(Billy Gauthier (r) and his mother Mitzi wait for take off in Labrador. Gauthier is on day 9 of a hunger strike over the Muskrat Falls dam. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
APTN National News
An Inuk artist who is on day nine of a hunger strike over the flooding for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is on a plane heading to Ottawa and should arrive early afternoon.
Billy Gauthier, who is on a diet of water only and has lost eight kilorgrams, started his hunger strike to bring awareness to the planned flooding for the Muskrat Falls dam that he said will poison waters downstream and make hunting and fishing dangerous.
“The land, the waters are our mother,” Gauthier told APTN News. “And we won’t let anyone harm our mother.”
Two others have joined Gauthier, but are consuming broth.
Gauthier is heading to Ottawa to take part in a rally around Muskrat Falls Sunday. He said he’d also like to explain the situation to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I would really like to speak to PM Trudeau,” said Gauthier “And if he can tell me a better way, so stop this hunger strike to stop poisoning my people, if he can guarantee my people can live with that fear, then that’s what I want to hear.”
A spokesperson for the prime minister says there are no plans for the two to meet.
But there are a number of rallies planned in support of Gauthier and the Inuit and Innu fight against the flooding.
- Saturday, Grande Parade grounds on Barrington Street in Halifax at 12pmAT
- Sunday in St. John’s, N.L. in front of the provincial legislature at 1:30 Newfoundland time.
- Sunday in Ottawa starting at the courthouse on Elgin Street at 11am ET.
- Sunday in Toronto starting at 2:30ET at Queen’s Park.
The movement #MakeMuskratRight wants Nalcor, the provincial energy agency, to clear the flood site of all vegetation including topsoil.
The fear is that when the 11 square kilometres for the Muskrat Falls dam reservoir are flooded, the water will disturb methylmercury contained in the vegetation and top soil sending the neuro-toxin downstream to where Inuit and Innu people hunt and fish.
It has been a tumultuous week and a half over the planned flooding at the site and on the federal and provincial levels.
Billy Gauthier started his hunger strike, nine people were arrested in an early morning raid Monday for ignoring a court order not to block the entrance to the construction, the federal MP for Labrador and parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Indigenous Affairs Yvonne Jones requested Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc review all permits issued to the dam (the minister declined) and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador held a hastily arranged news conference and announced several measures including it had ordered Nalcor to clear more vegetation from the flood site.
But too many questions remain for Gauthier and the Muskrat Falls movement to stop.
Mainly, how much vegetation will be cleared and whether any of the topsoil will be removed.
“I’ve been calling it the ‘clearing as much as possible’ scenario,” Environment Minister Perry Trimper told APTN National News.
The province has also ordered Nalcor to launch a study into the methylmercury issue and put in place a monitoring plan.
Research by a team from Harvard University predicts that when the reservoir at Muskrat Falls is flooded, the trees, vegetation, and topsoil will create methylmercury. The toxin will flow downstream from the dam and work its way up the food chain.
As of this posting, the blockade at the Muskrat Falls project was in place despite a court injunction obtained by Nalcor Energy last Sunday prohibiting people there from blocking the construction site entrance.
“This injunction is toothless, it will never stand up,” said Inuit Elder Jim Learning Thursday. “It’s a scare tactic.”
— with files from Trina Roache