Members of the Labrador Land Protectors group say a United Nations representative was receptive to their concerns about Muskrat Falls — but the grand chief of the Innu Nation says they should have been consulted too.
Baskut Tuncak, UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, spoke via video chat with members of the group, who prepared a 10-page document on their concerns over the controversial hydroelectric project, and potential methylmercury contamination.
“He was very receptive on what we had to say and included a lot of great stuff in his report,” said Amy Norman of the Land Protectors. “He was listening so intently and taking notes, and had really thoughtful questions for us.”
Tuncak was invited by the federal government for an eight-stop visit between May 24 and June 6 to evaluate the government’s progress on managing toxic materials and their effect on human rights. His full report is expected in September 2020, but last week said Canada’s Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by toxic waste.
We should have been consulted and informed that a report was prepared.
– Gregory Rich
In a statement, Tuncak noted the group raises concerns over “the absence of meaningful consultation afforded to two affected First Nations, the risk of methylmercury releases contaminating traditional foods and impacting health, the unaddressed risk of dam failure, and the flooding of sites containing toxic military waste.”
He also noted it’s been alleged that that “the vast majority of the affected community would either suffer from extreme food insecurity or be forced to eat contaminated food if the dam is constructed without proper clearance of the reservoir.”
But the Innu Nation disagress with the Labrador Land Protectors on a possible way to mitigate methylmercury contamination, and their grand chief says the UN didn’t consult them about Muskrat Falls.
“We heard through the news media that this was happening,” said Gregory Rich. “We should have been consulted and informed that a report was prepared.”
While the Land Protectors believe methylmercury amounts in the water will be mitigated by removing the topsoil near the Muskrat Falls dam, the Innu Nation are concerned it will have the opposite effect.
Three of the Independent Expert Advisory Committee voting members — the Nunatsiavut government, the NunatuKavut community council and a representative of affected municipalities — voted in favour, while the fourth, the Innu Nation, voted against it.
Lies within land claim
Since the Muskrat Falls project lies within the Innu Nation’s land claim, the minority vote has been given considerable review.
“I want to make it very clear that Innu Nation has been standing [by] what the science has to say, and the current leadership understands what the science has to say,” said Rich.
Rich said four out of six scientists on an expert committee recommended that the soil not be removed, which is the information they’ve based their decisions on.
“When scientists say that removing the soil from the dam area is going to create more methylmercury, that’s the concern we share,” Rich said. “If the soil is removed it will release more methylmercury into the rivers, and I don’t understand why they don’t see that, that’s what the science says,” he said.
Norman, an Inuk who was born and raised in Labrador, said the Innu Nation are neighbours, allies, friends and family, but she doesn’t think they’re on the right track with regards to topsoil removal.
“I think they are making it a bigger issue than it needs to be,” Norman said.
“All other voting members aside from them agreed that the wetlands should be capped and the topsoil should be removed. If all other members agree to this one additional measure, what is the harm?”
The Innu Nation has since written a letter to the special rapporteur regarding the Innu claim area in which Muskrat Falls is located.
“I think the United Nations rep needs to hear both sides of the story,” Rich said. The Innu Nation haven’t received a reply, but Rich hopes the special rapporteur will examine the findings on which the Innu have based their position.
A deadline is looming for Muskrat Falls to decide on whether they will be clearing or leaving the soil, with the authorization period for the process running from July 15 until Sept. 30.
A statement to CBC from the premier’s office says he met with three indigenous leaders to discuss progress and next steps regarding IEAC’s final recommendations.
“In the meeting, all leaders agreed to respond to a terms of reference by next week, with a goal of consensus. The Indigenous leaders will reply to us and, through the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, will take the lead in setting the stage for the next meeting.”