Nfld. & Labrador·Atlantic Voice

'I don't regret one moment': Muskrat Falls protesters 2 years after their occupation

On this week’s episode of Atlantic Voice, the CBC’s Kenny Sharpe's new doc called The River introduces us to some of the protesters who went to jail to stop the Muskrat Falls mega project.

Who are the protesters willing to go to jail over Muskrat Falls?

Marjorie Flowers sits in her home office in her house in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to talk about being jailed for protesting the Muskrat Falls dam development. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Sitting in her home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Marjorie Flowers is blunt when asked about her ten days behind bars for protesting the development of the hydro electricity dam, being built at Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River. 

"I was bringing attention to something that I feel is critical for Labradorians," Flowers says.

It's critical. It's crucial. It's life and death for our people.- Marjorie Flowers

October 2018 marks two years since protesters occupied the Muskrat Falls job site. During that protest, dozens crossed into the restricted area where the dam is being built.

Their demonstration was covered by media across the country and was key to bringing the protesters' fears about the dam into the public eye.

It also landed some of them in jail.

"I wasn't going to agree with that judge who was telling me that I couldn't go over there and be around the project," Flowers said. 

An old property on Mud Lake road serves as a symbol of protest against the dam being built at Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River. (Kenny Sharpe CBC)

"How can I? It was stripping me of my basic rights as an Indigenous woman. That I cannot speak up for my food and that arm of my culture that is threatened."

Dam now more than 90 per cent complete

Protesters say the provincial government and Nalcor, the Crown company overseeing the dam's construction, have not addressed the dam's impact on their culture. They're worried that the land they live on, and the wild food they rely on, will be damaged by the hydro-electric development's flooding and resulting rise in methyl-mercury levels.

RCMP face Muskrat Falls protesters in 2016. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

With the Muskrat Falls dam now more than 90 per cent complete, Flowers, Beatrice Hunter and Denise Cole say their concerns have been largely ignored.

"I would love to see somebody to do the research. Even the mental health studies around what this has done to people in the downstream area," Cole said while driving around Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay local Denise Cole feels Labradorians' concerns about the Muskrat Falls dam have been ignored by government and Nalcor. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Many of the Labradorians who occupied the Muskrat Falls site in 2016 are now back in court, answering to charges.

"Why does it have to take me to go to prison to be heard? That is a part I don't understand," said Beatrice Hunter, an Inuk woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay who also went to jail for opposing the dam's construction.

Well-paying jobs

Hunter is convinced that the concerns of protesters are being ignored because many are Indigenous. However, Nalcor maintains they're doing what they can to minimize the negative impacts of the project.

Beatrice Hunter in her kitchen. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall says he is working on building the company's relationship with Indigenous Labradorians.

"I met with Aboriginal leaders and I said look, I know there is very little I can do in the short term, so I am taking the long-term view," Marshall said. 

The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay has been buzzing with activity since the mega-project started. The dam's construction has meant high paying construction jobs for up to 8,000 workers from all across Atlantic Canada.

Children play on the banks of the Churchill River in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

Gerald Russell is one of them. "This was the first project here in Labrador for me," Russell said. "For good money. I made good money for my family to support them for the next few years."

Despite his role, Russell says as a Labradorian he understands where the protesters are coming from. 

A provincial inquiry into the Muskrat Falls project is happening now in Newfoundland and Labrador. The inquiry is investigating alleged mismanagement of the project's construction, cost overruns and whether the government was fully informed and made aware of risks and problems with the project. 

A final report from the inquiry is to be completed by the end of 2019 — the same year the Muskrat Falls generating facility is expected to produce first power.

Click the link to hear The River by Kenny Sharpe on Atlantic Voice.

CBC Radio One's Atlantic Voice is heard Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. in Newfoundland, 8:30 a.m. in the Maritimes and much of Labrador.

Read more articles by CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Kenneth Sharpe