Nfld. & Labrador

Breastfeeding moms stage 'nurse-in' against methylmercury at Muskrat Falls

Eight breastfeeding mothers took part in an unusual protest in Labrador on Tuesday.

'We're not willing to tell them that they're not allowed hunt or fish any more,' says mom

Eight mothers from the Upper Lake Melville Area staged a 'nurse-in' at the Muskrat Falls site in Labrador on Tuesday. (Bailey White/CBC)

A small group of mothers staged an unusual protest at the Muskrat Falls construction site Tuesday: they breastfed to send a message about the affect the hydro project will have on their children.

The "nurse-in" was part of a larger protests that started on the weekend at the Labrador construction site, and spread to other parts of the province.

Dozens of people have been demonstrating against the imminent flooding of the reservoir, which they believe will release dangerous levels of methylmercury into the environment downstream.

They say the personal is political and a group of breastfeeding mothers is hoping that's true. They staged a nurse-in yesterday at Muskrat Falls to send a message about methylmercury. Here's some of what they had to say. 7:13

"Everybody's really upset over this. It's impacting a lot more than I think the government realizes," said Jenna Williams, who brought her two children to the protest.

We're not willing to tell them that they're not allowed hunt or fish anymore.- Tiffany Lambourne

"When the breastfeeding mommas are getting mad, then you know you should start listening."

Williams and others want Nalcor, the Crown corporation behind the megaproject, to clear the reservoir of all vegetation and soil.

According to Harvard research commissioned by the Nunatsiavut government, that clearing could cut down on the amount of methylmercury released into the Churchill River and downstream to Lake Melville.

'Goes right back to food insecurity'

On Wednesday, the provincial environment and natural resources ministers told reporters they would instruct Nalcor to increase clearing efforts, though many protesters insist only full clearing will satisfy them.

Protesters say methylmercury contamination of fish, seal or seabirds would mean the elimination of an important food source.

"It just goes right back to the food insecurity issues," said Williams, "It's a real problem — getting formula for example. If we couldn't breastfeed our children then what else are we supposed to do?"

Karyn Hopkins has two sons — one age seven and the other just eight months old. The oldest just got his small game license.

"He will tell you, hunting and fishing is his life," she said.

Hopkins said her son felt strongly about attending the protest and even made his own signs, adding it was difficult to tell him hunting might not be an option anymore if methylmercury levels spike.

Mothers at the 'nurse-in' said they were concerned about the potential of methylmercury levels in country food when the Muskrat Falls reservoir is flooded. (Bailey White/CBC)

"When I told him that, it broke his heart. That's all he thinks about from sun-up to sun-down, so it really would affect him."

In total, eight moms nursed their children during the protest, including Tiffany Lambourne, who has three children.

Lambourne said she got involved to promote awareness of the methylmercury concerns.

It just goes right back to the food insecurity issues.- Jenna Williams

"I think that a lot of people in the community still don't really understand what the fuss is about. They don't think it's going to be serious, they don't think it's going to be a very big deal," she said.

Lambourne says her other children have attended protests about Muskrat Falls and she hopes she's teaching them a lesson they can use when they're adults.

"We're not willing to tell them that they're not allowed hunt or fish anymore, that's something that we value in our family and it's worth fighting for."

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a journalist based in St. John's.