Make Muskrat Right

Over the past year I’ve had the immense honour and pleasure of travelling to the community of Rigolet in Nunatsiavut, Labrador to help develop a community designed web and mobile application to track the things that are fundamentally important to the people who live there. And if you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you’ll know that the impact this community has had on me cannot be understated. Even now, I have trouble putting into words what it is about Rigolet and the people who live there that is so beautiful, so inspiring, so amazing. And yet I sit here now, on the eve of World Food Day, wondering how our government is ignoring the very real cry of the people who call Rigolet and the surrounding areas home.

For those not in the know, World Food Day commemorates the October 16, 1945 founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, during a gathering of 42 countries in Quebec, Canada. During the gathering, the assembled countries set the lofty goal of freeing humanity from hunger and malnutrition. Since then the world has made great strides in reducing hunger and malnutrition, but there still remains a lot to do. And so, every October 16th we celebrate this goal by calling people to action to alleviate the suffering of those who lack food security. But what exactly is food security? According to the 1996 World Food Summit:

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

But food security is more than just access to nutritious food. Food security also involves access to food that is culturally appropriate; something that is embedded within the food preferences phrase of the definition. This means access to traditional foods, and the ability to prepare food in a culturally appropriate manner.

And this is where I can’t help but question the decisions I’ve seen regarding the Muskrat Falls Project in Labrador. With the introduction of a hydroelectric generating facility, the Muskrat Falls Project promises to provide the province of Newfoundland & Labrador with clean, renewable energy for generations to come. But, despite scientific warnings indicating that the current development could lead to an increase in methylmercury that exceeds the guidelines of both Health Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Government has decided to go ahead with the project.

So what’s the problem? As so eloquently written in this open letter by my friends and colleagues Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo and Dr. Sherilee Harper, “without removing organic material from the site to be flooded, methylmercury levels in the Lake Melville ecosystem are anticipated to significantly increase, leading to contamination of important country food sources in the region, and leading to increased methylmercury exposure for Indigenous Peoples in the region reliant on these food sources.”

In short, the decisions we make today will potentially poison the food supply of entire communities who live within the Lake Melville ecosystem; including Rigolet. What makes this situation even worse is that the Indigenous Peoples of Labrador have been suffering for years because Climate Change has already affected their ability to hunt and gather the country food that is so important to their culture and way of life. Shorter winters have made hunting less safe, and closed off the ice that once was the mainstay connection between community and the land. Changing weather patterns have had an impact on their ability to achieve food security.

And now the Muskrat Falls Project has the potential to make matters so much worse. And despite the thousands of Indigenous voices and despite the best scientific evidence, we have chosen to allow an entire region, an entire people, to be poisoned.

World Food Day was borne of a celebration of the lofty goal of freeing humanity from hunger and malnutrition, a goal that was described in Canada during the gathering of representatives from 42 countries in 1945, a goal based in the idea that it was our moral imperative to do more to ensure that everyone had access to healthy nutritious food. Today I am deeply saddened and angry that we have apparently forgotten this goal.

I am proud to stand in solidarity with the Nunatsiavut Government, the Indigenous Nations of Labrador, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and all the individuals and communities who are calling to #MakeMuskratRight.

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