Dwight Ball to meet with Indigenous leaders over Muskrat Falls

The meeting was meant to allay concerns about controversial flooding for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Protesters gathered at the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature Tuesday, prompting security officials to lock the main doors ahead of a planned meeting between the premier and aboriginal leaders about controversial flooding for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project.

Premier Dwight Ball has already said Nalcor, the Crown corporation building the megaproject, wouldn’t increase water levels for a reservoir before the meeting.

A sheet spray-painted in black reading “Don’t poison Labrador” hung on the railing of the legislature building in St. John’s as demonstrators gathered before the meeting.

Angus Andersen of Nain stood with a sign saying “Make Muskrat Right.”

He said a court order for the arrests of people occupying the Muskrat Falls site undercuts the meeting’s purpose.

“Why even meet with aboriginal leaders if you’re going to start arresting people who are protecting the land peacefully?”

About 50 protesters entered the central Labrador site on Saturday and occupied an accommodation complex, prompting the company to remove about 700 workers from the grounds.

On Monday, the company obtained an injunction naming 22 people occupying the site for potential arrest. The head of Nalcor said in a statement that protesters are risking serious injury, and has urged them to depart the site.

“You cannot break into or trespass on your own land,” demonstration organizer Denise Cole of Goose Bay said to applause from about 40 people gathered at the legislature.

She also led a moment of silence and prayer for those occupying the Muskrat Falls site and blockading its entrance.

The protesters have drawn support from across the country in recent days over concerns about methylmercury contamination that will occur when a 41-square-kilometre area is flooded.

The project is upstream from 2,000 Inuit and other residents in the Lake Melville region.

Last week, Nalcor agreed to remove more forest cover from the area to alleviate those concerns, but protesters say they also want all soil removed before the reservoir is created.

Three hunger strikers, including Inuk artist Billy Gauthier, who says he has not eaten since Oct. 13, have issued four conditions before they’ll eat again.

They include:

  • An evidence-based approach based on peer-reviewed science to mitigate the effects of methylmercury contamination.
  • An independent assessment of Nalcor Energy’s science and engineering reports on the necessity of imminent, first-phase flooding by the end of this month. If flooding is necessary, height and duration is to be kept to a minimum.
  • Removal of soil to minimize methylmercury contamination, as suggested by independent scientific research, during the second phase of reservoir flooding.
  • A commitment from the federal government that it will participate in a joint monitoring program and fulfil its regulatory obligations related to Muskrat Falls.

The list of conditions is signed by Gauthier, Delilah Miriam Saunders and Jerry David Zack.

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