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News brief: Muskrat Falls flooding to start any day, leaving Innu and Inuit vulnerable to mercury poisoning

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The first phase of the flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir may start as early as this weekend, putting health and traditional hunting practices of Labrador Innu and Inuit at risk.

Independent researchers from Harvard University, Memorial University in St. John’s, and the University of Manitoba have raised the alarm about the accumulation of methylmercury downstream from the Muskrat Falls development.

“The people here are very worried and concerned about their future, and most importantly about their children and grandchildren’s future, because methylmercury usually stays within the system for three to four decades,” Nunatsiavut Minister of Land and Natural Resources Darryl Shiwak told the Nova Scotia Advocate in April of this year.

The new research establishes that some residents who lead traditional lifestyle may experience an increase in methylmercury exposure of up to 1500% following reservoir flooding.  And almost half the community will exceed the Health Canada guideline for methylmercury exposure.

Methylmercury is a dangerous poison that can cause neurological impairment in developing brains, particularly in cognitive thinking, attention, and memory.

Contemporary Inuk artist Billy Gauthier has gone on a hunger strike to draw attention to the issue.  

“I am about to have my last meal, which will be salmon caught from Rigolet, Labrador,” Gauthier says in a video he recorded.  “I feel this is an attack not just on me, not just on my family, but also on my culture, which is Inuit, and on every Labaradorian who actually respects the land.”

The situation can be remedied. But it’s expensive, as it will require Nalcor, the provincial energy corporation that runs the mega energy project, to clear the future Muskrat Falls reservoir area of wood, brush, vegetation and topsoil. Cost estimates hover around $200 million.

Neither Nalcor nor the provincial government want to hear about further cost increases.

Nova Scotia, via the Maritime Link, stands to benefit from the Muskrat Falls project, as it lessens our dependence on coal-generated electricity. But provincial media has been silent on the downstream impact of the project.

The Independent, a Newfoundland and Labrador online publication, has been providing extensive coverage of the indigenous resistance to Muskrat Falls.

Featured image: Billy Gauthier, Circum-Arctic Art Show