Construction of fishing lodge protested (at Eagle River, Labrador).
An ongoing conflict over the construction of a salmon fishing lodge at Eagle River, Labrador, escalated on Sept. 13, when the developers began to unload building supplies at the site. A week later, the Labrador Metis Association had declared victory in "Round 1" of the Eagle River dispute.
Unloading the supplies apparently broke an arrangement between the association; the developer KGY Group of Corner Brook, Nfld.; and the Newfoundland provincial government, who had agreed not to proceed with construction until after full community discussion on the matter.
The Metis claim that the planned construction is on Native land and does not have Native permission to proceed.
When KGY had begun to off-load supplies from their cargo ship Beothuk Venture at Paradise River, local Metis prevented the operation using non-violent resistance techniques. The ship and the protest moved to Cartwright, where protesters stopped a cargo helicopter from ferrying supplies to the Eagle River site.
As the situation matured, the coast guard cutter Sir Wilfred Grenfell and more than 50 RCMP officers were sent into the area. The confrontation led to more than 50 arrests, most on mischief charges. By the end of the week, however, the situation had calmed and most police officers had been sent home.
The police were positive about the conduct of the Metis protesters throughout, saying that any arrests were incidental to the peaceful protest as it was carried out.
"This has been a very, very well-disciplined operation by the Metis," said the RCMP inspector in charge of Labrador, John Henderson. "We're still able to talk with the Metis leaders, and they with us. For 99 per cent of the situation, it's been about as good as it's going to get."
The Beothuk Venture left the area by the end of the week, and that meant the departure of the coast guard cutter and most of the remaining policemen.
"All our demonstrations and on-the-ground actions have been peaceful and civil," said Todd Russell, president of the Metis association. "We have harmed no one and we will harm no one." Russell said that his organization was disturbed that outside companies could apparently call in the police to protect their operations from legitimate protest.
"Not a single damn outfitting licence has ever been awarded to a Labradorian, let alone a Metis, in this territory," he said. "The people just got fed up with all the insider dealing in St. John's [the provincial capital] and the blatant disregard for Native rights."
The fishing lodge has been an issue since the spring, when the Sandwich Bay Metis communities of Cartwright, Paradise River and Eagle River opposed the reallocation of 300 salmon to, as the association put it, "benefit a Newfoundland investment group with close ties to the provincial government, despite the presence of long-standing demands for protection of Metis interests on the river and the existence of Labradorian bids to operate a fish camp."
On Sept. 13, the association wrote to Newfoundland Environment and Lands Minister Ernie McLean insisting on the suspension of construction pending the establishment of a mediated discussion involving all parties, including the Labrador Metis Association. The letter also included other proposals which were intended by the association to reduce tensions in the area and give the association a stake in all development in the region. They were rejected by the minister.
"McLean's press release suggested that the LMA's motive for its support of the community protests over the KGY camp is to somehow pull an end-run on the normal land claims process," said a press release of the association.
"Ernie McLean has it all wrong about the status of the LMA land claim," Russell said. "At the federal Indian Affairs minister's request, I offered to brief the province on our land claims over a year ago and I was told the province refused to talk about the matter with us. I tried again with [provincial premier] Brian Tobin and, after four months of waiting, I finally got a note from the premier six weeks ago saying that [Newfoundland principle secretary for Aboriginal and Labrador affairs] Harold Marshall would meet with us. I haven't seen hide nor hair of Mr. Marshall ever since."
While cautiously declaring a victory, Russell warned that his association would not see the extinguishment of Native rights prior to entering into full land claims negotiations. He cautioned the Innu Nation and Labrador Indian Association to be similarly careful.
"We won't be suckered into a beads-and-trinkets exchange over our lands and waters," he said.
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|Author:||R. John Hayes|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1996|
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