In an extraordinary victory for Indigenous rights and environmental protection, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has agreed to measures to reduce immediate risks to Inuit health and culture from the Muskrat Falls dam.
Following almost two weeks of protests, including a hunger strike, occupations of the dam site and a journey to Ottawa, the government met yesterday with Inuit and Innu leaders. The result was an agreement to:
- Establish an independent expert advisory committee, with Indigenous representation, to recommend measures to reduce risks to human health and the environment.
- Share detailed rationale supporting the claimed need for immediate partial flooding of the reservoir so that this can be reviewed by the affected Indigenous peoples.
- Ensure that if any flooding does take place this year it is only temporary, so that further mitigation measures can be taken next year after advisory committee has reviewed the options.
Delilah Saunders, one of the three Inuit activists who had been taking part in the hunger strike, said last night, “I’m going to sleep with a full tummy for the first time in 10 days and a very, very full heart. Will write more tomorrow but I want to say nakummek to everyone who continue to protect our beautiful land and way of life.”
Yesterday’s agreement is a crucial because the more land that is flooded, and the longer it stays under water, the more deadly methylmercury will be released into the food chain.
Inuit leaders and activists have called for full clearing of soil and vegetation from the floodzone to reduce these risks, a prevention strategy recommended by an independent study from Harvard University and by the environmental assessment of the Muskrat Falls dam. Until now, this recommendation has been ignored by the federal and provincial governments but will now be considered by the advisory committee.
Until a final decision is made, Amnesty International will continue to support the call to #MakeMuskratRight.