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Council activists occupy legislature lobby as Muskrat Falls dam flooding begins

Council of Canadians organizers Angela Giles and Robin Tress, along with Moncton chapter activists Duc and Ylang Phi and allies, took part in an occupation of the lobby of the Newfoundland and Labrador legislative building today in opposition to the Muskrat Falls dam.

The Muskrat Falls hydro-electric dam project would see two large dams – a 32-metre high north dam and a 29-metre south dam – on the lower Churchill River in Labrador. Power from Muskrat Falls would be brought to Newfoundland and then to Nova Scotia through a sub-sea link. The dams are being built on Innu lands and would severely impact Inuit peoples.

When the project was announced in 2010 it was forecast to cost $5-billion. By June of this year the cost had rocketed to $11.4 billion. The federal government provided a loan guarantee of $6.4 billion to enable the project to proceed. In 2012, the federal government also removed federal oversight of the Churchill River in their Navigation Protection Act. Construction began in 2013 and this afternoon officials began the impoundment of the reservoir with water levels now expected to rise by about half a metre to one metre a day. The water levels will rise to 39 metres by 2019. If not stopped, the dam will flood 41 square kilometres and establish a 100 square kilometre reservoir.

Earlier today, The Telegram reported, “Activists identifying themselves as ‘land protectors’ began a sit-in at Confederation Building in St John’s, vowing to stay in the building lobby until they got a chance to speak to somebody from the Premier’s Office. Meanwhile, security refused to let the demonstrators use the Confederation Building bathroom, and barred a VOCM reporter from entering the building to cover the issue.”

The Canadian Press adds, “At issue are concerns raised by Harvard University researchers that the flooding as part of dam and powerhouse construction may contaminate fish and other wild foods with methylmercury. The resulting reservoir will cover an area of about 41 square kilometres near Happy Valley-Goose Bay. It will also be upstream from 2,000 Inuit in the Lake Melville region who rely on fish and seal meat.”

The Council of Canadians and allies have called on the provincial government as well as the Trudeau government to:

  • only proceed with the flooding once Indigenous peoples have their given free, prior and informed consent

  • meet all the conditions of the Make Muskrat Right campaign (fully clear the Muskrat Falls reservoir area, negotiate an impact agreement with the Nunatsiavut Government, establish an independent expert advisory committee to advise on mitigation measures, grant Inuit joint decision-making authority over downstream environmental monitoring and management)

  • convene a panel of experts to ensure the North Spur (a jut of rock that holds the full weight of the reservoir created by the dam) does not collapse.

Last Friday (October 14), we highlighted Muskrat Falls at our Groundswell conference in St. John’s. CBC reported, “At their opening news conference, president Maude Barlow and several speakers railed against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. ‘When the Innu and Inuit oppose something like Muskrat Falls we oppose it with them’, said Barlow. Documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis joined the calls to halt the project. ‘The Muskrat Falls project, which will be disastrous for the Indigenous communities in that area, is expensive, wasteful, unnecessary and toxic on many levels’, he said.”

Our public forum that evening featured Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue, an Innu elder who opposes the dam. The Independent has reported, “To the 69-year-old, the most important thing is preserving nutshimit (the country), of which Muskrat Falls is a significant part for the Innu, Inuit and Inuit-Metis. The Innu’s unhindered access and connection to the land and water are fundamental to the preservation of their culture.”

On Saturday, we took part in a march in downtown St. John’s that highlighted community opposition to the Muskrat Falls dam. That evening, land defenders began camping at the construction site for the dam in an effort to stop the flooding. The RCMP forcibly arrested those nine people early this morning.

#StopMuskratFalls #MakeMuskratRight