Dam protest escalates with arrests, hunger strike

Published in Windspeaker newspaper | April 26, 2013 | Circulation: 145,000


Opposition to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador continues with Innu workers shutting down the construction site alleging racism, two weeks after the arrest of eight Inuit leaders at another protest against the dam.

The latest setback for Crown Corporation Nalcor came at the end of the workday on April 18 when Innu employees blocked other staff from leaving the project claiming they had faced racial slurs from a project manager.

A company supervisor reportedly stormed off the site shouting, “Bunch of f—king Indians on the site; can’t do no f—king thing,” said Amanda Benuen, an Innu cleaning employee who told CBC News she overheard the racist comments. Within a day, the company had apologized to Innu leaders.

“Nalcor undertook an immediate investigation of the allegations,” the firm said in a statement. “As a resolution to this issue, Nalcor has removed the person from the work site. We are committed to a positive and respectful partnership with the Innu of Labrador and we look forward to moving ahead together with this important development.”

The incident came only two weeks after RCMP arrested eight Inuit who were blocking a major highway leading to the dam site on April 5, one of them an elder with cancer who launched a nearly week-long hunger strike in custody.

Jim Learning, 74, said signing his undertaking conditions barring protest would trump his Inuit treaty rights. The dam site lies on territory claimed by the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC), an Aboriginal group not recognized by the government.

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