The crisis at Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland/Labrador has been settled peacefully. Last week a confrontation between the Innu First Nation and the provincial government came to a head when a report regarding the new hydro-electric dam was released.
The report pointed out the danger of allowing vegetation to be inundated when the nearly completed project filled the reservoir behind the dam. The soil in the area is higher in mercury than average. The form that is taken up by the plants is not readily absorbed and is relatively non-toxic. However, when plant material is submerged and starts to rot, the mercury is converted to a much more toxic form of the element.
This more toxic form of mercury, methyl-mercury, can dissolve in water and can be absorbed by living organisms. Animals such as fish can absorb it and store it in their bodies. They may suffer subtle damage from it. The toxic substance passes up the food chain, accumulating in ever-greater concentrations.
The people of Innu First Nation were concerned that the methyl-mercury would bio-accumulate in the fish, seals and birds upon which they depend for food.
When their concerns seemed to gain no traction, they peacefully occupied the dam site and demanded that the filling of the reservoir be halted.
What those in charge of the project did was in sharp contrast to the situation at Standing Rock in N. Dakota. The 700 workers on the site were quickly evacuated by plane. Premier Dwight Ball met with the Innu Nation and their representatives. Concerns were expressed and acknowledged. Agreements were reached and a way forward was mapped out.
Following is a quote from the NL premier:
"Today's meeting was about one thing: the health of Labradorians," Ball said at about 2 a.m., after the meeting's conclusion. He said the parties reached "common ground on a lot of concerns, a lot of different issues today." CBC
Canada has a bleak record of dealing with its First Nations. Improvements in the relationship are being made, but very slowly. The quick, peaceful settlement of this issue illustrates how respectful negotiations can benefit all.
Further reading: Democracy Now
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