This past November, with my cousin, mother and friends, we hiked into the reservoir of the Muskrat Falls project for one last visit to my late father’s trapline at Sand Banks on the rising edge of the Churchill River.
Michelins had been coming here for hundreds of years as hunters, trappers and traders — and there’s a good chance that we will be the last Michelins to ever come here again.
None of us had ever seen the water so high. The familiar sandy beaches — from which Sand Banks derives its name — were not to be seen as the water lapped against the base of the polar trees. The long, flowing river we all knew so well is now like a long, still, narrow lake. We were all keenly aware, despite promises from Premier Dwight Ball that the water levels would not be raised before more environmental mitigation measure could be put in place, that this place will soon be underwater.
Under the large Labrador sky we told stories about my father, grandfather, uncles, the traplines and our family history. We visited the remnants of my father’s old log cabin, long since fallen in; still, the old iron wood stove stands defiant.
It was a sombre atmosphere. I likened it to visiting a dying relative on their deathbed to pay our final respects, but as my mother pointed out it wasn’t a natural death — this member of our family is actively being killed, murdered, by Nalcor and our provincial government.
As the Muskrat Falls project slowly moves ahead we have kept telling ourselves surely someone will be the voice of reason, surely someone will hear our concerns about the stability of the dam, about downstream flooding, about methylmercury. Surely someone in power would do something — anything — before it is too late.
And yet, they have not.
No matter how we feel, no matter how scared we are, no matter the scientific evidence we bring to show our concerns are not baseless, no matter the price tag, this project continues unabated. The dam has made me question the role of Labrador in the partnership of Newfoundland and Labrador. It makes us feel like a colony being exploited for the larger population to our south.
Despite the tragedy of this environmental, cultural, and economic disaster — despite the hurt and fear — I can honestly say that I’ve never been prouder of Labradorians. I’ve seen people I never would have expected coming out to demonstrations. I’ve seen communities of resistance form, and I’ve seen people find their voice while opposing this project.
If anything, Nalcor has energized Labradorians to stand up and speak out for our rights. It has shown us how strong we can be when we stand together. I hope government and industry are paying attention, because once ignited we will not go away. We will demand that our people and our land are treated fairly.
And while it is hard to say goodbye to Sand Banks, I am so thankful to welcome this energized voice.
Ossie Michelin is a journalist and activist from North West River, Labrador, and a proud Labradorian.