Dennis Woodrow Burden
Monday, August 26, 2019
OPEN LETTER TO NDP LEADER JAGMEET SINGH: BREAK YOUR SILENCE ON THE DEADLY MUSKRAT FALLS MEGADAM
AUGUST 27, 2019
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
Dear Mr. Singh,
We write today with an ache in our hearts that reflects a real fear in the Big Land of Labrador. We are Indigenous people and settler allies who have for years tried to stop the federally-supported disaster of the Muskrat Falls megadam, whose single biggest investor – at $9.2 billion – is the federal government.
We write to you because we feel your fine words about reconciliation and free, prior, and informed consent are lifeless without you speaking out to end the methylmercury poisoning of an Indigenous country food web that has existed since time immemorial.
This poisoning of an Indigenous country food web – which could still be reversed or, at best, significantly reduced with an immediate reversal of the impoundment of the dam’s reservoir that began on August 7 – is the latest in a centuries’-old Canadian strategy of poisoning or eliminating by other violent means the Indigenous food supply.
This dam, which will produce "blood megawatts" for sales abroad, threatens an act of cultural genocide via methylmercury poisoning and the additional risk of catastrophic dam break. Indeed, mass casualty flash floods are a real possibility since a significant portion of the dam reservoir is slated to be held back by a natural formation known as the North Spur, composed of quick clay (sand that liquefies and moves under pressure). No proper, independent engineering study has been performed to confirm the stability of the North Spur.
AN ISSUE OF NATIONAL CONCERN
As this crime unfolds before our very eyes, many people have emailed and called your office asking that you issue a statement. This is, as noted above, a federal issue. Your provincial counterpart, Newfoundland and Labrador NDP leader Alison Coffin, has written to say that the impoundment of the reservoir must be halted until the poisoning concerns have been addressed. But as federal leader, you have a responsibility to speak out as well.
Indeed, in June of this year, the United Nations called on "the Federal Government to use its leverage as the largest investor in the [Muskrat Falls] project...to prevent the release of methylmercury,” while earlier this month, the Indigenous Nunatsiavut government called for all necessary measures to prevent the poisoning of the traditional country food web with this neurotoxin. The UN also noted that the project had not received free, prior and informed consent of all affected Indigenous peoples.
Like with any number of megaprojects, all Indigenous people affected have not provided free, prior and informed consent to be poisoned and drowned by this megadam. Non-Indigenous residents also face similar threats from a project that could eventually cost as much as $78 billion and bankrupt the province, forcing further austerity on the most vulnerable of the province's residents.
CRIMINALIZED FOR LAND PROTECTION
Many of us who sign this letter have been arrested and criminalized for standing up for Indigenous human rights at Muskrat Falls. Some have been bound in chains and thrown into maximum security penitentiaries simply for being on our lands. Others have sought to take the case to Parliament Hill, where on three separate occasions, we, again, have been arrested and banned from the premises.
We seek your support now because you present yourself and your party as the only real alternative to the dangerous status quo that has governed this land for centuries. We would like to believe that, but thusfar, your silence has been disappointing.
Hence, we seek from you a strong public statement supporting our demands:
1. An immediate halt to impoundment of the Muskrat Falls reservoir, and immediate implementation of the original recommendations from a joint 2011 provincial-federal environmental assessment (seconded by a major 2016 Harvard University study and further echoed by an Independent Experts Advisory Committee) for full clearance of brush, trees, and topsoil, along with the capping of the wetlands, at the Muskrat Falls reservoir to prevent the bioaccumulation of the neurotoxin methylmercury.
2. Immediate appointment of an independent inquiry into the instability of the North Spur, because no study has proven that it is secure enough to prevent a catastrophic dam break and mass drowning.
3. The federal government, provincial government, and Nalcor (the crown corporation behind the dam) must halt all work on the dam until they have received the free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous peoples affected by the dam, as well as that of non-Indigenous downstream residents.
Failing all of these demands, Muskrat Falls must be decommissioned and returned to its natural state.
Too often, we are told it is too late to turn back. But our future demands nothing less than turning back. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, it is always the right time to do what is right. The fact that we are continuing down the wrong road does not mean the brakes cannot be applied and the path reversed.
In the same manner that Martin Luther King, Jr. courageously broke his silence over the crime of the U.S. war against Vietnam, we call on you now to break your silence, work with us to come up with a strong statement in opposition to the crime of Muskrat Falls, and give real life and meaning to the words you have spoken and the positions your party has taken on paper.
Please feel free to contact the Labrador Land Protectors ( firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Ontario Muskrat Solidarity Coalition (email@example.com, 613-267-3998) so that we may work with you in halting a disaster that continues to unfold every day.
Roberta Frampton Benefiel
Dennis Woodrow Burden
Dennis Woodrow Burden