Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Starving for Justice

Starving for Justice

By: Ryan Young

Inuk artist Billy Gauthier is on a hunger strike to stop the flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir. His last meal was last Thursday evening, October 13th. It was salmon from Lake Melville. Gauthier, 38 is well known for his carving work. His pieces are a mesmerizing blend of culture and nature, and Billy’s talent is showcased in the fine details of his carvings. Billy is a son, a brother and a father, with a daughter he loves dearly. Yet Billy is willing to risk his life in order to make sure that his people and his culture are not put at risk by the Muskrat Falls project. That kind of commitment is hard to understand for many people, but when you consider Billy’s alternatives, his choice does not seem as drastic.

Billy Gauthier - "Windswept Inuk"

Billy Gauthier - "Song from the Spirit World"

You can see more of Billy's work here:

Billy is currently among the land protectors at the Muskrat Falls site. Yesterday he watched 9 of his friends and family members dragged away and charged by the RCMP for ignoring a court injunction that was signed by Gilbert Bennett of Nalcor on Sunday October 16. In Happy Valley-Goose Bay another group shut down the offices of the premier and Perry Trimper for the day, demanding that the reservoir is cleared. Not long after, President of the Nunatukavut Government, Todd Russell, held a press conference to announce that they would support all actions, including the blocking of Transformers from entering any ports on the Labrador coast. When given a copy of the court injunction, Russell promptly tore it up and pledged that he was committed to the fight to make muskrat right.

On the other end of the province, in St. John’s, yet another group marched on Confederation Building to demand that the voices of Labrador be heard. A small group held a peaceful sit-in in the lobby of the legislature and demanded that someone speak to them about there concerns. For nearly 8 hours they occupied the lobby, despite being prevented from going to the bathroom by security. Shortly after the occupation began the building went into lockdown mode with only staff and visitors on official business were permitted entry to the building. Even the media were barred from entering. Only VOCM’s David Maher was inside the building prior to the lockdown and he was inside for the duration. The group was later served with a court injunction but they left without incident just after 4:00pm when it became apparent that nobody was willing to speak to them. For more details, follow David Maher on Twitter @DavidMaherNL.

With the action ramping up all across the province, Yvonne Jones announced that federal minister Dominic Leblanc had been asked to review the environmental permits issues to the Government of Newfoundland and Nalcor as part of the federal loan guarantee for the project. We are not sure exactly what it means, but some on social media have speculated that the feds could possibly make the loan guarantee contingent on the clearing of the reservoir. Now of course at this point this is all just speculation, and it does not jive with recent statements from Perry Trimper and Siobhan Coady. The premier, as usual, is silent.

With Nalcor already beginning to seep water in, we have gone well beyond the 11th hour.
All across Labrador and the island, people are standing up to say that they will not stand for the willful poisoning of our people and the destruction of their lands and culture. Support is rolling in from all corners for Billy and the rest of the land protectors. Despite the setbacks and the arrests, people in Labrador are still hopeful that the feds will step in and residents from all over have been showing their support for Billy and to make muskrat right. Billy’s struggle is seen as an inspiration to many, and support for his cause has been coming in from all over the world. He is making so many people proud of him, but we must not forget the great sacrifice he is making for us.

During an emotional interview with Paddy Daly on VOCM yesterday, Billy said that his daughter asked him if he was scared? His answer blew my mind. “He said yes, but that’s what bravery is. When you know something is right and you still do it anyway, no matter how scared you are.” Those are certainly very true words and the commitment in Billy’s voice is inspirational, while being heartbreaking at the same time. Billy Gauthier has suddenly become a symbol for everything that is wrong in Labrador and a celebration of everything that is right with it. After living away, Billy returned to Labrador so that he could embrace his culture and his native land to inspire his art and provide him with a living. To take that away from him is to take away his heart, his soul.

No matter what your political stripe or no matter how informed you are of the realities of the Muskrat Falls project, it is impossible to listen to Billy speak without getting a little wet-eyed. His passion is undeniable and he is willing to give his life to save the traditional way of life for others. We must all stand in solidarity with Billy now and demand that our elected leaders change their minds and commit to #makemuskratright.

Mother and Child at HVGB protest

To listen to Billy's VOCM call with Paddy Daly click here:

No comments:

Post a Comment