APTN National News
Labrador Inuit involved in the fight against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam say they are more determined than ever to stop the flooding involved with the project after nine demonstrators were arrested at the entrance to the construction site.
In the early morning hours Monday, RCMP moved in to clear out a number of people at the site after a judge issued an injunction at the request of the province’s energy company Nalcor against the demonstrators Sunday.
Jacinda Beals, a well-known singer-songwriter in Newfoundland and Labrador, was among those charged with breaching the court injunction.
“The people who were standing there were willing to get arrested,” said Beals. “We were standing up for all of Labrador.”
All I could do was cry,” said Beals, describing the scene at the blockade as overwhelming and intense. “I was devastated to watch my fellow Labradorians dragged across the ground. There were children and elders there. I felt like I was inside this movie. The voices and screaming and crying.”
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Inuit Elder Jim Learning, who himself was arrested at a Muskrat Falls protest in 2013, was at the blockade when the RCMP arrived.
“It was horrible, I cried, I couldn’t help it. I just choked up. I was helpless to stop it,” said Learning.
Learning talked to APTN National News Tuesday on his cell phone, standing along the shores of the Lower Churchill River, overlooking Muskrat Falls.
“We’re right up at the spillway, at the gates that hold back the water at the dam, you might say,” he said. “The water you hear, that’s water coming ashore.”
Learning said it looked like some of the gates were down and feared flooding of the reservoir had started.
Nalcor told APTN in an email that flooding has not yet begun – but that it could start at any time.
“For me it’s pretty grim,” said Learning. “We’re sort of long-faced about it because we’re helpless.”
Learning said he is still determined, and added that people are still gathered at the campsite set up at the entrance to Muskrat Falls construction site, though they aren’t blocking access to workers anymore.
Beals said that getting arrested may have slowed her down. But she has no plans to back down.
“If anything, this has given us a boost,” she said. “People are afraid here. That’s what pushes me even further.”
Beals said when she walked into court after spending several hours in custody on Monday, she didn’t know what to expect. To her surprise, the courtroom was full of supporters cheering and applauding.
“It was unbelievable to receive that support when we went in,” said Beals. “It was just amazing. It still gives me goosebumps and butterflies. If there’s any fight left before it’s flooded. We have to do what we can.”
Labrador Inuit are calling on the province to fully clear the trees and topsoil before flooding the reservoir along the Lower Churchill River. A study by Harvard predicts that the vegetation will create the methylmercury, a toxin that will flow downstream and contaminate food sources.
Learning said the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has done nothing to mitigate the impacts of methylmercury.
“The concerns were never heard and now they’re merely considered impediments,” said Learning. “And that’s why they feel they have to deal with the impediments and not the concerns.”
And Learning is keen to impede the project.
“We need numbers,” said Learning, on the challenge of getting people to join the rallies. “In the middle of Labrador, being out in the wilderness, it’s that much tougher.”
But not impossible. Over the last several days, people have rallied in St. John’s and Cornerbrook, hoping to put pressure on the province.
To date, the natural resources and environment ministers have said the first stage of flooding will continue as planned. There’s no commitment to clear the reservoir at this point.
In Ottawa, the Liberal MP for Labrador and Parliamentary Secretary to Indigenous Affairs Yvonne Jones told APTN National News that she has messaged the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc asking for a review of all federal permits for the project and whether Nalcor is living up to its commitments.
Jones said she also hoped that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball gets involved in the dispute.