I've never been to Labrador before, yet I've fought to stop Muskrat Falls in the courts and outside them for five years. It seemed the right time, and many people there encouraged me to come (see Facebook) so my wife and I set out ready to support the "land protectors" with everything we had. One ominous message on Facebook suggested something different though:
"...he is a politician trying to get attention." That came from Charlotte Wolfrey, Status of Women Coordinator, Nunatsiavut Government.
An interesting statement to be sure. While some may remember my foray into Newfoundland politics back in early 2011 and 2012, I have primarily been focused on defeating Muskrat Falls during and since that time. So I found Ms. Wolfrey's statement a little strange. That being said we arrived in Goose Bay Sunday to lend a hand. Literally within 30 minutes of arriving and chatting with some trappers and other folks at the Muskrat Falls gate an irate lady started tearing into me that she did not want me there. After a fair bit of prodding I was able to find out she also worked for the Nunatsiavut government. I tried to calm her, but she wouldn't leave me alone and followed me throughout the demonstration site day and evening. Shortly after that incident a man named Roy Blake began yelling my name and came after me publicly for sending messages to my friend who was with the land protectors inside Muskrat Falls. He too ended up being an elected member of the Nunatsiavut Government. (he subsequently apologized to me several times which was honourable). However, a certain trend was beginning to stick in my mind.
Perhaps these attacks on me were coming from my opposition to Universal Helicopter ferrying in workers to the Muskrat Falls site while the protesters laboured below to stop workers coming in? That's initially what I thought, but then some other conversations on the side started to point in a different direction. Truthfully, I don't view myself as a person with a high profile. I approach people in that way. People were telling me though that the Nunatsiavut government considered my profile a threat (to their control of the protest apparently). I only relay this story because it points to the rest of the story - the betrayal of Labrador at the hands of its Aboriginal leadership.
You see, the story of Labrador's betrayal lies in control. Control of the many by the few. I spoke to many of the people at the main protest camp and gate and got a good feel for their position. They were worried about their way of life. Period. Hunting, fishing, living off the land. That was their concern. That is why they were there and that is what they were fighting for. However, in the background scurrying amongst the protesters were what I would call "organizers". These organizers were the ones that came after me. Their job, evidently, was to shepherd the crowd about, keep tabs on what was being said and feed information about. In other words, they were controlling it. At least most of it - the Innu seemed quite independent and doing their own thing. Some people complained that Todd Russell was nowhere to be found unless a camera was there, and others were upset that the Grand Innu Chief said Nunatsiavut was simply looking for money by way of an Impacts and Benefits Agreement for the methylmercury poisoning. Mark me down as agreeing with her position on that one.
There is no question that the Nunatsiavut Government used the methylmercury issue, at the last moment, to try and strong arm the government for money (or an IBA as the Grand Chief of the Innu said). They tried to control every aspect of the protest, including criticizing the hunger strikers methods of protesting - which given its effectiveness and popularity was somewhat suspect. Their organizers on the ground shunned the idea of people camping in the flood zone which would have been a much more effective way to protest and stop flooding. A group of Innu finally took it upon themselves to do just that by setting up tents on the North Spur on Monday. Furthermore, the leader of the group of land protectors inside the Muskrat Falls camp was an Innu - David Nuke. From my perspective on the ground the Innu were the least boisterous, but most serious of the aboriginal groups in their opposition. It was evident.
Finally of course there were the "settlers", which basically encompasses anyone living in Labrador that isn't Aboriginal. They didn't get a voice at the table when Ball met with the Aboriginal leaders, yet some of them were the people that originally started the protest. By way of example, David Nuke was asked to give an inspirational speech to the original few protesters by a "settler". That one speech ended up getting him inspired enough to join and in many ways lead the group that entered the Muskrat Falls camp. The bottom-line for most protesters I spoke to was stopping the flooding so their way of life would not be ended. Most were extremely sincere. A few, it was obvious. were cheer leading more than believing.
Then disaster struck. With the backing of the country, and even encouraging statements from the Prime Minister (finally) that science must prevail, the three Aboriginal leaders met with Premier Ball. The result? Catastrophe for the people of Labrador. The flooding will proceed of the initial 25% of the reservoir. The promise? To drain that 25% in the spring if science dictates it should be done. This would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic. It is a known scientific fact that the moment the water becomes trapped in the reservoir, and begins interacting with the soil, that mercury is released from the soil and is converted to methylmercury. That's the science. It's pretty basic. The agreement these leaders agreed to was to unleash methylmercury into the river, and then "possibly" drain that area after the fact and remove the soil and trees. As if somehow there would be no poisoning of the river by these actions. It is bizarre. Here is the demands of the Nunatsiavut President 5 days before the "negotiations" started:
“Unless all vegetation and soil is removed the threat to our health, culture and way of life remains,” he says. “Nalcor should also be directed to delay plans to begin initial flooding of the reservoir (which would see water levels rise from 18 to 25 metres) to allow for the removal of trees, vegetation and topsoil. Initial flooding is expected to take place within days, and once you flood the land the damage has been done. There’s no turning back then.”
"There is no turning back then" His words, not mine, even though it is blatantly obvious to anyone with grade 12 science. Here is the link . Yet, after 12 hours of negotiation he completely capitulated. He wasn't the only one. The Innu and Nunatukavut leader did the same. The promise they received was a spot on an "advisory committee". Having served on an advisory committee federally I know that these committees do nothing more than give advice in the end - which can be totally ignored. Ball said as much when he admitted to the press that the government doesn't give up the power of decision making to advisory groups. Translation: We flood the reservoir exactly as we wanted; we'll think about maybe emptying it in the spring to clear all the soil and trees; and we'll look at what your advisory committee suggests for the rest of reservoir, but no promises as we'll make the final decision. In other words, all the people that protested, went on hunger strikes and generally put themselves out there (including getting arrested) wasted every moment of their time and energy in doing so. They were betrayed at the last minute when they knew their position was strong and determined.
There are only a few ways this scenario can go after this: more compliance or more protest. The people that live along the river, and in the area, will see the end of their way of life unless they want to risk being poisoned. The Aboriginal leaders will have their little advisory committee and no doubt dollars to fund their own contributions to it. The settlers will be stuck in their usual position - afraid to raise objections for fear of being tagged as meddling at best or racist at the worse. Either way, this is the end of something beautiful that Labrador had to offer its people, and others from around world. This is Labrador down.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)