Before coming to Labrador, I read about some of the problems resource development has caused in the area. But coming into the community and hearing everyone speak about it shows me just how much I missed.
Here’s some background on what’s going on in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the surrounding towns: A dam, officially named the Lower Churchill Project but more commonly called Muskrat Falls, is being built an hour away from the town of Happy Valley. Many people in the community are opposed to it’s construction. A dam was built in Labrador previously; it brought the promise of economic growth for the area but left the community dealing with high prices on housing and groceries while residents in Quebec benefited from the cheap energy the dam provided. This, understandably, leaves people here uncomfortable with the idea of a dam so close to home. But more seriously, the construction of the dam has health consequences that cannot be overlooked. It’s construction will lead to a rise in methylmercury in fish and other animals that come in contact with water near the dam. Since so many people here eat food that is hunted or fished in the area, additional methylmercury in the animals is not only an environmental concern but also a human health concern.
People here have protesting the construction of the dam since before the project was even approved. A group called the Labrador Land Protectors has made headlines for protesting on the construction site and voicing the concern of people in the area. Many of these protestors were issued court dates but the most notable case so far has been Beatrice Hunter.
Hunter is an Inuk grandmother and someone who refuses to comply with what she, and so many others, feel is unjust. When asked by a judge if she would promise to stay away from the construction site, she answered honestly, no she couldn’t. She was then imprisoned (and forced to stay in a men’s prison because the female facility was full). She appeared in court again and was released but Hunter’s story and the stories of all the other Land Protectors, protestors, and activists in the community are far from over.
What makes matters more difficult is that key government officials are remaining silent on the issue. For example, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and Minister of Intergovernmental and Indigenous Affairs Secretariat said nothing regarding Hunter’s imprisonment.
Despite the pushback from the community, the dam is being constructed. Hearing people say that and writing it myself leaves me uneasy; the dam does not serve the community’s best interests. While the government may try to compensate the residents, there is no real way to make up for the changes this will cause in people’s way of life.