'Hard facts and hard feelings': Personal stories featured at MUN Muskrat Falls symposium

The event aimed to put the controversial project in a "different context" than the ongoing public inquiry, according to organizers.

Journalists, academics and Indigenous leaders led talks at two-day event

Acclaimed author, Lisa Moore and her husband, sociology professor, Steve Crocker were co-organizers of the event. (Stephen Miller)

A crowd of people gathered at Memorial University this weekend for a series of talks about the province's controversial Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

The two-day symposium was organized in part by Newfoundland author Lisa Moore. Events focused on the impact the hydroelectric project has on everything from Indigenous sovereignty to democracy and journalism, with powerful testimony from scientists, Indigenous leaders and journalists.

"We've got voices who have been singing in the wilderness. Calling out with facts, hard facts and hard feelings," Moore said.

Highlighting the personal

The event was hosted by Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at MUN and was free and open to the public.

Organizers say that while the symposium and the ongoing public inquiry into the project deal with some of the same topics, the symposium aimed to examine the project in a more open setting and provide a different context.

"There's an air of freedom of speech here at the University, we have academic freedom and we can discuss issues openly, we're drawing the public together so that they can ask questions," Moore said.

The panel topics ranged from discussions about the political economy of the project to Indigenous concerns about the effects the project will have on the health of their land and people, and each was followed by a discussion with the audience.

There's a lot of really powerful speakers here.- Lisa Moore

Moore said that much of the public discussion about the project revolves around costs and mitigation of power rates. The symposium, she said, aimed to make the conversation more personal.  

"There's a lot of really powerful speakers here. We've brought speakers from Labrador who are living adjacent to the project and those people will give us a very important insight into the project," Moore said

(left to right) Tracey Doherty, Jessica Penney, Shiri Pasternak and Denise Cole on a panel about the impact of the project on indigenous ways of life.

Better understanding

Moore's husband, Steve Crocker, is a sociology professor at MUN and also helped organize the event.

"We're trying to make comprehensible lots of the technical, financial and other kinds of information that is flowing through the inquiry," Crocker said.

He says that information is often not described in a level of detail that makes it accessible for the public.

"In a complex society that is information rich people need to be informed to be able to make decisions," Crocker said.

Several self identified land protectors spoke throughout the course of the two-day Muskrat Falls Symposium. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Crocker said proper public oversight could have prevented the project from advancing to the "catastrophic proportions" it has reached today.

Organizers are posting recordings of all the panels online on the Muskrat Falls symposium's Facebook page.

About the Author

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller is a journalism student at the College of the North Atlantic and a contributor to CBC News in St. John's.