How a controversial dam threatens rights of Canada’s indigenous Innu people

By Colin Samson

A controversial hydroelectric dam project in sub-Arctic Canada relies on local Innu people giving up their own lands. Nalcor Energy, the firm building two dams to produce the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador, along Canada’s north-eastern coast, talks enthusiastically about “boundless energy”. And why not? Hydroelectric power is seen as a renewable and relatively benign way to meet the ever-growing energy needs of industrialised societies. Nalcor, owned by its provincial government, says that its project will “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent to taking 3.2m vehicles off the road each year”.

This sounds great. Yet beyond the impressive feats of engineering and the CAN$11 billion cost (£6.5 billion), what will it take to accomplish what is being imagined here?

Across the world, many areas sacrificed for hydroelectric generation belong to indigenous or land-based peoples who either have to be moved or live with drastic changes. The Three Gorges dam in China displaced 1.2m people and the Belo Monte dam in Brazil could displace up to 40,000. And back in the 1950s the Kariba dam project on the Zambesi river in Zambia precipitated an involuntary resettlement of some 57,000 people, including the Gwembe Tonga farmers and hunters, whose homes, gardens, burial and spiritual sites were flooded with virtually no consideration from the British colonial authorities.

Opposition to “progress” may lead to imprisonment and in the case of Honduras and Guatemala, even to the suspected murder of indigenous opposition leaders and protesters. Continue reading