Home Guest Editorial Muskrat Falls threatening Inuit rights, health and way of life

Muskrat Falls threatening Inuit rights, health and way of life

Protesters during a Make Muskrat Right Rally in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, in June. © Bert Pomeroy

A joint review panel appointed by the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009 recognized that the Muskrat Falls hydro development would have significant adverse effects on Labrador Inuit. It also concluded that Nalcor Energy, the project’s proponent, did not carry out a full assessment of the fate of mercury in the downstream environment, including potential pathways that could lead to mercury bioaccumulation in seal and fish and the potential for cumulative effects of the project along with effects of other sources of mercury.

The panel also recognized the dietary and cultural importance of fishing and seal hunting in Goose Bay and Lake Melville, including the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area.

In June 2012, the Nunatsiavut Government announced a partnership with ArcticNet to launch a comprehensive study of the downstream environment of the project, using credible, transparent, and peer-reviewed research methods and processes.

Since then, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation respectively issued a Fisheries Act Authorization and an Authorization to Alter a Body of Water, allowing construction of the generation station and the flooding of the reservoir. We opposed these decisions, and filed judicial applications — one was dismissed and the other was dropped.

Meanwhile, work continued to determine potential downstream effects. On September 7, 2015, peer-reviewed research from the Harvard University, confirmed that flooding of the reser­voir would increase methylmercury concentrations in Lake Melville, disproportionally impacting those who rely on the ecosystem for food and resources.

In an effort to convince the federal and provincial governments to force Nalcor to make changes before flooding starts, the Nunatsiavut Government launched the Make Muskrat Right campaign in the fall of 2015.

On April 18, 2016, the Nunatsiavut Govern­ment released the Lake Melville Scientific Report, the result of four years of multi-pronged investi­gation that has led to important discoveries about how methylmercury accumulates in the Lake Melville ecosystem and how it will impact Inuit who rely on this body of water for food and resources. The research confirmed that hundreds of Labrador Inuit will be pushed above regulatory guidelines for exposure to methylmercury if the Muskrat Falls reservoir is not fully cleared of all wood, brush, vegetation and topsoil.

On June 14, 2016, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador all but dismissed the scientific evidence by accepting Nalcor Energy’s Human Health Risk Assessment Plan with a condition that should methylmercury levels reach the Health Canada threshold and consumption advisories are necessary, Nalcor will compensate those affected.

The Harvard comprehensive research is credible, independent science, conducted by experts in their field. Instead of considering the true facts, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador dismissed the overall science in the receiving environment and how it works together to sustain Inuit — opting to take the colonial attitude of raping indigenous people of their rights and pay us off if need be.

We’re not interested in compensation. We want to be able to continue our way of life. We want to enjoy good health, and we want our children, grandchildren and generations to come to know they don’t have to live in fear, that they can eat the fish, the seal and the birds from Lake Melville.

The Nunatsiavut Government will continue to pursue all options to Make Muskrat Right, to protect Inuit health, rights and a way of life.

Johannes Lampe
President of Nunatsiavut

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