- Renewable Relations in Make Muskrat Right
8 May 2018. St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s a cold and sunny morning as I walk to Harbourside Park, where a mock memorial service called “In Loving Memory” is taking place as part of a National Day of Action protesting the massive hydroelectric generating station being constructed on the Churchill River (known by Indigenous peoples as the Grand River) at Muskrat Falls, Labrador. I can hear a drum several blocks before a small crowd becomes visible, gathered in a circle around an Inuk musician and a miniature black coffin. There are some Indigenous land protectors, but many of those who have gathered are, like myself,
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settler Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The drumming stops, and someone in the crowd acknowledges the territory on which we gather as the ancestral homeland of the Beothuk, the island of Newfoundland as the ancestral homelands of the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk, and Labrador as the ancestral homelands of the Inuit of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut and the Innu of Nitassinan. The speaker thanks us for showing up in solidarity with peaceful land defenders and water protectors across the country, after which one of the organizers reads a ‘lament’ about the future loss of sacred land and water at Muskrat Falls. There are spontaneous stories about those affected by the dam, condolences, and messages of respect for the land and water. Finally, an organizer asks everyone in attendance to write down their own ‘laments’—what we mourn about Muskrat Falls and the things we are willing to stand up for as we continue to work toward healing it. We approach the coffin one by one, silently placing the laments inside, then disperse.
Fast-forward to the Muskrat Falls Symposium, Memorial University, 28 September 2018. Organized by settler scholars, the event includes about twenty speakers, some settler and some Indigenous. Only a handful of the speakers are academics: others are activists, writers, and artists. A major topic of discussion is the role of the media in shaping how citizens have responded to the issues surrounding Muskrat Falls. While the event celebrates the role of alternative, independent media, mainstream media and settler journalists are criticized, particularly for not covering 2016’s highly publicized direct actions as The Independent’s Justin Brake did when he followed the Labrador Land Protectors onto the Muskrat Falls work site after the gate was crashed. One such settler journalist from the mainstream media is in the fifth row of the lecture theatre. In the question-and-answer session at the end of the final panel of the weekend, with her voice breaking and speech stopping between sobs, the reporter shares the story of her own coverage of Muskrat Falls, which included harassment that left her so afraid of public criticism that in the weeks before the symposium she chose to attend and report on the Muskrat Falls inquiry rather than taking time off to spend with her dying grandmother. During and in the moments after the reporter’s speech, the mood shifts inside the lecture theatre: the room is supercharged with anticipation. There is no longer noise from bodies changing positions in chairs, pens clicking, or papers rustling. The people in the first several rows all turn around in their seats; those near the back crane their necks so they can see where the reporter is sitting.
After the reporter speaks, an organizer introduces Denise Cole, an Inuit member of the Labrador Land Protectors, to close the symposium by singing “The Water Song.” Before Cole says a word, her demeanour and dress speak to the ceremony she is about to lead. Carrying a drum and decked out in a traditional fringed vest, she steps into the aisle from one of the front rows, then, rather than singing “The Water Song” at the front of the room, walks to the row where the reporter is still sitting and asks the audience to stand. Acknowledging the reporter by...