Todd Russell,President of Nunatukavut, being arrested
at Muskrat Falls protest 5 April 2013
You won't see the picture above on any of the main media outlets in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yet this was the scene yesterday when the duly elected President of the Nunatukavut was arrested 10km from Muskrat Falls for interrupting traffic with 20 or so followers. The purpose of their action was to draw attention to the fact that they have not been consulted or accommodated about the Muskrat Falls project despite it being within the territory they claim.
It's a tale of three nations really: the Innu of Labrador; the Nunatsiavut; and the Nunatukavut. They are the Aboriginal peoples of Labrador.
THE INNU OF LABRADOR
Peter Penashue, Innu of Labrador
The Innu of Labrador, and specifically an organization called the "Innu Nation" are the subject of a three part series coming up on this blog. In the meantime, you can think of the Innu of Labrador as "haves" and "have nots". The "haves" are a very few families that control all the business done in Innu territory and the workings of the Innu governments - that will also be detailed in the series. The have nots are almost all the rest of the Innu. Stricken by third world poverty, and every social ill you can imagine, the "have nots" have been left to fend for themselves. Of course, there are also many Elders in the Innu community that are very hesitant about the new development mentality sweeping the "haves" along. They stand in their place to defend ancient responsibilities to the Land and the animals. Perhaps the best known being Elizabeth Penashue, the mother of the man above - Peter. Polar opposites in values, ideals, and how to get there. Ancient responsibilities versus one ancient problem - greed.
Bottom line - we never saw Peter Penashue dragged across the streets by police like a common criminal. No. He went the other way. Deals with corporations, deals with politicians, etc. They needed him on board for Muskrat Falls, and yet he is now the one facing a possible criminal action as well. His obvious breach of Elections Canada laws, as noted in the previous posting on this blog, should land him in a pair of handcuffs - although nobody deserves to be dragged. His handcuffs will not be chains restricting his freedom to protest. No, they will be chains restricting him from further breaking the laws of democracy.
Sarah Leo, President
The Nunatsiavut, or Inuit, are the only native peoples in Labrador to actually have a government - established by the only finalized land claim agreement in Labrador. Their primary emphasis is on individual and community health. By way of example, the Nunatsiavut government is conducting, and funding a study of the impact of mercury poisoning in Lake Melville and estuaries within their boarders. They are doing this without any assistance from the provincial government, and in many ways against the provincial government. Their waters have been poisoned by the Upper Churchill dam, and they are rightly concerned about it becoming even worse with two more dams proposed for the Lower Churchill. Not surprisingly they are not partnered with large corporations or governments in many if any cash producing schemes. They remain focused on their people, and not the almighty dollar.
It's a tale of three peoples, three leaders, and three different approaches. The three part series on the Innu Nation will show this in dramatic and shocking form.
The question in my mind remains: How can it be that the elected leader of his people, a former Member of Parliament in his own right, be handcuffed and dragged through the streets like a common criminal? Did that happen to any other Aboriginal leaders during the "Idle no more" protests? The answer is no. So why did it happen to President Todd Russell? Are the Nunatukavut somehow less Aboriginal in the minds of the Newfoundland and Labrador government? Are Aboriginals less respected in Newfoundland and Labrador than other provinces? Is Nalcor's determination to build Muskrat Falls more important than basic human rights? The answer to all three of these questions is yes.
One last, but not least, mention. Jim Learning, Nunatukavut Elder and Veteran was arrested along with Todd Russell yesterday. He was also arrested a short while ago for walking down the Muskrat Falls access road without permission from Nalcor. He has been left in jail for the weekend and word has it he will be there until next Friday. His crime? Disrupting traffic to Muskrat Falls. On his own Aboriginal land. Jim Learning refused to sign a statement he would not return to do the same again. So they left him in prison. Jim Learning is a Veteran, an Elder, in his seventies, and a man of conviction - a hero. Thank-you Jim.
Jim Learning, Hero, Inspiration