The $6.2-billion plan to tap hydro power on the Churchill River will go nowhere without a land claim, insists a group with Inuit heritage who are not even yet recognized by government.
"The project will not proceed unless we are included," said Chris Montague, president of NunatuKavut, which was formerly known as the Labrador Métis Nation.
NunatuKavut members have redefined themselves as the Inuit of southern and central Labrador.
"We are the people who ranged in Labrador from the coast to far inland. We set up the trap lines," Montague said Thursday at a briefing aimed at underscoring the group's claim to land that includes most of southern Labrador, but also the Muskrat Falls site where Nalcor intends to build a hydroelectric power station.
As the Labrador Métis Nation, the group was constantly stymied in attempts at recognition.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said Thursday that Newfoundland and Labrador does not have a new response for negotiating with Montague.
"Our established policy is that we negotiate [benefit agreements] with groups that have established land claims," Dunderdale said.
The NunatuKavut claim is currently before the federal government.
If Ottawa does grant official recognition, Dunderdale said Newfoundland and Labrador would sit down with NunatuKavut negotiators.
Until then, though, the government said it is proceeding with the Lower Churchill project, which was announced last month. Nalcor and Halifax-based Emera Inc. have partnered on a plan to deliver power to Newfoundland and to Nova Scotia, with surplus power then to be sold to other markets.
The Lower Churchill deal has the provisional support of Labrador's Innu, although it is contingent on resolution of land claims issues with the federal government.