NunatuKavut elder ends hunger strike, is released

Muskrat Falls opponent and elder Jim Learning was released Wednesday from the Labrador Correctional Centre where he had refused food for five days.

Elder arrested after refusing to sign undertaking

Eight people, including NunatuKavut elder Jim Learning, were arrested last Friday while taking part in a demonstration on the Trans-Labrador highway. (Submitted by Kirk Lethbridge)

A NunatuKavut elder on a hunger strike has been released from the Labrador Correctional Centre.

Jim Learning, 74, was one of eight people arrested last Friday during a protest against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. The protestors were arrested on the Trans-Labrador Highway about 10 kilometres from the site where a generating station will be built on the Churchill River.

Learning refused to sign an undertaking to keep the peace and refrain from blocking traffic — and voluntarily stayed in jail, refusing to eat.

Provincial court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was filled with supporters Wednesday when Learning appeared. Later that day, he ate his first meal in five days, which was fish and brewis.

Staunch opponent of Muskrat Falls

A strong opponent of the Muskrat Falls megaproject, Learning believes it can be stopped.

"Do you seriously believe you can put a stop to the Muskrat Falls project?" asked Learning. "Oh yes, I do, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this. How can that be acomplished at this point? I suppose that goes back to our strategy. Kind of have to leave that there."

When interviewed by CBC on Thursday about why he chose not to eat, Learning said he was taking a stand.  

"It just goes against the grain," said Learning. "I am not a criminal, and I've done nothing wrong by demonstrating [in a civil manner]. When I step through those doors anytime under duress, food will never come to my mind. I had no trouble pushing that back, simply because I was in jail against my will."

Last November, Nalcor Energy won a permanent injunction that forces members of the NunatuKavut Community Council to refrain from blocking access to the site near Muskrat Falls.

Learning was released on the condition that he keep the peace, stay on good behavior and appear in court. His appearance is scheduled for June 18.