Beatrice Hunter seems to have been the cause of just such an impatient growl from our otherwise domesticated provincial government. The RCMP have had almost a century of practice to perfect their aboriginal-control techniques, and they were on hand to carry out the arrest of a peaceful, gentle Innu grandmother and riverkeeper. Her crime: being concerned for her river.
Beatrice Hunter’s incarceration at HMP will, I feel certain, be remembered as one of those classic overreactive mistakes that governments and their police forces make, usually when large amounts of money are involved.
Beatrice Hunter has now joined the ranks of courageous indigenous women who refuse to back down in the face of bureaucratic and industrial power.
Who can forget the tireless and fearless work of Elizabeth Penashue, who saw from the beginning that her river was under attack and tried with all her considerable abilities to defend it. Beatrice Hunter has the same honest instinct to protect the sacred environment of her people.
We, whose gods were long ago driven out of the natural environment and forced to take refuge in churches, still remember Rigoberta Menchu. She was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1992 for her work in organizing the aboriginal people of Guatemala.
Some may recall also Ruth Buendia, whose stand against a hydro project on the Ene River in Peru earned her a Goldmann Environmental Prize in 2014. That dam was never built, but the Muskrat Falls project goes ahead, regardless of cost, regardless of environmental degradation — regardless, many would say, of common sense. Beatrice Hunter’s name belongs with these role models.
Nobody relishes the prospect of having to “freeze in the dark,” but surely there must be a less costly alternative? The financial cost is probably manageable — it’s only money. But the environmental cost seems to worry the government and the project managers less — it’s only trees and water and things like that.
When our natural environment is commodified, and valued only in terms of what can be taken from it — how it can enrich some commercial corporation — then our collective humanity is damaged. However much we may benefit from the electrical power we derive from such projects, we are lesser beings because of it.
It’s a mistake to think of hydroelectric power as clean energy. The damage to natural environments, which is inevitable in such massive projects, must be put in the balance against any financial or political gain.
If our politicians want to be noted in the history books, they may find that green initiatives will impress future generations far more than one more river valley despoiled, one more indigenous culture trashed.