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This Is The Emotional Moment People Hunger Striking Over A Dam Project Found Out They Won

Billy Gauthier had not eaten for almost two weeks.

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This was the emotional moment when hunger strikers protesting the Muskrat Falls dam project in Labrador heard their struggle was over, and that all their demands were being met.

Ossie Michelin for BuzzFeed Canada

Acclaimed Inuk carver Billy Gauthier started his hunger strike on Oct. 13, and he was later joined by two other activists. Together, they made four key demands for stronger oversight of the Muskrat Falls project to minimize the health effects on surrounding Indigenous communities.

On Wednesday, they got word that government and Indigenous leaders had reached an agreement to address environmental concerns, satisfying the hunger strikers' requests.

Ossie Michelin for BuzzFeed Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball held a marathon 10-hour meeting on Tuesday with the leaders of the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government, and the NunatuKavut Community Council.

By 2 a.m. on Wednesday, they had hammered out a deal that NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell called "a huge step forward," according to APTN.

The agreement appears to have ended a weeks-long stalemate between the government and local communities over the $15-billion project.

High emotions on phone to hear the content of #indigenous leaders and province agreement tonight on #MuskratFalls

Indigenous groups have long warned that flooding for the dam will poison surrounding water and food sources with methylmercury, a powerful neurotoxin with serious health side effects.


A 2015 study by a team of Harvard researchers confirmed the hydroelectric project would lead to elevated methylmercury levels and contaminate fish and other food sources. The risk could be reduced by clearing vegetation and topsoil before flooding, but the provincial government had resisted those recommendations until now.

According to a government release announcing the agreement, the government has agreed to more scientific assessment of the environmental impacts. It also agreed to limit any possible toxic contamination of the environment, including "clearing trees, vegetation and/or soil from the reservoir" as necessary.

An Expert Advisory Committee will include representatives from Indigenous communities, as well as all municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government.


Reaction to the agreement from the protesters occupying the dam site has been mixed, with some vowing to stay, according to APTN.

3/3 protesters I've spoken with at entrance not satisfied with last night's news #muskratfalls #cbcnl

But for Gauthier, and his fellow strikers Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kolhmeister, it was still a happy occasion.

Happy to feed smoked char to these 3 beauties even 1:37am @Osmich @DwightBallMHA @innunation @NunatsiavutGovā€¦

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, who shared the news of the agreement with the trio, shared this photo of the activists enjoying some smoked char to celebrate.

Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

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