Tuesday October 25, 2016

Protesters on hunger strike oppose plan for Muskrat Falls project

'We just want our province and our provincial energy company to recognize us as citizens and value our lives,' Muskrat Falls protester 1:06

Listen 20:03

Read story transcript

Labrador Inuk artist and activist Billy Gauthier says he's willing to die if that's what it takes to get the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project done right.

"I know this is for a good reason, for a good cause, and I will stand for as long as I can," says Gauthier.

Gauthier and two other hunger strikers, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister, travelled to Ottawa on Oct. 23 to call attention to the dam being built in Muskrat Falls, Labrador.

Ossie Michelin travelled to Ottawa with the hunger strikers and tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti Gauthier is on his 12th day of not eating and has already lost 21 pounds.

"We are all very concerned for his health but we all support him."

Billy Gauthier

Inuk artist and activist from Labrador, Billy Gauthier is on the 12th day of a hunger strike protesting the hydroelectric project in Muskrat Falls, N.L. He says he's willing to die if that's what it takes to get the hydroelectric project done right. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Michelin says that the other two hunger strikers are showing signs of fatigue but are in high spirits and says it was important to be in Ottawa to make this a national conversation.

Back in Muskrat Falls, protesters have breached the gates at the project site, run by Nalcor Energy, the provincial crown corporation in charge of the megaproject.

Michelin is Inuk and lives near Lake Melville in Labrador, which would be affected by the project. He tells Tremonti that protesters — including three hunger strikers — are not opposed to the project but want a plan moving forward that "respects and values our lives."

Muskrat Falls Protest 20161022

The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, N.L. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

"The dam has been built but we want to make sure that the province does this right, that the provincial energy company does this right, that they clear the land behind the dam and the flood basin because this land and the vegetation there is contaminated with heavy metals."

Michelin says if this project goes ahead as planned the flooding will contaminate "our fish, our seals, our game, our way of life."

"This isn't just our food source because we also have issues around food security, but our whole culture is is based upon hunting and fishing and gathering from the land. It's who we are."

Michelin says fear has prompted grandmothers, children, youth and elders in the community to protest for the first time

"We're not activists. We're just normal people fighting for our home."

Muskrat Protesters Enter

Protesters enter the Muskrat Falls site after breaking through a gate, Oct. 22. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

On Oct. 25, Premier Dwight Ball will sit down with Indigenous leaders in an emergency meeting to discuss the protesters' concerns. 

The Current was scheduled to speak with MP Yvonne Jones in this segment but was told by the office of the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs that "she can no longer make a media appearance work."

However, a statement was provided that reads:

"We understand that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is working with the proponent, Indigenous peoples, and stakeholders with respect to the Muskrat Falls project. We expect the province will meet its responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of Canadians."

"We are encouraged to hear that Premier Ball will be meeting with the local Indigenous community.‎"

The Current also requested interviews with Nalcor, Premier Dwight Ball, and both Newfoundland and Labrador's ministers for environment and natural resources. No one was available. 

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien, Julian Uzielli and Karin Marley.