Beatrice Hunter on Her FemFest NL Speech

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The second annual FemFest NL is being held in The Space on Harbour Drive from August 11th–13th. This year’s keynote speaker is Inuk grandmother and Labrador Land Protector Beatrice Hunter. She will speak on Saturday, August 12th at 7:00pm.

As a member of the Labrador Land Protectors, Hunter is part of the peaceful Indigenous-led resistance to the construction of the Muskrat Falls Hydro-electric dam. Many people believe the dam is threatening Labradorians’ safety and way of life.

Research has shown that flooding caused by the dam will result in a spike in methylmercury downstream in the Lake Melville area, poisoning water and wildlife for generations. There is also concern that the project will cause the North Spur to collapse initiating flooding that could destroy homes and endanger lives in downstream communities.

In June, Hunter was jailed for ten days for refusing to promise a Supreme Court Judge that she would stay 1km away from the Muskrat Falls site. Shortly after her arrest she was moved from the jail in Happy Valley Goose Bay to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, a maximum-security men’s prison in St. John’s, 1000 miles from her home.

Hunter’s arrest sparked outrage across the country, drawing the attention of several national human rights organizations including the Council of Canadians and Amnesty International Canada.

Since Hunter’s release three more Labrador Land Protectors, Marjorie Flowers, Eldred Davis, and Jim Learning were imprisoned for refusing to promise to stay away from the Muskrat Falls site. The Inuit elders have been released from prison, however Marjorie Flowers and Jim Learning continue to serve time under house arrest.

We spoke to Hunter about her upcoming FemFest NL speech and the Labrador Land Protectors’ most pressing concerns.

What Will You Be Talking about at FemFest NL?

I’m assuming the women want to hear about my prison experience so I’ll be talking about that at FemFest.

I’ll continue to try to inform everyone about what Nalcor is doing to the people of Labrador. Labradorians are constantly living in fear of the North Spur collapsing and of the methylmercury poisoning that is occurring because the vegetation is not being cleared from the reservoir.

How Did You Feel about the Way the Media Portrayed You and Your Arrest? 

I knew I had the support of my family and my fellow Labrador Land Protectors, but I wasn’t expecting all the support I got from across the nation. It actually surprised me.

They portrayed me truthfully and honestly because they showed that I’m not fighting for myself, I’m fighting for my family. I’m fighting for my grandchild, which is fighting for the future. I want to leave a better world for her.

How Did You Feel When You Learned about the Imprisonment of Marjorie Flowers, Eldred Davis, and Jim Learning?

It was very frustrating and heartbreaking. I wondered how many of us have to serve jail time in order to get our point across. We’re obviously not being heard but we are continuing to fight as peacefully as we can.

What Does Their Release Mean for the Labrador Land Protectors?

Both Marjorie Flowers and Jim Learning are under house arrest, they’re still in defiance of the injunction and of Nalcor so they don’t have their freedom.

What people need to realize is that they’re still fighting, so we have to support them anyway we can. It’s probably even more frustrating to them that they can’t just leave their home to go and protect the land. We need to stick beside them.

When you’re a Labrador Land Protector these concerns are constantly on your mind, you don’t sleep well at night. You’re thankful for each morning that the dam hasn’t broken. I’m thankful every morning that my family hasn’t drowned.

What Are the Labrador Land Protectors’ Most Pressing Concerns?

It’s still the same concerns we’ve had from the beginning, it’s the threat of the North Spur breaking and flooding Labradorians. It’s still the methylmercury poisoning that’s occurring.

When you’re a Labrador Land Protector these concerns are constantly on your mind, you don’t sleep well at night. You’re thankful for each morning that the dam hasn’t broken. I’m thankful every morning that my family hasn’t drowned.

I miss the days when we didn’t have those worries, the days when all you had to worry about was paying your bills and cooking for the children. I miss the simple life, it’s not a simple life anymore.

What Do You Think Will Happen Next?

I can’t predict the future, but my heart still says shut Muskrat down … There’s a whole bunch of things we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for freedom of speech, freedom from oppression. We’re fighting so your light bill won’t go up.You don’t want to have to choose between buying food and paying your light bill and rent on top of that.

There’s a whole slew of reasons why you should fight. I don’t want a corporation government, I don’t want Nalcor to run Newfoundland and Labrador and that is what’s happening right now.

Cathy Bennett’s resignation earlier this week felt like another step forward. I feel the colonial government needs to be overthrown, I feel all the people who were elected need to resign or admit defeat, that’s the only way I can see us moving forward.

We need to overthrow this colonial government, but I will never do it violently. The Labrador Land Protectors have always encouraged non-violence … Non-violence is important to me because of my grandchild, I do not want her to grow up in a violent world.

What’s the Most Productive Way for People to Show Support for the Labrador Land Protectors?

I know the support is constantly growing out there, there’s petitions, there’s letters to the politicians. All I would suggest is that you follow your heart and whatever your heart says is the right thing, I suggest you do that.

Is There Anything Else You Would Like People to Know?

I would just like people to know, we won’t be giving up. We can’t give up because Labrador lives are on the line.

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Eva Crocker

Eva Crocker is a writer from St. John's, her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, was published by House of Anansi Press in Spring of 2017.

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