this world. I have connections with the land, the water, the animals, our plants — and my niece is getting that connection through me. She needs to have that as an Inuit child. She needs to grow up knowing where her people came from, what they went through to get here, and she needs to be able to provide for her own self through the provision of country foods. That is why I went through the gate.”
King questioned whether Campbell-McLean knew of the injunction and willfully went on site despite it.
He suggested she was trespassing, to which Campbell-McLean responded, “I assumed I was trespassing.”
He also showed evidence of Campbell-McLean at a demonstration outside the main gate about a month after the occupation, during which she was among a group of people who King argued were blocking access to the site.
In the video Campbell-McLean could be seen stepping away from a security vehicle as it approached. She argued she wasn’t among those blocking access to the site because she moved away when she saw the vehicle coming.
Gruchy told APTN earlier this week that the accusations against his clients of civil contempt for violating a court order would be substantiated if Nalcor could prove each of the land protectors were aware of the injunction, and that they deliberately violated it.
The St. John’s-based lawyer also said his “objective is to get people to the other end [of the litigation] with as minimal damage as possible, while attempting to utilize this process to maximize their voices in the process, which they haven’t had much of.”
Land protectors occupied the Muskrat Falls worker’s camp two years ago this week. Many are still defending themselves in court against civil and criminal charges for allegedly violating an injunction. Justin Brake/APTN photo.
Hollett told the court Thursday that the day the gate was opened at Muskrat Falls her son went through before her, so she followed.
During her testimony and in her interview with APTN Hollett said it was part way down the 12 kilometre road to the Muskrat Falls worker’s camp she decided she wanted to join the fight.
“As I was walking I heard people express their concerns and I realized I had the same concerns,” she said. “If they’re not going to take my 12-year-old son seriously, maybe they will take me seriously.”
She said she used to take her son to the cabin every Friday after school, but that lately they don’t spend as much time on the land because of the risks associated with methylmercury due to Muskrat Falls.
“Is it going to be safe to go out and hunt and do what we usually enjoy? Some people look at it as a way of life — and are they going to be able to continue that way of life?” she said.
Land protectors will continue their testimonies Friday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. But the defense isn’t likely to wrap up before the end of the day, so further court dates will likely be scheduled in the near future.