Radio — Growing cross-country solidarity with Muskrat Falls land protectors in Labrador

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh interviews Kelly Morrissey and Emily Philpott about the work of the Ontario Muskrat Solidarity Committee. They are building support in Ontario and elsewhere in the country for the mostly-Indigenous land protectors in Labrador who oppose the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam project.

Kelly Morrissey is a Nunatsiavumiuk woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, which is one of the directly affected communities, and she is currently living in Ottawa, Ontario. Emily Philpott is a white settler woman from Corner Brook, Newfoundland, currently living in Toronto, though she happened to be in Happy Valley-Goose Bay when we spoke. Emily also has family living in the impacted area of Labrador, and her research for her Master’s degree in International Development Studies at York University is on the impact of Muskrat Falls on local residents.

Back in June, an episode of Talking Radical Radio featured Jennifer Hefler-Elson talking about the Labrador Land Protectors, a mostly Indigenous group in rural Labrador defending the land from the Lower Churchill Project, also known as the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam project. Today we revisit the Muskrat Falls struggle through the lens of one of the encouraging developments in the resistance – the ongoing emergence of solidarity activism happening elsewhere in the country.

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam is being built by the provincial crown corporation Nalcor on the Churchill River in Labrador. It is in territory that is part of the Innu Nation’s land claim, but impacts territory shared by members of the other two major Indigenous groupings in the region as well, the Nunatsiavut and the Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut. As is always true of such projects, the idea is to construct a massive dam, flood an area to create a reservoir, and release water from the reservoir in a controlled way to generate electricity.

Objections to the project are many. Though there is a formal agreement with the Innu Nation, there are many criticisms of that agreement as not adequately fulfilling the requirement for free, prior, and informed consent, and the other impacted Indigenous groups have not signed anything.

Another major concern is that the flooding of land to create a reservoir can result in a sharp increase in a toxin called methyl mercury, which can then contaminate the local food web. This is particularly troubling given that not only is harvesting food from the land integral to local Indigenous cultures, it is something that a lot of local people depend on. As well, there is significant concern that the dam might result in flooding of downstream communities. The project is billions of dollars over budget, on the backs on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. And the energy that it will ultimately produce is mostly for export, while hydro rates in the province are expected to increase significantly.

Local resistance to the Muskrat Falls dam reached a high point just over a year ago, with a coordinated campaign by the three Indigenous groups, some civil disobedience, a hunger strike, and regular local mobilization, all focused in particular on concerns about methyl mercury. This pushed the premier of the province, Dwight Ball, to meet with Indigenous leaders and to promise measures meant to mitigate the threat from methyl mercury. While this satisfied some residents, lots of others – many under the banner of the Labrador Land Protectors – continued to organize in opposition to the project.

Over the last year there have been demonstrations, events, and actions in the local area on almost a weekly basis, as well as arrests and various measures that seem designed to intimidate land protectors. And almost none of the measures that the province agreed to a year ago, around mitigating methyl mercury contamination, have in fact been taken.

The first solidarity action in Ontario was actually back in September 2016, when Kelly helped put together a small demonstration on Parliament Hill. A group subsequently coalesced under the name Ontario Muskrat Solidarity Committee. The group has organized at least one other demonstration. Members in the Ottawa area have been meeting with federal politicians and officials to express their concerns, with a particular focus on the $9 billion federal loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls project. And after a successful recent panel in Toronto on which both Kelly and Emily spoke, public education events involving one or both of them are planned in the near future in Ottawa, London, Perth, Halifax, and more.

By bringing people together in cities in Ontario and beyond and raising public consciousness of the issue, they hope to expand the wave of solidarity, and contribute to the kind of momentum that the land defenders on the ground will need in order to win.

Image: Modified from a photo taken by Douglas Sprott, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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