© Derek Montague photo
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.