The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has sold the massive Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project as a giant leap forward in power generation. But to the people who live, fish and hunt in the area, it represents something much different.
To them, it means flooding 41 square kilometres — and creating a soup of decaying wood and vegetation. The result is an accumulation of potentially dangerous levels of methylmercury, a notorious poison that can cause serious harm to humans, in their fish and other marine foods.
Faced with a direct threat to their health and well-being, the Nunatsiavut Government representing the self-governing Inuit people of Labrador set out to build support throughout Newfoundland and Labrador for doing the project the right way. Their message: that Muskrat Falls should proceed only with mitigation measures to safeguard the area’s people and their food, water and land.
That message is especially urgent because as soon as the flooding happens, it’ll be too late to remedy: the toxic brew will begin cooking, contaminants will begin building up, and there’ll be no turning back.
It was clear from the beginning that their story would and should stand on its own. Graphics and post-production effects would only get in the way of a powerful message.
Instead, we worked with a great production company, Build Films, who are experts in northern production. They helped us convey the way of life that hangs in the balance of the province’s decisions, while capturing the quiet strength of the land, sea and people.
That strength is in ample evidence with the performance of a talented young woman, Michaela Palliser Flowers. She delivered the message with a remarkable balance of calm, warmth and urgency.
The result is an ad we’re delighted with — partly because it turned out wonderfully, but mostly because this is a compelling story that badly needs to be told. Governments and businesses too often disregard the inextricable relationship between indigenous peoples and their land. And when money’s on the line, a lot of grand Throne Speech rhetoric about sustainability and environmental stewardship gets forgotten very quickly.
Our hope is that this isn’t going to happen with Muskrat Falls, Lake Melville and — most critically — the people of that area. There are already promising signs of growing awareness: the David Suzuki Foundation recently weighed in supporting the Nunatsiavut Government’s campaign, and Muskrat Falls came up as the final question in a recent televised leader’s debate. (You can sign the campaign petition here.)
No matter which party prevails in the November 30 vote, they’ll know the Nunatsiavut Government has a strong commitment to protect its people and land. And because of this campaign, a large number of Newfoundland and Labrador residents will know it too.