HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY - The Labrador Land Protectors had a sharing circle with MP Yvonne Jones and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett on Nov. 23, on the eve of the residential school apology.
Denise Cole, LLP member, spoke to the group and one of the issues she brought forward, as did others, was the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada has committed to respecting UNDRIP, as it is known, within its laws. One of the articles of UNDRIP states a project on indigenous land should not go forward without the free and prior informed consent of the people.
Bennett said her government is moving forward now on a new approach to environmental assessment and approving major projects while honouring the spirit and intent of the treaties. She said they not only support UNDRIP but are working on the kind of rights recognition, in a framework and in legislation, that will do even more than the UN declaration.
Bennett was evasive however on whether that commitment meant anything in terms of the Muskrat Falls project.
“I think going backwards is going to be very difficult,” she said. “Reviewing things that were approved before is, I think, something that wold be very, very difficult going forward, in terms of the integrity of our way of building trust and being able to go forward.”
Bennett told the assembled group she understood their concerns and sympathized. She referenced the concerns about methylmercury and how it relates to country food and thereby, a traditional lifestyle.
“Everything Yvonne (Jones) and I are trying to do with Nutrition North, when we talk about affordable food we know it has to be the fish and the animals,” she said. “It’s the seal and the marine animals that are going to allow people to go their traditional ways. The traditional way is important and that spiritual association with the land and the water, we can’t ignore how important that is.”
LLP got to share concerns
A number of LLP members spoke in the circle, citing their concerns with the North Spur, methylmercury and different levels of government.
“You’re here for truth and reconciliation, but it’s more lies and deceit,” said John Learning, telling Bennett and Jones their government is turning a blind eye to what’s happening at Muskrat Falls.
Marjorie Flowers, who spent 10 days in jail after refusing to stay away from Muskrat Falls, spoke of the loss of country food that could come from methylmercury poisoning.
“It’s part of what sustains us. The fish, the salmon, the trout, the shellfish, seals in the spring. To think that there could be so much methylmercury buildup in that food web that we can’t harvest that anymore, that’s the crime, that’s the criminal activity that’s going on.”
Flowers said she doesn’t understand how government officials don’t seem to see the issues and while the indigenous population of Labrador is small their concerns are real.
“I feel grateful that you’re here to listen to us firsthand,” she said. “Even though it’s a small population, we are still people, we’re still human beings, we still have rights, we’re still Canadian citizens and pay taxes like everyone else. Shouldn’t we be heard? We need to be heard.”