Nfld. & Labrador

'Nalcor should just give up': Inuk artist Billy Gauthier enters Day 5 of hunger strike

Billy Gauthier says he's willing to give up his own life to protect other Labradorians from possible Methylmercury poisoning. The Inuk artist is on the fifth day of his hunger strike.
Inuk artist Billy Gauthier is on a hunger strike until NALCOR clears all vegetation from an area to be flooded for a reservoir for the Muskrat Falls project. 2:40

Billy Gauthier hasn't eaten for five days, and the Inuk artist says his protest will end with changes to the Muskrat Falls project — one way or another.

Gauthier, who began his hunger strike Friday against planned Muskrat Falls flooding, said he's willing to give up his own life to protect other Labradorians and the Churchill River.

"I am only one life, and I am willing to give up mine," he told Debbie Cooper of CBC's Here and Now.

"Physically, I'm feeling okay. I'm feeling strong, I'm feeling confident, and I'm feeling right. The only nourishment that is going into my body right now is water."

Gauthier's last meal — salmon — was Thursday night.

"I don't know how far it will go. But I can guarantee if we start dying off, this here project will not happen."

Determined to succeed

Gauthier's hunger strike coincided with days of protest over planned flooding to the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

Protesters, and the Nunatsiavut government, are concerned that methylmercury from the project site could contaminate the Churchill River and food sources in the region.

Signs in support of Billy Gauthier's hunger strike have been present throught the week's rallies in Labrador. (Katie Breen/CBC)

​Gauthier said methylmercury contamination would endanger traditional Labrador lifestyles. He called on Nalcor to clear more vegetation from the Muskrat Falls reservoir so plants do not get contaminated, and the compound does not move up the food chain.

Gauthier said he will continue his protest until something changes.

"There's no possible way that I will touch food, or even juice ... unless they clear the vegetation so that it's safe for the people of Labrador," he said. "Nalcor should just give up."

Support and opposition

Gauthier said he has been joined by three other people also embarking on hunger strikes. 
Billy Gauthier stands with Adam Taylor who he says is also embarking on a hunger strike against the current Muskrat Falls project. (CBC)

​But Labrador MP Yvonne Jones told Labrador Morning on Tuesday that she hoped Gauthier would stop his protest.

"I've never been a person that has supported people bringing harm to themselves to try and get the attention of others," she said. 

"I think [Gauthier] can be so much more effective as a vocal, outspoken person who believes in what he's doing."

Gauthier said this hunger strike was the only way he knew how to win national and international attention, and make a difference.

I'm scared, but that's what bravery is. - Billy Gauthier

"I'm scared, but that's what bravery is. When you're scared and you do it anyways. And that's exactly how these here other hunger strikers feel."

In a statement Monday, Nalcor said it was moving forward with reservoir flooding. The company also wrote that it would "continue to work with the Provincial Government and all stakeholders" on the "important topic" of water quality monitoring.

Perry Trimper, the minister of environment, added that the provincial government was establishing an Independent Expert Advisory Committee to discuss possible further clearing of the reservoir.

With files from Debbie Cooper