(From left to right: Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, hunger strikers Jerry Kohlmeister, Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders, Gauthier’s mother Mitzi Wall and activist Ossie Michelin. Photo source: Ossie Michelin Facebook page)
APTN National News
There were tears and embraces in the early morning hours Wednesday inside the Parliament Hill office of Labrador MP Yvonne Jones after a 10 hour meeting between the premier of Newfoundland and Inuit, Innu and Metis leaders ended with a deal on the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project.
Jones, who is also the parliamentary secretary for Indigenous affairs, was in her office with three Inuit hunger strikers—Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister—when news broke of the deal in St. John’s at about 2 a.m. Newfoundland time.
The deal will see the province set up an independent expert advisory committee that will look at evidence-based approaches to mitigating the impacts of methylmercury, which will be caused by flooding from the hydro-electric dam. The deal will also see planned flooding pushed back to the spring of 2017 to allow for the clearing of vegetation and soil from the expected flood zone.
A recent Harvard University study warned flooding without first clearing soil and vegetation from the flood zone would cause methylmercury to seep into the environment, poisoning fish and the land. The threat posed by the project to the country food and traditional practices of the Indigenous peoples in Labrador triggered ongoing protests, occupations along with RCMP raids and arrests. Gauthier began a hunger strike in protest and was soon joined by Saunders and Kohlmeister. The trio haven’t eaten in over a week. Gauthier was entering his 13th day of the hunger strike on Wednesday.
A video posted by Inuit activist Ossie Michelin on his Facebook page captured the emotional scene in the MP’s office when they found out the hunger strike could end because the deal met the hunger strikers’ conditions.
The video begins with Gauthier speaking with Dr. Trevor Bell of Memorial University who was involved in the Harvard study. Part of the audio from the conversation failed to record in the video.
“I’m really happy and proud,” said Bell, on the telephone.
Then they arrange to speak again after Gauthier said he’s waiting for another call.
Then the emotional celebration begins as Mitzi Wall, Gauthier’s mother, hugs Saunders and Kohlmeister.
“We won, they agreed,” said Michelin, speaking into the camera.
He then hugs Wall.
“Oh my god,” said Michelin.
He then again speaks into the camera.
“The hunger strike is over. We did it,” said Michelin. “We did it everybody. We all did it together. All of us. Come here Yvonne.”
Then Michelin hugged an emotional Jones.
“We changed the world, we saved our home, we changed our country,” said Michelin.
“You did such a good job,” said Jones.
“You did such a good job, you did such an amazing job, we could not have done it without you,” said Michelin, still hugging Jones.
“Now you can beat that drum,” said Jones as she clapped and smiled.
Jones then hugged a weeping Wall. At this point Jones breaks down.
“Finally, finally it’s fucking over,” said Jones. “I can’t imagine the stress….”
Then Jones began crying and laughing.
“He’s so fucking amazing,” said Jones, as she hugged Gauthier.
“I fucking love you so much, so much,” said Gauthier.
“I love you guys,” said Jones as she then hugged Gauthier, Saunders and Kohlmeister.
“Look at your beautiful youthful faces, every single one of you. Do you realize what you’ve done?” said Jones.
Jones then tells them that she would be preparing tea and smoked char.
Everyone went home at about 2:30 a.m.