Billy Gauthier, a stone sculptor described as one of the definitive Inuit artists of his generation, started a hunger strike on 7 p.m., Oct. 13 and he will not eat again until the Muskrat Falls reservoir is cleared of all vegetation before it’s flooded. The flooding could begin as early as Saturday, Oct. 15.
Gauthier, who lives in Northwest River, said he’s a person who cares about the land, a person who realizes that the land has built him, built his family, and will continue — hopefully — to build many generations in the future. Gauthier’s work is heavily influenced by his culture and the Labrador landscape.
“If somebody helps you out over and over and over and becomes a great friend to you and then all of a sudden you see that person being attacked?” he said. “I mean, anybody is going to attack, anybody is going to fight back for their friend. Well this is my friend. For all the people here in Labrador who know and respect the land, this is the only way I knew how.”
Gauthier said he still has a lot of energy, since the strike just started, but he’s trying to conserve it because he knows he will need it soon. He’s still drinking water but says that may change in the future. What won’t change, he said, is that he will not eat until all vegetation is cleared from the reservoir, no matter what.
“If they start flooding, some people think I might start eating again, that I’ll just give up. No. From what I’ve read they’re allowed to start as early as this Saturday (Oct. 15),” he said.
“If they start that, I still won’t stop. I’m not going to eat. I will not eat, even if they flood that area they have to let the water out, then cut it all, and remove it. They think flooding is going to get me to stop. No. If they can’t reverse it then that is killing me because I will die.”
Gauthier said he believes his decision ends in his death, his purpose will still be achieved.
“If this goes all the way, it will still be in favour of the land. People will not stand for it. If I have to give up my life to do it, I’m sure, I’m confident there will be a huge outcry. I hope so, I really do hope if I’m gone this still changes.”
He said he never liked the project from the beginning and had talked to as many people as he could about how much he disliked the project. He said he attended a number of protests but had mostly stopped attending, for a number of reasons.
“I didn’t do my part then. I’m trying to make up for that now. I cannot just stand by and watch this happen to my land. I honestly believe the only true owners of something are those who appreciate it,” he said. “Those who abuse it, they are a thief. It’s up to the good people to make the differences and that’s my duty. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m not letting anybody steal from my land, from my culture, anymore.”
Gauthier said he hopes all the friends and contact he has made throughout the years will rally to his corner and help win the war, even if he loses this battle. With the flooding imminent drastic measures had to be taken, he said, and he felt there was no other choice.
“I’m really sorry it had to come to this,” he said. “I truly believe it had to come to this. And I do have to do this.”