Almost twenty years ago I made an eleven-day canoe journey down one of North America’s grandest rivers, the Grand River in Labrador, Canada. Our guides were four indigenous elders who had grown up traveling the river. We listened to their stories. We ate porcupine and goose and salmon. The trip ended at Muskrat Falls, where we hauled our canoes up a trail that had been used for generations by the region’s indigenous people. Today, Muskrat Falls is the site of a 12-billion-dollar mega hydroelectric project; the falls no longer exist.
Imagine a village with all its children gone. For aboriginal peoples all across Canada, this was their lived reality, not the stuff of imagination. The story of what happened to the children – who were forcibly removed from their families and sent to military-style camps that were euphemistically called “schools” – has at last been told, compiled in the monumental six-volume Truth and Reconciliation Report released in 2015.
On the morning of June 10th, a group of Innu people from the community of ManiUtenam, near the Quebec City of Sept Isle, set out on a 360 kilometer march towards a Hydro Quebec dam construction site on the Romaine River. Dressed in florescent vests, they departed from an encampment at the entrance to the reserve, beside Route 138, the only major road in the region, where the group has maintained a continual protest since the end of April.
It was not surprising that, only weeks after the Vermont legislature voted to close the state’s 40 years old nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee, Vermont’s largest utilities announced that they were in negotiation with the utility giant Hydro Quebec over a new long-term power contract.