On October 11th protesters staged a die-in at The Rooms where Dwight Ball was hosting The Way Forward: Shaping Our Future.
At the Premier’s day long event, the provincial government invited selected representatives from the community, business, labour, and arts sectors to discuss the future of the province.
During the event, peaceful protestors splayed themselves on the steps of The Rooms to represent Labradorians who will be at risk of methylmercury poisoning if the provincial government goes ahead with its plan to begin flooding Lake Melville on October 15th as part of construction on Nalcor’s Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.
“People were lying down to send the message that we will not allow cultural genocide to continue to happen in Labrador through the damming of Muskrat Falls,” Denise Cole, spokesperson of the die-in explained. “We were calling attention to how it will put the downstream population’s health and way of life at risk.”
The Premier, along with many Liberal Ministers and MHAs, snuck out through the backdoor of The Rooms after the event to avoid facing the protestors.
“It tells me that they realize how powerful we are, they were afraid of seeing us and having to deal with the shame of walking through this symbol of Labrador genocide,” Cole said about the Premier’s decision to leave through the back door of The Rooms.
Cole believes that the Premier’s refusal to acknowledge the protestors is a loud and clear message that his plan for moving forward does not include the Labradorians who live downstream from Muskrat Falls.
The shores of Lake Melville are home to thousands of Inuit people who rely on the lake and surrounding areas for food. Shockingly, the federal and provincial governments approved the Muskrat Falls dam and reservoir without fully investigating the downstream impacts the project would have on Lake Melville.
The Nunatsiavut Government hired scientists from Harvard University to research how the lake would be affected by damming the falls.
Researchers found that damming the falls would create a spike in methylmercury, a dangerous central nervous system toxin. Within 120 hours of flooding the lake, a sharp rise in methylmercury production will occur that could take decades to decrease.
Chronic exposure to food containing methylmercury can have serious health impacts including brain impairment in children. In adults, exposure to methylmercury can negatively affect cardiovascular health, immune health, and hormone function.
“When we talk about the impact we’re not just talking about this generation, it will continue on because methylmercury bioaccumulates. So mothers pass it on through breast milk,” Cole said.
The studies commissioned by the Nunatsiavut Government found that clearing all vegetation from the reservoir before flooding would decrease the number of people effected by methylmercury poisoning.
According to a Nunatsiavut government’s report, titled Lake Melville Avativut, Kanuittailinnivut (Our Environment, Our Health), mitigation of downstream methylmercury impacts of Muskrat Falls is possible.
The document states: “Full clearing of wood, brush, vegetation, and topsoil from the reservoir area before flooding will result in significantly lower increases in methylmercury exposure for Inuit in the Lake Melville area than may be expected under the current plan to only partially clear the reservoir.”
Instead of fully clearing the reservoir area, the Liberal government has ordered Nalcor to issue consumption advisories and negotiate compensation for people affected by the raised levels of methylmercury.
“Money cannot replace a culture and way of life, which is hunting and going out on all parts of the land and how those skills are passed down through generations,” Cole said.
The Premier’s decision to leave his event at The Rooms (which is currently hosting an exhibit honouring the history of Inuit culture) through the back door to avoid facing the die-in appeared particularly cowardly because most attendees of his event left through the main entrance.
Some walked through the protestors, taking a moment to read their signs. Others stopped to thank protestors or shout their support for the cause.
“It shows that the Premier refuses to face the reality that the people in this province are not okay with seeing other people in the province poisoned, you can’t move forward and not include everybody in this province,” Cole said.