Sunday, May 14, 2017

Our Beautiful Land, and the Poisoning of Muskrat Falls

October, 2016 Muskrat Falls solidarity rally at Ottawa's Human Rights Monument includes (sitting) Mitzi Wall and hunger strikers Billy Gauthier, Delilah Miriam Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister. Kelly Morrissey, standing holding banner, left, wrote this speech below for the Walk the Talk Indigenous Rights Rally in Ottawa on May 13, 2017. (Photo: France Rivet/Polar Horizons)


(This speech was delivered at the May 13 Walk the Talk Rally in Ottawa in support of Bill C-262 to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge this gathering is taking place on unceded territory of the Algonquin nation. Welcome and thank you to all in attendance. To you – from closer locales and others whose passion to stand for what is right has led them here today. And to the walkers – who plainly have so much conviction for this cause. You are truly appreciated for your work. My name is Kelly Morrissey, and I’m an Inuit woman from Labrador. Our traditional territory is called Nunatsiavut, which, in Inuttut means ‘Our Beautiful Land’ – and indeed, it is beautiful.

Nearly half of residents in Labrador identify as a member of one of the 3 Indigenous groups there. These are comprised of the northern Inuit of Nunatsiavut (new-NAHT-see-ahh-vuht), the southern Inuit of NunatuKavut (new-nah-TOO-kah-voot), and the Innu Nation. Although I could wax poetic about the warm-natured people, remote vistas and subarctic splendor, I must spend my time wisely here today to tell you about the ongoing nature of Colonialism in my home. In recent decades, Labrador’s untouched nature has been changing with mining projects and hydroelectric development.

Most recently, the ongoing construction of the Muskrat Falls dam has been at the forefront of concern. In 2016, Indigenous groups and settlers alike were asking the Provincial and Federal government to take heed of a recent study done with Harvard University. It projected a marked increase in toxic methyl-mercury downstream from the project. This would affect the harvesting of traditional foods for locals, Innu and Inuit as the fish would then be polluted and could only be consumed in limited amounts. There were also concerns about a leaking cofferdam and the potential for flooding in the area.

In October 2016, after countless unanswered attempts at communication with government, dozens of Indigenous and settlers cut the gate lock to the Muskrat Falls construction site and walked several kilometers down a dirt road to peacefully occupy it. Hundreds of supporters stayed outside the gate while simultaneously, 4 people went on hunger strike to get the government to come to the table. 1 hunger striker occupied the camp, while 3 came here to Ottawa – at this very human rights monument – to appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. All of this culminated in the Premier of the province flying back from Florida (finally!) to meet with the leaders of the Indigenous community. A deal was struck after a marathon 11 hour meeting, where Premier Ball agreed to mandate the energy company Nalcor, clear some vegetation in the spring.

In many ways, this demonstrates the strength of Indigenous people and Settlers united in the face of extreme colonial forces. However, I can’t help but ask why it’s okay to disregard the concerns of Indigenous people affected by a hydroelectric dam. I can’t help but wonder why it’s okay for the government to complain more about the ballooning costs of this mega-project than the human health effects – about my Indigenous sisters and brothers who’ll wonder if their children, and grandchildren will be born with developmental concerns, about those who wonder if the dam – built on clay and sand – will hold. How often will Inuit and Innu turn away from eating their traditional foods? How will they afford to purchase exorbitantly-priced store-bought foods in the north to replace these poisoned fish and animals? And even if they can, how will this affect their ties to the land? In turn, how will this affect the culture? How many days do my friends have to hunger strike before the government will listen to their concerns about their own land? How many of my fellow Inuk, Innu and settlers have to face criminal trespassing and mischief charges in order to get the government to listen to them?

In fact, 37 Labrador Land Protectors, and one journalist have been charged criminally for peacefully occupying the Muskrat Falls site. Yes, the one reporter – Justin Brake - who initially was covering this story in a secluded area, has also been charged criminally. Without his coverage, this story may not have been heard on a national stage – and the police who stated violence was occurring on the Muskrat Falls site may not have been proven false, as they were through live streams showing peace and even camaraderie with workers on the site. This smacks of censorship to me, and of a government and provincial energy corporation that exploits the seclusion of an area to do their dirty deeds, unchecked.

This is why implementing UNDRIP is important. Canada has signed off on this declaration, but just in the past year with Muskrat falls, the Provincial and Federal bodies have violated at least a dozen of these recommendations, paying particular attention to Article 32, which states Indigenous people have the right to determine strategies for use of their land, and that consultation should be done in good faith. I think its clear through my brief synopsis of this complicated scenario, the government did not wish to communicate with the Indigenous communities of Labrador.

And while the fight for the mighty Muskrat Falls continues, I do wish to make this a cautionary tale. Other hydroelectric and resource extraction projects are on the horizon in Canada. In fact, Harvard expanded on their original research, citing 21 more hydroelectric projects that will be affected by mercury levels even higher than those in the Muskrat Falls area. All of these dams are within a 100 km vicinity of secluded Indigenous communities.

It is essential that government be held accountable to their agreements, and if UNDRIP is not adopted into Canadian law, then you can clearly see that governments and corporations will easily disregard it and do what best suits their political agendas or pocket books. I join you all in taking a stand and telling the government – we need to adopt Bill C-262, ensuring Canadian law is in harmony with the tenets of UNDRIP, in order to promote the rights of Indigenous persons in Canada, and to indeed, walk the talk.

Thank you, Nakkumek.

1 comment:

Llewelyn Pritchard said...

Government mismanagement and cover-up certainly has a long history at least in Port Hope Simpson, NunatuKavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
You may be interested in this true story:
Tombstone, Port Hope Simpson, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada: What was really going on behind the scenes? For the first time, de-classified official British Government papers shine new light on amongst other things, Government mis-management as knowledge hidden by an incongruous granite tombstone in Port Hope Simpson, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada marked the starting point for this unique history of development of a logging settlement in southern Labrador. Llewelyn Pritchard M.A. ISBN-13: 978-1468019469 ISBN-10: 1468019465
All the best
Llewelyn Pritchard
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All the best
Llewelyn Pritchard