Special to the Labradorian
Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue says her main priority before the end of her life is to protect the Churchill River.
“I want to save the river and the land for the children, the future generations,” Penashue said. “I don’t want to be gone and have a big mess in our river.”
Every winter for the past 13 years, the 67-year-old Innu elder has organized a snowshoe trek to bring attention to environmental issues and her goal of protecting the land. Every summer for nearly 20 years, she has organized a canoe trip, demonstrating the importance of the Churchill River to the Innu people. She also organizes a trek to Gull Island in the fall from Happy Valley-Goose Bay as a silent protest to the damming of the Churchill River. She writes countless letters to the editor to defend her cause.
Penashue doesn’t get around as easily as she did 13 years ago and that has forced her to end her annual snowshoe trek, as she completed her final trek this winter, but she said she has every intention of carrying on with her canoe trek and walk to Gull Island.
“If I teach the children what I’m doing and who I am, maybe when I’m gone someone will be doing what I’m doing,” she said.
Penashue said she is not trying to bring the Innu people back to the way of living that they followed in the past, but she doesn’t want the people to lose their culture, a culture that is strongly woven into the traditional and ancestral territory.
She and her family already went through the loss of ancestral territory, burial grounds and hunting land and gear with the flooding associated with the damming of the Upper Churchill River in the 1970s. She said she remembers her father describing the falls and the mist you could see from miles away.
“I don’t want to see another dam because of what happened at Churchill Falls already,” she remarked.
Penashue said she follows the news and she keeps hearing about problems with the proposed project.
“Why is the government trying so hard to go ahead," she said. “It’s just money and business.”
Penashue said she is worried about what will happen to people, especially young people in the community if the project goes ahead.
In March, the provincial and federal government gave the final go-ahead on the environmental assessment process, expressing the belief that the benefits of the project outweigh the risks. The project was also released from further provincial assessment at that time.
The Environmental Assessment Joint Review Panel for the Lower Churchill Project submitted their report on the project in August of last year. When their role in the environmental assessment process ended last summer, they reported, amongst other things, that they did not feel that the information provided by Nalcor was ‘inadequate’ recommending that a new independent analysis be carried out to look further into the need for the project as well as alternatives.
In December local environmental organization, the Grand Riverkeeper, combined forces with Sierra Club Canada to file an application for judicial review (a form of lawsuit that does not seek damages) against Nalcor and a number of federal departments who have responsibility for the project for what they say was an unlawful approval of the proposed project. NunatuKavut also filed a lawsuit along with the two environmental organizations. The application was filed to the federal court.
Lara Tessaro, the Ecojustice lawyer working for the environmental organizations, spoke to the Labradorian on June 12.
Tessaro explained that there were a number of conditions of the environmental assessment that were required to have been met before the project could be approved, including considering alternatives for the project, determining the need for the project and investigating the cumulative effects of the project.
She said the panel was required to carry out the three mandatory duties before the environmental assessment could move forward but that these requirements were not met. She explained that these were legal failings in the environmental assessment process.
Nalcor had since secured permits from the federal departments named in the court case which Tessaro said was not legal and the department of natural resources has negotiated a loan guarantee which has been approved in principle, albeit not yet granted.
“Our argument is that because the environmental assessment was incomplete and unlawful, that none of the federal permits should be issued and the loan guarantee can’t be issued until there’s been a lawful complete assessment,” Tessaro said.
The lawyer has completed filing the grievances on behalf of the organization and is waiting to hear back from the courts. Tessaro said she could not speculate on a length of time for a decision to be made.
The environmental groups are not seeking any form of compensation but instead are asking for a judicial ruling that will force the panel to reconvene and for the proponent to gather the information that would be necessary for the panel to carry out the role it was originally intended to do.
“By and large the panel did a good job but they didn’t finish it,” she said.
The court date for the lawsuit has yet to be set.
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