KAIROS supports Indigenous peoples’ demands to stop flooding behind Muskrat Falls hydro dam

Muskrat Falls

KAIROS has signed on to a letter in solidarity with the Inuit, Innu and non-Indigenous people of Labrador calling on the federal government to review and revoke permits for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. At issue are permits that would allow the flooding of the reservoir behind the dam without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If the reservoir were to be filled without first removing organic materials from the flood zone the resulting methylmercury contamination will pose a grave threat to the health and traditional culture of the Indigenous peoples.

Dear Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Dwight Ball, and United Nations High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam in Labrador, Canada, poses serious multigenerational harms to the Inuit, Innu, and non-Indigenous people of Labrador. Flooding of the reservoir at Muskrat Falls can start any day after October 15, 2016. With opposition escalating at the grassroots level and beyond, and the details of methylmercury impacts becoming more broadly understood, thanks to the Nunatsiavut Government and Harvard University’s research partnership study(1) about the impacts that methylmercury has on human health, it has become clear this project must be stopped. Similar to the proposed Site ‘C’ dam in northern British Columbia(2), Muskrat Falls would devastate the local culture and way of life of all three Indigenous groups and the people who inhabit the Lake Melville Region of Labrador.

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam was lead by former Premier Danny Williams. Downstream from Churchill Falls on the Churchill River near Happy Valley – Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, this project has a growing price tag of over $11 billion dollars. Nalcor Energy, the crown-corporation tasked with developing the project, has admitted it has been a complete boondoggle.(3)

Local Labradorians, including Innu and Inuit, fear the impacts of methylmercury levels would destroy their traditional way of life. The Lake Melville study predicts these levels would rise by up to 200% because organic materials were never cleared from the flood zone. (4) Hunting and fishing is one aspect of this, but Indigenous people have known for hundreds of years that water is life, and if the water is poisoned, then all life that depends on the water will be destroyed.

To explain this further, once the methylmercury is consumed by fish, it enters the food chain and bioaccumulates, getting stored in fat at higher concentrations as it travels up the food chain.4 This means seals, which are an important part of Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture in Labrador, will contain high levels of mercury. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), symptoms of methylmercury poisoning include impairment of speech, loss of peripheral vision and coordination of movements(5) , however the impacts on a child in utero are much more serious.(6)

There are also concerns about the potential collapse of the North Spur. CBC has explained, “The North Spur is a jut of rock and deep soil in the Churchill River on the north side of Muskrat Falls. The upstream side of the spur will take the full weight of the reservoir that will be created by the hydroelectric complex.” (7) If the North Spur were to collapse, an analysis done by the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay found that 250 properties, including homes and families, and 15 kilometres of road would be affected totalling at least $60 million in damage. The flood zone would also include the town’s water system, its wastewater treatment plant and the town’s hospital. It is also noted that the neighboring community of Mud Lake would be completely destroyed if the North Spur collapsed. (8)

The United Nations recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation includes the Obligation to Respect, whereby governments must refrain from any action or policy that interferes with the rights to water and sanitation. (9)

Hydropower consultant and retired engineer Jim Gordon, who spent his career working on hydroelectric projects like Churchill Falls, has also raised major concerns with the steep slopes and soft clay of the North Spur. He has stated the project is “without precedent” and if it fails, there is a likelihood of the dam being out of commission for several years but more concerning is the potential loss of life.(10)

Despite Innu Nation Grand Chief Qupee having signed an Impact Benefit Agreement with Nalcor and the province, (11), (12) we believe this does not fulfill the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) base requirement of free, prior and informed consent.(13) Grand Chief Qupee has demanded a full clearing of the reservoir, saying conflicting information about methylmercury levels were not included in negotiations.(14) They have since called on Nalcor to fully clear the reservoir.

On Wednesday October 19th, CBC News has broadcasted that the NL Government ordered Nalcor to “remove more forest cover at the Muskrat Falls reservoir”.(20) This is a small progress but it is required that Nalcor and the NL Government respect and adhere to the Indigenous and local voices of Labrador to respect our lands, animals, safety, and lives. This announcement does not satisfy the great need for transparency, clarity, and honesty, in adherence with UNDRIP.

For all of these reasons and more, we, the undersigned:

  1. Call on the Government of Canada to review and revoke the federal permits provided under the Navigable Waters Protection Act (now called the Navigation Protection Act) and the Fisheries Act (15) for the Muskrat Falls project.
  2. Call on the Government of Canada to honour their May 2016 commitment to UNDRIP. (16)
  3. Call on the United Nations to intervene. This project is a clear violation of UNDRIP articles 26.3, 28.1, 29.2 and 32.2,13 and the spirit of the Declaration.

For protected waters – signed sincerely,


  1. Nunatsiavut Government. (2016). Lake Melville: Avativut Kanuittailinnivut (Our Environment, Our Health) Scientific Report. Retrieved from: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580d656346c3c40d23a77f8f/t/580d776fff7c505c4edc373d/1477277617944/ScienceReport-low-JRK.pdf
  2. Patterson, Brent. The Council of Canadians Acting for Social Justice. (2015). First Nations Highlight Mercury Contamination that would come from Site C Dam. Retrieved from: http://canadians.org/blog/first-nations-highlight-mercury-contamination-would-come-site-c-dam;
  3. McElroy, Justin. CBC News British Columbia. (2016). Why B.C.’s Site C Dam Could Become a National Issue. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/site-c-primer-amnesty-trudeau-1.3754463
  4. Roberts, Terry. CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador. (2016). It’s Official: Muskrat Falls a Boondoggle says Stan Marshall. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/stan-marshall-muskrat-falls-update-1.3649540
  5. Rice, K.M., Walker, E.M, We, M., et al. (2014). Environmental Mercury and Its Toxic Effects. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, 47(2),74-83. Retrieved from: http://doi.org/10.3961/jpmph.2014.47.2.745. US Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). Health Effects of Exposures to Mercury. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/mercury/health-effects-exposures-mercury
  6. Del Gobbo LC, Archbold JA, Vanderlinden LD, Eckley CS, Diamond ML, Robson M. (2010). Risks and benefits of fish consumption for childbearing women. Can J Diet Pract Res. Spring; 71(1):41-5. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20205977
  7. CBC News. A Look at Work on the North Spur Dam for Muskrat Falls. (2015). Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/a-look-at-work-on-the-north-spur-dam-for-muskrat-falls-1.3251134
  8. Barker, Jacob. CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador. (2016). Mud Lake wants Road in Case of “Catastrophic Failure” at Muskrat Falls. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/mud-lake-petititons-road-muskrat-falls-failure-1.3667218
  9. United Nations Association in Canada. (2007). A Human Right to Water: Summary Report of a Seminar Jointly Organized by the United Nations Association in Canada and the Human Security and Human Rights Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Retrieved from: http://unac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/A-Human-Right-to-Water.pdf
  10. Gordon, Jim. The Telegram. (2016). Muskrat Falls and the North Spur Controversy. Retrieved from: http://www.thetelegram.com/section/2016-01-02/article-4390283/Muskrat-Falls-and-the-North-Spur-controversy/1
  11. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. (2010). Lower Churchill Project: Backgrounder- Agreement with Innu Nation of Labrador. Retrieved from: http://www.gov.nl.ca/lowerchurchillproject/backgrounder_9.htm
  12. Michelin, Ossie. APTN National News. (2016). Labrador Indigenous Leaders Echo Calls of Protesters to Halt Muskrat Falls Dam Project. Retrieved from: http://aptn.ca/news/2016/06/27/labrador-indigenous-leaders-echo-calls-of-protesters-to-halt-muskrat-falls-dam-project/
  13. United Nations. (2008). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
  14. Nalcor Energy Lower Churchill Project. (2009). Information Responses Lower Churchill Project CEAA Reference No. 07-05-26178 Joint Review Panel. Volume 5 IR# JRP.1S/2S to JRP.112S. Retrieved from: http://nalcorenergy.com/uploads/file/Volume%205%20(pages%201895%20-%202046).pdf
  15. Government of Canada. (1985). Navigation Protection Act. Retrieved from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-22/
  16. CBC News Indigenous. (2016). Canada Officially Adopts UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/canada-adopting-implementing-un-rights-declaration-1.3575272
  17. Barrera, Jorge. APTN National News. Federal Fisheries Minister LeBlanc to Consider Review of Muskrat Falls Federal Permit. Retrieved from: http://aptn.ca/news/2016/10/17/federal-fisheries-minister-leblanc-to-consider-review-of-muskrat-falls-federal-permit/
  18. Government of Canada, Minister of Environment. (2011). Report of the Joint Review Panel: Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation Project Nalcor Energy Newfoundland and Labrador. Retrieved from: http://ceaa.gc.ca/050/documents/53120/53120E.pdf
  19. Nalcor Energy. (2012). Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation Project Environmental Assessment. Retrieved from: http://nalcorenergy.com/lower-churchill-project-environmental-assessment.asp
  20. CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador. (2016). Nalcor Ordered to Increase Clearing at Muskrat Falls Reservoir. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/nalcor-clearing-muskrat-falls-methylmercury-1.3811737

Filed in: Ecological Justice


Share with your network:Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone
Print this page