Innu elder on last trek denied access to traditional lands
Respected activist Elizabeth Penashue not allowed to enter Muskrat Falls due to Nalcor work
Sheshatshiu is an Innu Federal Reserve in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, located approximately 30 kilometres north of Goose Bay
Elizabeth Penashue, who lives on the Sheshatshiu reserve about 30 kilometres from Goose Bay, N.L., will embark tomorrow on her annual three-week long journey into the Mealy Mountains — a mountain range in southern Labrador.
The 69-year-old Innu elder is traversing the land by snowshoe and toboggan in the traditional Innu way.
“It’s very important for our culture, and to teach the children to not [lose] our culture”, she told CBC News from her home in Sheshatshiu.
The walk, in its 13th year, will be her last, Penashue said. She will be joined by her son, Jack Penashue, and four of her grandchildren.
For years she and her late husband, Francis Penashue, spent weeks at a time walking and living on the land. But last year she had to cancel the walk when Francis became ill. He died in the fall of 2013.
No, I'm not forgetting about Muskrat Falls, I’m very sad what happened, just like broke my heart when I look in the paper.- Elizabeth Penashue
During this last walk, Penashue wanted to experience more Innu land — Muskrat Falls. The area was used by her ancestors, but now it's being used by energy giant, Nalcor corporation.
“Maybe some people think somebody should just forget about Muskrat Falls. No, I'm not forgetting about Muskrat Falls, I’m very sad what happened, just like broke my heart when I look in the paper."
In a formal letter, she asked Nalcor to let her on the site, to see firsthand what’s happening.
“Innu people was hunting Churchill River many years ago, always ... and when I look now everything there, the big trucks, big machines ... I am very concerned what is going to happen next.”
But Penashue waited months and never heard back from the company.
Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject is located in the lower Churchill River in Labrador. Nalcor said it’s “the best undeveloped hydroelectric source in North America.”
According to the company's website, “Muskrat Falls and Gull Island together, have a combined capacity of more than 3,000 megawatts, will be able to provide 16.7 terawatt hours of electricity a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 3.2 million vehicles off the road each year.”
Penashue said her people have used the land for thousands of years and she remembers being a young child out on the land with her father.
“My dad was always hunting all kinds of animals, caribou, beaver, fish, all kinds of animals. Now when I look at this, I am very worried, very sad, what’s going to happen to the animals – animals are not going to be there anymore."
When I talk to the young children and my grandchildren, I said I hope one of you, you going to do the same what I am doing, when I am gone.- Elizabeth Penashue
While Penashue never heard back from Nalcor about accessing the land they are working on, the company told CBC News in an email, “Nalcor Energy respects Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue’s attachment to the area, as well as the attachment felt by all Innu nation members, that respect is entrenched in our impacts and benefits agreement known as the IBA, it read.
“In order to assure the safety of workers, contractors and the general public the site is not open for public access while construction is underway, this was recognized by Nalcor and Innu Nation during negotiations of the IBA.”
It is not clear if Penashue knows that she was denied access to the area, but regardless, she hopes her legacy – her walk, will be carried on.
“When I talk to the young children and my grandchildren, I said I hope one of you, you going to do the same what I am doing, when I am gone."
Files from Labrador Morning Show