Muskrats Falls dam flooding to begin during Council of Canadians annual conference in Newfoundland & Labrador

Photo by Jacinda Beals

The Council of Canadians will be in St. John's this coming October 14-16, which is the same weekend provincial energy corporation Nalcor intends to begin flooding traditional Innu territory in Labrador as part of the construction process for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam project.

The Muskrat Falls project includes a 32-metre high north dam and a 29-metre south dam. The Lower Churchill Project would see the construction of two large hydroelectric dams on the Grand River in Labrador, including a dam at Muskrat Falls. Power from Muskrat Falls would be brought to Newfoundland and then to Nova Scotia through a sub-sea link. The previous Harper government strongly supported the dam and provided a $6.4-billion loan guarantee for the project.

Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue, an Innu elder who is scheduled to speak at our annual conference on October 14, opposes the dam because it will flood and destroy Innu ancestral lands.

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."

The dam would flood 41 square kilometres of the nutshimit that Penashue seeks to preserve, and establish a 100 square kilometre reservoir.

Yesterday, CBC reported, "Protesters in Labrador trespassed on part of the Muskrat Falls site Monday, halting work in the latest demonstration against the mega-project. ...Two RCMP vehicles and a changing number of Nalcor pickup trucks tailed the 19 protesters as they made their way towards the North Spur and back." The Independents adds, "Jack, a 65-year-old resident of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, [and] a group of concerned locals [walked] to the North Spur and Spirit Mountain, a sacred Innu site where tens of thousands of Innu artifacts were discovered during the early stages of the project’s construction, to demand the dam be shut down."

That article adds, "The Innu Elder also cited the threat methylmercury poses to Innu and Inuit who harvest fish from Lake Melville downstream from the dam, and growing concerns that the North Spur cannot withstand flooding due to the river’s high composition levels of sand and clay, as other reasons he says the dam must be stopped before flooding." Mercury levels in Lake Melville could rise anywhere from 25 to 200 per cent from the flooding.

This morning, CBC reports, "After months of protest from Inuit and other Indigenous groups over Muskrat Falls flooding, the province's minister of environment [Perry Trimper] says his government will take a closer look at the feasibility of further clearing the mega-project's reservoir [to mitigate methylmercury levels]. ...Nalcor [still] plans to begin flooding as early as Oct. 15, but isn't planning to complete the reservoir until 2019. Only 25 per cent will be flooded this fall, and Trimper said that area is partially cleared."

That article notes, "While the province has committed to exploring the options for clearing the remaining 75 per cent of the reservoir, Trimper stressed that complete clearing would be virtually impossible. ...Nunatsiavut [an autonomous area claimed by the Inuit in Labrador] president Johannes Lampe said his government wouldn't be satisfied unless Nalcor completes the full clearing. ...[And]  Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), a national Inuit organization, [has written] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an effort to convince the federal government to compel the province to do more."

For previous blogs about Muskrat Falls please click here, for more on our 'Groundsell 2016' annual conference click here.