Nfld. & Labrador

Innu elder starts annual walk to protest Muskrat Falls hydro project

For the 14th time, a respected activist and Innu elder embarked on a trek on the Trans-Labrador Highway Tuesday, this time to protest the Muskrat Falls project.

Woman known for her walks through central Labrador, teaching Innu youth to live on the land

Elizabeth Penashue, 73, walks down the Trans-Labrador Highway, heading towards the Muskrat Falls Project in 2016. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

For the 14th time, a respected activist and Innu elder embarked on a trek on the Trans-Labrador Highway Tuesday, this time to protest the Muskrat Falls project.

Elizabeth Penasue, 71, says she's travelled through the traditional Innu territory her entire life. 

"I'm very concerned about Muskrat Falls, that's why I walk. I'm very concerned [with] what's going to happen in the future," she said. 

Penashue hopes her walk will make people more aware of the possible effects of the hydroelectric mega-project.

"Muskrat Falls is not finished yet. I can see a big change in the trees, a lot of trees are dead. I can see ... the big machine, big trucks." 

Penashue said she worries what will become of the fish and animals once the area is flooded.

"There are so many things they're going to kill in the environment," she said. 

"I'm very sad. I sit down sometimes, thinking about what's going to happen."

Penashue also worries that her grandchildren will be pushed further away from their cultural traditions, something she believes will only worsen once more people move to Labrador for work. 

"All the young children talk English and that's why I went walking every spring and canoeing every summer. I just want to keep our culture and show the children that I don't want [it to] get lost."

More than $5 billion has already been spent on the Muskrat Falls project, located on the lower Churchill River in Labrador.

Back in December, Premier Dwight Ball said it would take something very abnormal for the project to be cancelled.

Not walking alone

Penashue isn't alone in her walk. She was joined by environmentalist Roberta Benefiel.

"We thought we'd come up and bring some food later on this evening, just however we can support her," Benefiel said. 

Two years ago, in a formal letter, Penashue asked Nalcor to grant her access to the land once used by her ancestors. Nalcor never responded to Penashue's request.

Instead, the energy giant told CBC News in an email that, while it respected her attachment to the area, it would be unsafe for Penashue to go on the site while it was under construction.

This year, Penashue said she plans to get as close to Muskrat Falls as she can. 

With files from Alyson Samson