President Sarah Leo alleges exclusion of Inuit people on Muskrat Falls
Representatives from the Government of Nunatsiavut are seen at a news conference at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s today. The government, representing Inuit within the Labrador-Inuit land claim, flew members to the provincial capital in order to draw attention to outstanding concerns around the Muskrat Falls hydro development. — Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram
The Government of Nunatsiavut is pointing to the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, asking both the provincial government and Nalcor Energy to respond to calls for further consultation on the proposed Muskrat Falls hydro project.
Members of the aboriginal government flew to St. John’s for a news conference at the Sheraton Hotel this morning, where the Nunatsiavut leaders laid out their concerns over the hydro project.
“We want to make it quite clear that Labrador Inuit have well established aboriginal rights and titles downstream from Muskrat Falls, and these rights are constitutionally protected in the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement. We fully expect the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the Government of Canada to respect that agreement,” said Nunatsiavut President Sarah Leo.
“We strongly believe this development will negatively impact communities in central Labrador, the Inuit community of Rigolet and the entire Lake Melville ecosystem.”
Leo pointed to about 30 separate submissions made by the Government of Nunatsiavut to the joint provincial-federal environmental review panel for the project, on various potential socio-economic, environmental and health-related concerns connected with the development.
“The panel found that many of our concerns were valid and agreed with many of our recommendations,” Leo said.
“Much of the debate around this project has been about the economics of it. But to us, the Labrador Inuit, the economics of the project are of secondary importance. Much, much more important is the fundamental human right to a safe and healthy environment and protection of our treaty rights.”
The Labrador Inuit Settlement Area reaches across the eastern two-thirds of Lake Melville and a main concern for the Nunatsiavut government is the level of potentially dangerous methylmercury within lake and whether the development of the Lower Churchill will increase methylmercury levels.
Since the environmental review, the Nunatsiavut government has spent $150,000 and launched a research and monitoring project, aimed at providing baseline information for the lake — including on mercury and methylmercury levels — and considering potential downstream effects of constructing dams at Muskrat Falls and Gull Island.
The research program began this summer and $1.5 million has been spent to date, including the aboriginal government’s initial investment and support leveraged from independent researchers.
“Given the clear lack of work done by Nalcor and the Newfoundland and Labrador government, we have approached both Nalcor and the Newfoundland and Labrador government to provide funding and resources to help with our program,” said Darryl Shiwak.“To date these requests have fallen on deaf ears.”
Leo said letters to the provincial government have also gone unanswered.
She said her government would like both the province and Nalcor to acknowledge the land and people of Nunatsiavut will be affected as a result of the project, then “come on board” with the ongoing monitoring program and begin discussions on potential mitigation measures that are found to be needed as a result of the hydro development.
If there is no response from the province and provincial government, Shiwak said all options are on the table when it comes to response.
Asked if the aboriginal government was calling for the project to be halted, Leo said it would be “a strong statement,” one she was not committed to making at this point.
At the time of the press conference, no plans had been made for a meeting between the delegation from Nunatsiavut and either the provincial government or Nalcor.
The Telegram has contacted both Nalcor and the provincial government seeking response.
More in Thursday’s edition.