“Make Muskrat right:” St. Thomas University students from Labrador and allies rally in solidarity with people fighting dam

Summary: Solidarity with Muskrat Falls and resistance to colonization masked as “development” comes to Fredericton. This piece was originally written for the NB Media Co-Op

Article by Tracy Glynn. with audio from Asaf Rashid.

FREDERICTON – St. Thomas University students from Labrador quickly organized a rally in solidarity with the Innu, Inuit, Metis and Labradorians defending Lake Melville, the community’s food source and way of life from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, also known as the Lower Churchill project, in Labrador on Oct. 19 at St. Thomas University’s lower courtyard.

The project made news this week when a number of people were arrested for “trespassing on Nalcor property,” which is the traditional territory of the Inuit and Innu. Inuk artist Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders and Jeremias David Zack have been on hunger strike since Friday, Oct. 14.

Some students wrapped themselves in the Labrador flag and held signs with different messages, including “#MakeMuskratRight” and “the dam should be damned.” They passed out flyers with information about the methyl-mercury poisoning threat to Lake Melville posed by the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric dam project to students, faculty and workers on campus.

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project began in 2013. The project is of concern to local indigenous people. They say the project threatens to release methyl-mercury into Lake Melville by flooding the river with organic matter. Some people do not want the dam at all while others want the organic matter cleared out before flooding the river occurs to prevent methyl-mercury poisoning. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the power company, Nalcor, refuse to seriously address the concerns, according to the water protectors at the site. The Trudeau government is also under fire for failing to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in this case. The declaration says that the indigenous people have a say on development in their territory.

Several students stopped to listen to Jessica Lyall and Blake Sheppard-Pardy, two students from Labrador, speak.

Lyall spoke to Asaf Rashid moments before the rally. Listen here.

Sheppard-Pardy shared her compelling speech with the NB Media Co-op:

My family grew up in Labrador, and many of us occupy the land that is being threatened. My family originates from Rigolet, a small inlet town off of Lake Melville. Many of us rely on the natural resources that lake Melville provides. I was raised by my great Aunt Shirl who was forced to attend a residential school. She taught me the importance of the land, and culture. She taught me to hold onto what I believe in, she is home fighting and I am standing with her. During the fight for Muskrat falls she watched many protestors, whom are family members, and close friends of ours get arrested. Those arrested were peacefully protesting, and the arrests have not been justified. My Aunt wrote something that she has allowed me to share with you:

“Watching the arrests this morning was like something out of a nightmare. Force was used if not physical force ( and that sure as hell was used ) then the force of having power and the backing of government. I felt helpless as I heard screaming and crying…as someone was being dragged away she was screaming “you’re hurting me”. The feeling was so helpless that I almost became the child watching my mother cry as her children were being taken away. Or I immediately went back to a place when I was taken away to the dorm.This is a sad day and we can’t continue to let these sad days go on.

Systemic control should not be allowed to go on when it devastates lives like this.

My throat is paining from the desperate useless screams.My Spirit will never be broken though..nor my eyes and ears will ever turn away from the miserable truths around me and I will name them. This is just to show you how those who have already been through a large pain in their lives once by having there culture ripped away, and now going through this again.”

The northern communities of Labrador rely heavily on the resources that lake Melville provides. Especially when the one store is lacking basic necessities during the harsh winters. Our northern communities typically only have one grocery store, with limited access to food. The food is costly, and this is why we rely heavily on the country foods that lake Melville offers.

My grandmother a respected elder of the Innu community, has tremendous concerns. During the long cold winters of Labrador she would take a group of people to attend a walk. She taught the youth, and anyone else who would like to walk for months at a time. They walked across the frozen river, living solely on the natural resources of the land, by hunting, fishing, and gathering. She does this to bring awareness to keep our land healthy and clean and for how important the land is to the Indigenous people.

This dam will have long lasting effects on everyone in Labrador, the clearing of all organic material in the effected flood zone area will prevent the contamination of methyl-mercury poisoning. We want clean fish, clean game, clean water, and clean gathering. It’s not much we are asking.

In the words of Billy Gauthier – “take away my culture and you take away me.”

 

About NB Media Co-Op

nbmcWhile documenting today’s news, the NB Media Co-op also seeks to uncover the many forgotten beautiful moments of our history when the people of Wabanaki or New Brunswick stood up for equality and justice for themselves, their neighbors and for people all over the world.

The NB Media Co-op was formed in 2009 following a successful New Brunswick Social Forum in 2008 in Fredericton where 200 people rooted in a variety of social movements gathered under the hopeful banner Another New Brunswick and World are Possible. The workers, students, anti-capitalists, anti-imperialists, peace activists, indigenous rights activists, feminists, gay rights activists, labor unionists, environmentalists and artists gathered at this forum recognized they had one problem in common: the media in New Brunswick. Following the adage, “Don’t Hate the Media, Be the Media,” they did just that and the NB Media Co-op was born months later.

More information about Muskrat Falls

Hans Rollman “If Canada really wants Truth and Reconciliation it should start in Muskrat Falls” Rabble.ca. 21 October 2016

Hans Rollman “Muskrat Falls “A modern-day form of genocide”: lawyer” The Independent.ca. 21 October 2016

Ryan Cooke “Looking back on 7 days of unrest at Muskrat Falls” CBC. 22 October 2016

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Discussion

I am deeply disturbed by the lack of initiative shown by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to adhere to even the most basic regulations to preserve the security of the Inuit, Metis, and Innu peoples they administer. Having personal connections to this struggle through friends and colleagues, who’s families are being practically hunted down and arrested for their resistance only fuels that outrage.

It is worth noting that the Muskrat Falls resistance owes its success in many ways to the paradigms established through the radical wing of the Idle No More movement and the Elsipogtog uprising; proposing immediate, practical policy while at the same time demanding the long-term goal of self-determination. It is also particularly volatile because it concerns land and resources, the foundations of the the settler-colonial system.

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