A growing protest over the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Newfoundland and Labrador arrived in Ottawa on Sunday over fears that planned flooding could contaminate water with methylmercury, poisoning vital fish and game stocks in the community.
- Inuk artist taking Muskrat Falls hunger strike to Ottawa
- Muskrat Falls workers bussed out after protesters occupy site
- Muskrat Falls project 'should never have seen the light of day'
Inuk artist Billy Gauthier and fellow hunger strikers Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister gathered at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street along with Inuit elders and other supporters.
Gauthier, who was on day 10 of his hunger strike, said he had already lost 19 pounds. He told the crowd of about 200 that their support is invaluable.
"You are my food, you are my nourishment, you are what's keeping me going — you are what's keeping all of us going," he said.
The hour-long rally included speeches from all the hunger strikers, as well as a healing circle in which people linked arms and stood in a circle around the monument to show support.
Gauthier said he and others have major concerns about the flooding of the reservoir as part of the Muskrat Falls project.
The flooding could increase the potential for mercury contamination in traditional food sources like fish and seal downstream in Lake Melville, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard University.
Protesters are demanding that Nalcor, the Crown corporation behind the project, clear the reservoir of vegetation and topsoil before flooding begins to reduce the risk of poisoning.
Calling for federal government to step in
The rally in Ottawa comes a day after about 50 protesters broke through a gate and entered the Muskrat Falls work site. Nalcor said Sunday about 700 workers were "peacefully and safely escorted" from the site in response to the protest.
Organizers of the rally in Ottawa hope to highlight the issue to the federal government, and specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"The prime minister is somebody who can put a stop to this," said organizer Kelly Morrissey, who grew up in Labrador but now lives in Ottawa.
"If you are making it your top priority to have Indigenous people's backs and making Indigenous rights at the forefront of your campaign, you certainly need to put your money where your mouth is," she said.
'Everything, everything is at stake. We've just got to do the right thing.' - Naomie Erkloo, rally participant
Naomie Erkloo, who is visiting Ottawa from Nunavut, said when she heard about the rally she knew she had to be here.
"Everything, everything is at stake. We've just got to do the right thing," she said.
The hunger strikers are planning on staying in Ottawa until Tuesday, Gauthier said, with the goal of arranging meetings with government officials.
When asked about how he was physically feeling, Gauthier simply replied "good."
He said the support from people in at the rally was unbelievable.
"This is real community, this is real people coming together and doing what's right, showing love, showing support. It's beautiful."