Protest ended, Innu satisfied with action taken
Mushuau Innu First Nation Chief Simeon Tshakapesh challenges a security guard during Thursday’s protest. The protest happened after two Innu workers on the Muskrat Falls site said they had overheard a racial slur referring to Innu people. Early Thursday afternoon, dozens of protesters came and blocked the entrance to the Muskrat Falls worksite. — Photo by Derek Montague/The Labradorian
Nalcor Energy says it has removed the person alleged to have made racial slurs about Innu at the Muskrat Falls constuction site in Labrador.
In a statement late today, Nalcor said it met with the Innu Nation to discuss the incident that led to a protest by Innu workers that shut down the site.
Members of Nalcor Energy and Innu Nation's leadership met in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
The statement says that on Wednesday, Nalcor was advised that a contractor at the Muskrat Falls site had made racial slurs about Innu.
Nalcor said it has a zero tolerance for any workplace discrimination, and that it has processes outlined in the Impacts and Benefits Agreement (IBA) with the Innu Nation to work through workplace incidents of this nature.
“Nalcor undertook an immediate investigation of the allegations. As a resolution to this issue, Nalcor has removed the person from the work site,” read the statement.
Ed Martin, CEO Nalcor Energy, said the meeting today was very productive and conducted in an open manner.
"We are committed to a positive and respectful partnership with the Innu of Labrador and we look forward to moving ahead together with this important development," he said.
Innu Nation Grand Chief Prote Poker said, "Our Innu community members appreciate the swift action of Nalcor to bring this situation to a satisfactory resolution so that our Innu members working at the project site feel safe and respected."
The protest in Innu workers has ended at the Muskrat Falls work site in Labrador.
Nalcor and the Innu nation reached an agreement late this afternoon and details are to be released later today.
RCMP officers were also seen leaving the site.
(Full story in The Weekend Telegram).
The Innu protesters have vacated the Muskrat Falls work site, in favour of half a dozen Innu security guards. The guards are there to make sure the site remains inactive, while the controversy over an alleged racial slur incident continues.
All Muskrat Falls workers left early Thursday evening, after the protesters infiltrated the work site.
This morning, only the Innu security, the Nalcor security guards, and four police officers are at the location.
One member of the Innu leaders compared the situation to a “cease fire.”
According to one Muskrat Falls' worker, who says he was on site when the protestors began kicking people out, the demonstration became quite unsettling.
“They were banging on all the doors yelling ‘get the (explicit) out, you got one chance’ and basically left 200 people out in the cold to wait for buses to bring them elsewhere,” said the worker.
Innu Leaders are scheduled to have a meeting with Nalcor officials, including President and CEO Ed Martin, today to try and resolve the situation.
Mushuau Innu Nation Chief Simeon Tshakapesh said that demands will include: the employee, who allegedly made the racial slur that sparked this incident, to be immediately fired; and for IKC-ONE from Quebec (the contractor) to be replaced at Muskrat Falls with IKC-ONE from Ontario.
“I don’t want him (employee alleged to have made the racial slur) here,” says Tshakapesh. “We are requesting also that IKC should be removed themselves. They’re from Quebec, and we want IKC from Ontario to take over the contract we have with Nalcor.”
A spokesperson from Nalcor says that the alleged incident is under investigation and is being taken seriously.
“As soon as we were aware, Wednesday morning, Nalcor took immediate action to investigate the situation,” said the spokesperson.
“On Wednesday morning they were meeting with individuals involved in this alleged incident.
“Every individual, no matter who you’re working for, there’s things that are mandatory — such as cultural and sensitivity training, diversity, equity — these are things every worker will go through.”
Representatives from the IKC-ONE office in Happy Valley-Goose were unavailable for comment this morning.
Dozens of Innu protesters gathered at the entrance to the Muskrat Falls worksite Thursday, angry over an incident in which a project manager was allegedly overheard making a racial slur about Innu workers.
By 5 p.m. most operations at the site appeared to have been shut down, with workers trying to get home being blocked by protesters.
By early evening, almost all the protesters had gathered deep inside the worksite, where many trailers are set up. Security personnel at the scene appeared to make no effort to stop protesters driving through. By 6 p.m. the protesters decided no work was going to be done that night. Today’s work shift is also reportedly cancelled.
“At the moment the site is being shut down,” said Innu Deputy Grand Chief Jeremy Andrew. “All the (workers) that are on site are being asked to leave the site.”
Two Innu cleaners at the worksite say they overheard a project manager make a racial slur regarding Innu people.
“At the time we were cleaning the safety room,” said Amanda Benuen, one of the cleaners.
“We were half-way done what we were doing and then (he) walked in,” Benuen said.
“He sounded a bit angry when he walked in … on his way out, that’s when he said (to another person) ‘Bunch of (expletive) Indians on the site can’t do a (expletive) thing.’”
The other witness, Victoria Andrew, agreed with Benuen’s version of events and claimed she had heard the exact same thing.
A representative from Nalcor said the incident is under investigation.
At about 1:30 p.m., a swarm of Innu protesters gathered at the Muskrat Falls entrance and quickly used pickup trucks to block the entrance so no one could get in or out.
One of the first Innu leaders to show up at the site was Mushuau Innu Chief Simeon Tshakapesh, who was clearly fired up about the reported incident.
“The racism has got to stop,” said Tshakapesh. “That’s why we’re here today, the racism, the way our people are being treated.”
“I don’t give a (expletive) about Nalcor. I’m more concerned about how my people are treated,” says Tshakapesh. “I’m worried about people’s rights here…the people are being treated like (expletive) God damn dirt. It ain’t going to happen anymore.”
Eventually, the protesters, as well as some Innu leaders, began driving into the heart of the construction site. Dozens of protesters eventually showed up, effectively shutting down work for the rest of the day.
The Innu leaders who were on site said they were waiting to have a teleconference with Nalcor officials.
Those who were scheduled to work the night, starting at 6 p.m., were told not to come in for their shift.
Although Innu leaders such as Tshakapesh, Andrew, and Sheshatshiu Innu Chief Andrew Penashue were present, the demonstration was a grassroots movement organized by angry residents of the Innu community.
“This is a community-led protest. The Innu Nation never sent anyone up here, or the Band Council,” said Andrew.
Andrew believes that the alleged racial slur is not an isolated incident, and may be just the tip of the iceberg.
“I think there’s issues of workplace policies and harassment,” said Andrew.
“I think there’s a lot of incidents … going on. And I think it’s gotten to the point where nothing seems to be (getting) resolved.”