Ever since NunatuKavut protesters blocked the front gates of the Muskrat Falls destruction site more than a year ago, many in Labrador have wondered why the courts were so quick to take action against them, to keep them and all their kind away from Nalcor territory.
The question was raised again when a subsequent work stoppage forced by Innu Nation members (one sparked by accusations of racism rather than a demand for the government and its agencies to respect aboriginal rights) resulted in immediate negotiations instead of instant retaliation.
How did the Innu Nation’s demands get satisfied by no less than the head of Nalcor in person after an invasion and occupation (an incident which clearly frightened some fleeing Nalcor employees) when a few members of NunatuKavut couldn’t even peacefully set foot on Nalcor land for a few minutes without getting thrown in jail, or jam up the gates for a few hours before being served a ready-made, heavy-handed injunction?
What is the difference between them? The wonderment forms the basis of a lawsuit launched against the energy corporation. The NunatuKavut Community Council is appealing Nalcor’s injunction on the grounds of unfair discrimination.
“When we demonstrate on our traditional territory, we are slapped with an unprecedented lawsuit that has the effect of permanently prohibiting and extinguishing our rights and title to that land,” said the NCC’s president. “The Inuit of NunatuKavut should be afforded the same dignity as other aboriginal groups.”
The NunatuKavut appeal makes a common and reasonable assumption: that Nalcor gives them the stick and the Innu a carrot because the provincial government itself discriminates between the two. The Progressive Conservatives discovered that if they don’t recognize NunatuKavut people as aboriginal, they need only deal with the Innu — a prime example of a colonial divide-and-conquer strategy in action.
However, recent developments have put Nalcor’s unbalanced responses into a new light. Perhaps the big difference between the NunatuKavut and Innu Nation actions had to do with human waste — the Innu didn’t block its disposal, but NunatuKavut did.
Nalcor seems to be very sensitive about the issue, since one of the “safety” concerns cited was how sewage trucks were prevented from entering the site. What wasn’t asked at the time, and should have been, was why those trucks were working there.
According to what Nalcor told the Joint Review Panel assessing the Lower Churchill project’s environmental impacts, all sewage would be treated on site. There was no mention of trucking it raw to neighbouring municipalities. Nalcor claimed there was only a small “likelihood of a release of untreated sewage.”
As it turns out, the likelihood wasn’t small at all. Raw Nalcor sewage has been dumped in at least two communities: Sheshatshiu and North West River.
The trucked raw sewage, as Nalcor’s vice-president explained, was not from the main construction complex, but from the many outlying outhouses that are not connected to Nalcor’s treatment facility. The unsanctioned outside dumping was not only hidden from the public, but the origins of the waste were kept from municipal officials asked to accept it.
When Sheshatshiu’s tanks could take no more of it, the subcontractor (as a local TC Media reporter discovered) let North West River’s town manager believe that it had been produced locally, not at Muskrat Falls.
After the truth started coming out, Nalcor vice-president Gilbert Bennett did two interviews with the CBC.
There are at least two questions that still need answering: why did Bennett not know that his company’s raw sewage was being dumped into Lake Melville, and just how long has it been going on?
The incident makes many wonder how many other similar violations of the Joint Review Panel report are taking place — with or without Nalcor’s knowledge.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.