On October 13, 2016 Inuk artist Billy Gauthier announced a hunger strike on his Facebook page as a means to protest the flooding of an area at Muskratfalls, Labrador by Nalcor in order for them to build a dam. According to an independent Harvard study the flooding will cause methyl-mercury to build up in the area, in time poisoning wildlife and the land while forcing local people to give up their lifestyle, livelihoods and culture. Nalcor could remove organic material first, before flooding the area, and this would prevent the buildup of methyl-mercury protecting the animals, land and people. Gauthier demands that Nalcor take this simple solution to protect the land and people, and when they publicly agree to this he will end his hunger strike.
In his video posts Gauthier has explained that the impact of the poison is not just on him, but on “my family [but] also on my culture, which is Inuit, and also an attack on every Labradorian who actually respects the land.” Gauthier has said, “I am not suicidal, but I am willing to do anything and everything it takes to make this happen and stand for everything I believe in…supporting me isn’t supporting me, it’s about supporting our beautiful beautiful lands and protecting our people and our future…”
Thus far Gauthier has spoken with the President of Nalcor as well as the Premier of his province, but no agreement has been reached. He continues his strike now with two others pronouncing they will be joining him in denying all food until Nalcor capitulates (Delilah Miriam Saunders, author at Fernwood Publishing and co-founder of Oopik Arts Collective and Jeremias David Zack).
This comes at a time when the Canadian federal government has promised to make reconciliation with indigenous people its priority. This new government just removed Canada’s long-held objector status to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with a promise to implement the declaration forthwith, a declaration which recognizes everything this flooding will destroy: basic human rights, self-determination and land among other rights. It ironically also pledged 4 million CAD this week to end unsafe water advisories by expanding its Safe Water Project across 14 reserves. During his election campaign the Prime Minister promised that unsafe water advisories would disappear across the country in only five years, which will be difficult if new advisories have to be made.
Gauthier lives in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, an area partially governed by Inuit. As a young Inuit artist and father he has explained that the land is everything to him. The land inspires and provides the materials for his stunning works of art. Gauthier does carvings from bone and stone of his traditional and contemporary culture. The delicately carved pieces, full of movement and meaning, poignantly reflect life as an Inuk in contemporary Canada. His works grace the galleries of major museums and important private collections. Additionally, Gauthier sits on the board of the Inuit Art Foundation supporting the work and the development of other Inuk artists. To lose any life in this would be traumatic; to lose a national treasure like Gauthier would be a tragedy.
Gauthier calls on everyone to “do whatever you can to support our people…” He has proclaimed that to: “take away my culture, I am nothing…You can’t take it from me, you can’t take from us…it’s ours, it’s not for sale, you can’t have it…everything that I know depends on it.”
To follow this and find ways to show your support go to their website: http://makemuskratright.com
To sign the petition to #makemuskratright follow this link.