Nfld. & Labrador

Tears, relief for hunger strikers as Muskrat Falls agreement ends fast

Muskrat Falls hunger striker Billy Gauthier says a meal of smoked char was "amazing" after nearly two weeks without food.

Billy Gauthier says hunger strike helped push province to make a deal

Three protesters who went on a hunger strike celebrated with a feed of smoked char inside of MP Yvonne Jones's office in Ottawa early Wednesday morning. (Yvonne Jones/CBC)

After days without food, Labrador hunger strikers are celebrating the agreement made by Premier Dwight Ball with Indigenous leaders to end the Muskrat Falls protests. 

Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister ended their hunger strike early on Wednesday morning with smoked char in the Ottawa office of Labrador member of Parliament, Yvonne Jones.

According to Gauthier, who went nearly two weeks without food, the first taste was "amazing".

"This was actually my 13th day that I had moved into and I hadn't had a single flavour in my mouth," he said. 

"So touching that char against my tongue and feeling that texture, the taste, the flavour ... it's char from home, so it was perfect."

Gauthier said that when the trio received a call from Premier Dwight Ball with details of the agreement early Wednesday morning, they were overjoyed.

Hunger strikers and their supporters in Ottawa celebrated an agreement between Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial government and Indigenous leaders early Wednesday morning. 1:36

"It was amazing. There was certainly a lot of tears."

Gauthier said he believes the deal made by Ball successfully meets his criteria for ending the hunger strike.

Lives on the line serious business

"I feel as though we've won an ensured safety for the people so that we're able to continuously eat the foods from Lake Melville area from the waters and do it without any real health concerns," he said.

The world is watching them now, and they really can't afford to screw up.- Billy Gauthier

While there's still a chance flooding will go ahead, Gauthier said he's happy with the concessions made by the province.

He believes the newly established independent expert advisory committee and the success of the protests will hold the province accountable.

"The way I look at it is the world is watching them now, and they really can't afford to screw up, which is great," said Gauthier.

"I do believe that this here was what was needed and I truly do believe that this here is what's going to protect our water and our culture."

Gauthier said the hunger strikes were necessary to bring attention to the protest and put pressure on the government.

"Sometimes you need to have a life on the line and in this here case three lives on the line, in order for people to really take note on how serious the matter was."

MP satisfied with outcome

"Democracy works," said Jones, who told CBC's Labrador Morning that she had been concerned for the health of the hunger strikers.

"I knew we had to get an end to this soon, or something very, very terrible was going to happen, and nobody wanted to see that," she said.

Democracy works, and we saw that work in Labrador over the last number of days and weeks and into this morning. People obviously make a difference.- Yvonne Jones

Jones said when the talks began Tuesday afternoon she was optimistic about the chances for an acceptable resolution, but there were a lot of "ups and downs" as hour after hour went by.

"But I have to say, there was a tremendous feeling of positivity for the most part with the group, with Billy, Delilah and Jerry and their support team, and with a lot of people across Labrador," she said.

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones says there was a "tremendous feeling of positivity" among the hunger strikers gathered in her office as they awaited word on talks with the Newfoundland and Labrador government Tuesday afternoon through early Wednesday morning. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"I can't even tell you the numbers of emails, the numbers of calls and texts we were receiving throughout that 11-hour period from people across Labrador, waiting patiently at the edge of their seats, knowing they had fought a good fight."

Back to work for Gauthier

On Thursday morning, the hunger strikers will fly back to Labrador from Ottawa.

After weeks of protesting, Gauthier said he's looking forward to getting back to his day job as a sculptor.

"As soon as I get there, I get to become a carver again. I can throw off my activist hat and just pick up a chisel or some grinders and just start working away," he said.

But he's not planning to take his eye off the project. 

"We are going to watch them very very closely."

With files from Labrador Morning and Debbie Cooper