Nalcor apologizes to Innu, partners - Worker accused of racial slurs removed from worksite

Derek Montague
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Innu protesters

By early Friday morning, the Innu protesters had vacated the Muskrat Falls worksite, to be replaced by half-a-dozen Innu security guards. The guards were there to make sure the site remained inactive, while the controversy over an alleged racial slur incident continued.

All Muskrat Falls workers left early Thursday evening, after the protesters infiltrated the worksite. Friday morning, only the Innu security, the Nalcor security guards and four police officers were at the location.

One member of the Innu Nation compared the situation to a “cease-fire.”

The Muskrat Falls shutdown happened Thursday afternoon, when several dozen protesters arrived at the site, angry over an alleged incident in which two Innu workers overheard a project manager use a racial slur.

“At the time (Tuesday) we were cleaning the safety room,” says Amanda Benuen, one of the cleaners. “We were halfway done what we were doing and then (he) walked in.

“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, agrees with Benuen’s version of events and claims to have heard the same thing.

According to one Muskrat Falls worker, who says he was on site when the protesters began kicking people out, the demonstration became quite unsettling.

“They were banging on all the doors yelling ‘get the (expletive) 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 had a meeting with Nalcor officials, including President and CEO Ed Martin, Friday morning.

Mushuau Innu Nation Chief Simeon Tshakapesh said, before the meeting, two of the demands will be one: the employee, who allegedly made the racial slur that sparked this incident, to be immediately fired, and two; for IKC-ONE from Quebec (who supposedly is the contractor who employs the accused) to be replaced at Muskrat Falls with IKC-ONE from Ontario.

“I don’t want him (the accused) 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 said Friday that the alleged incident was under investigation and 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 … we’re still going through the investigation.”

“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.”

Late Friday afternoon, Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell gave a hint that a resolution was found to end the stand off. In a statement to The Labradorian, Russell said he witnessed Nalcor President Ed Martin make an apology to the Innu people.

 “I was absolutely pleased to see Ed Martin address the Innu leadership and all the Innu present,” said Russell. “It was a great gesture on his behalf to … offer his hand in friendship and apologize on behalf of what they went through with the incident.”

After the talks concluded, a joint news release by the Innu Nation and Nalcor confirmed that a resolution has been reached. It also confirmed what many thought would happen; the individual who made the alleged racial slur has been removed from the worksite.

“Today members of Nalcor Energy and Innu Nation's leadership met in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to open dialogue regarding recent events at the Muskrat Falls construction site in Labrador,” read the news release.

Nalcor undertook an immediate investigation of the allegations. As a resolution to this issue, Nalcor has removed the person from the worksite.

In its news release Nalcor apologized to the individual Innu employees involved in the incident, its IBA partners and the Innu of Labrador.

“We had a very productive meeting today and in an open manner," said Ed Martin, CEO Nalcor Energy in the news release. "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.”  

Innu Nation Grand Chief Prote Poker also stated in the news release, “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 worksite was scheduled to be back up and running at 8 a.m. this morning.

Geographic location: Quebec, Ontario, Labrador Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell Happy Valley Goose Bay

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Recent comments

  • Double Standards
    April 21, 2013 - 00:37

    It is very disturbing how much of a double standard there is when it comes to dealing with these types of situations. Law enforcement didn't do anything when the innocent workers were held hostage and forcefully ejected from their camp rooms into the cold with no where to go. These kinds of acts seemed fair right? I guess they don't have the right to work in a safe and respectable workplace either. Innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply either; this all happened so fast there was NO investigation into the alleged accusation and this person was thrown under the bus. What kind of society have we become that someone can point a finger and get rid of anyone they don't approve of without any investigation. I feel really sorry for anyone working on that site that god forbid ever has to reprimand any of these workers. This has set a very unfortunate and dangerous precedence and I don't think this will be the last time we hear about this.

  • RACISM must be eradicated from society. STOP IT IMMEDIATELY.
    April 20, 2013 - 11:51

    I have to confess that I have never worked on a construction site like this, but I assume that this construction site shares the same type of work-place friction that you will find on every work site in the World from time to time. I do know though that we all have the right to feel Safe at our work sites, be Governed by a Code of Ethics that contain a great set of Human Rights and that nobody should be subjected to Racism. I also know Racism has no place in society. RACISM Must Be Eradicated, since it stunts the growth and destroys the Soul of those subjected to it; AND it KILLS, those afflicted, in more ways than one.!

  • Really?
    April 20, 2013 - 08:41

    Towards the end of the story it read, "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." Well isn't that a two way street? What will be of the innu workers when they make comments about the "other" workers on that site? Shouldnt everyone have the right to work in a safe and respected worksite? We all know how it works on these types of sites, putting the land issues aside, many "workers" have to do their own job and the work of many others with a "poor work ethic", and heaven forbid if you let it slip and vent your frustration, all hell breaks loose and you just painted a target on your back, sort of speak. Someone tell me this is not the reallity and the truth of it all.

    • Alexis
      April 21, 2013 - 21:16

      It's the weight of the derogatory comment made and the inequality between the parties involved. Yes, comments like this are likely made in all work places and all environments, but when someone feels a sense of privilege and power over another person based on race, then it's not acceptable. Nalcor likely acted quickly because they are educated on human rights, equality and the racism aboriginals have faced for hundreds of years. (Read "The Lure of the Labrador Wild" to see two white explorers degrade an aboriginal person who literally saved the authors life- The book was written in the early 1900's yet the same racist thought still exists today). It's not just an off hand comment by an angry employee, it's a deep seeded belief held by many that a person of another race is "less than". Nalcor is employing a FAST learning curve and all employees who hope to keep their jobs better catch on quick. Racism is not acceptable, for very good reasons. Please seek to educate yourselves on the depth and meaning behind that "one off hand comment" as there is a lot to learn.

  • John Smith
    April 20, 2013 - 07:33

    Any other group would go through the normal channels, which are there for just this sort of case. Not these guys though...nope, they need to shut down the whole project. I think this is all part of a much bigger agenda, to slow down, and stymie the project at any opportunity, to try to embarrass the employer...when all they are doing is embarrassing themselves....again...