Protesters who refuse solid food take fight against Muskrat Falls to Ottawa

An Inuk artist protesting the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador says he’s lost more than eight kilograms after ten days of consuming nothing but water but is prepared to die for his cause.

Billy Gauthier says he ate his last meal — salmon — on Oct. 13.

“Being Labradorians, we’re stubborn and we’re strong, so we don’t believe we can’t win,” Gauthier said in a phone interview Sunday. “Hopefully this will be fixed fairly soon … If it takes my death, it will only make my people stronger.”

Supporters gathered around the Human Rights monument in Ottawa on Sunday to support Gauthier along with two other protesters, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister. They are trying to draw attention to their protest over planned flooding of a reservoir that critics fear could pose health risks to Inuit communities and other residents living in the Lake Melville region of Labrador.

Saunders and Kohlmeister, who both hail from Goose Bay, are sustaining themselves with liquid broth, Gauthier said.

The three protesters donned face masks as they made their way to Ottawa, their air travel in part funded by a GoFundMe account that has raised more than $9,000. Each carried a bottle of Labradorian river water to be used in a water ceremony at the protest.

Meanwhile, around 50 protesters remain on the construction site near Happy Valley-Goose Bay after breaking into the grounds Saturday afternoon. Nalcor Energy, the Crown corporation behind the multibillion-dollar hydro project, issued a statement saying 700 workers “were peacefully and safely escorted” off the site due to safety concerns.

The group appealed to the federal government to force Nalcor to fully clear the land that will be flooded to create a 41-square-kilometre reservoir. Research from Harvard University suggests that removing topsoil and trees from the land before flooding could reduce the risk of methylmercury contamination in the waters near the project.

“Billy, Jerry and Delilah are our children … I’ve added the two beyond me as my children and they call me mom,” Gauthier’s mother Mitzi Wall, who accompanied the group to Ottawa, told the crowd in an emotional speech Sunday. “There has to be someone out there that is in a position to make a difference regarding Muskrat Falls who has gotten to where they are for the right reasons.”

Gauthier says he is heartened by the actions of fellow protesters at the Muskrat Falls site. For aboriginal populations that rely on fish and seal meat, Gauthier says, the hydro project threatens not only their health but their way of life.

“We’ve lived off the land for so long. It’s literally built us,” he says. “The moment they start their flooding, it could potentially destroy us … You’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.”

Premier Dwight Ball issued a statement Saturday that indicated Nalcor would do nothing to increase water levels until a meeting with community leaders in the area that is set for Tuesday.