The matter is closed. At least, the lid’s shut and they’re all sitting on top of it, but there’s so much stuff underneath, it keeps forcing itself out — revealing a whole host of matters to public scrutiny.
The matter, this latest matter, started when two Muskrat Falls workmen failed to repair an old pump as ordered by the project manager for a Nalcor/SNC-Lavalin subcontractor called IKC-One Earthworks Constructors.
Two women working for the same company say they overheard the manager angrily complain to another man that the pump did not need replacing, as the two would-be repairmen had reported. The real problem, according to the manager (as heard by the two women), was the race of the employees and that race’s inherent laziness.
“The other guy didn’t say anything,” one of the women explained. “(The manager) had to know we were in the building. He could hear us come in.”
A blockade, an occupation, some sudden flights to Labrador and almost a million dollars of lost construction time later, and Nalcor’s top officials — who didn’t immediately send their lawyers to get an injunction to keep these particular protesters away from land they consider to be their own, but instead dropped everything to get to Labrador as quickly as possible to discuss terms with an angered Innu Nation — seem confident that their apology for the highly offensive remarks makes everything better.
As far as that single offence is concerned, they’re probably right. The offended people wanted the offender to go and he is gone — maybe not fired, as the two witnesses had demanded, but at least banished from Labrador.
The apology, however, has only closed that one incident.
The people blocking the entrance to Muskrat Falls (who were soon to be driving onto the site to evict a couple hundred startled workers) said the whole project displayed bias — not just against Innu and not just collectively against all of Labrador’s aboriginal peoples, either, but also generally against the people of Labrador.
Protesters complained that not only were too few Innu, Inuit and NunatuKavut peoples working for Nalcor (only a total of 71 out of 466), but with the completion of temporary worker accommodations onsite, the company wanted to cancel its shuttle bus to and from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The local workers were told they had to find their own way to work, but would have no place to park their cars and trucks except on the shoulders of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
It all added up to one thing for the protesters: a demand for respect.
The majority of Labrador Innu have so far supported the development through the as-yet incomplete ratification of New Dawn, but their apparent disinterest in the controversy around Muskrat Falls only lasted as long as they didn’t think Nalcor was taking them for granted.
As one of many signs proclaimed:
And as one protest organizer declared: “We sanctioned this project and sure as f--- we can stop it.”
Stop it they did, for a couple of days, at least, but they did more. They also led Natuashish Chief Simeon Tshakapesh, who assumed leadership of the protest, to make this statement:
“I don’t believe any race should be superior. … One race is not to judge any ethnic groups, especially to aboriginal groups in Labrador: Innu, Inuit, Metis, settlers … we are humans like the rest of the world.”
Chief Tshakapesh’s declaration of solidarity — even with an aboriginal group the Innu Nation has resisted recognizing — bodes well for Labrador if this spirit of co-operation and mutual support is allowed to grow.
In the meantime, the chief has turned his focus to the wider aspects of the issue that started it all.
“I want to be informed right away if my fellow Innu people … encounter any racial profiling, racial slurs, basically racism in any public places, or even workplaces,” Tshakapesh announced. “These public places (include) RCMP detachments, schools, colleges across Canada, Health Labrador hospital, eastern hospitals, Child, Youth and Family Services buildings, churches, gas stations, stores, airports, etc. … My people, make sure you get names … or even get their licence plates and their work places. That’s all I need. I will take it from there.”
It’s only starting to open.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.