01 November 2010

Lower Churchill: Tshakuesh leads quiet resistance to the Old Man’s Dream

PenashueElizabeth Penashue is opposed to development of the Lower Churchill. 

She is concerned about what it will do to the environment and what the changes to the river will mean to the environment and to the Innu people who have lived in the area for centuries.

As she put it last year in a letter to The Labradorian:

A lot of people understand why we walk. We don't want the dam like they did before to Churchill Falls many years ago. We lost so many things back then, we lost hunting areas, and so did the white people, not only the Innu lost, other people lost too. They lost the same. The biggest thing we lost, were the burial grounds. This was the most important thing that we lost. If they make another dam what else will we loose? The river will die, and all the stuff around the river, trees, and the animals and fish. And the peoples hunting areas will be ruined.

We walk, women and children together to send a strong message that we will not give up. We are strong and we want to be respected and listened to. It is for the future of our children that we are doing this for!

While some people east of the over pass might have been pre-occupied with other things last week, listeners to Labrador Morning caught an interview with Elizabeth Penashue with host Cindy Wall (CBC audio file: October 28).

Penashue is a respected elder in the Innu community. Each fall for the past 13 years, she has walked the 80 kilometres from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Gull Island to raise awareness about the impact Lower Churchill development will have on her people.

In the interview, Penashue talks about some of the people who have walked with her, including busloads of school children brought out each day.  She also talks about the food she enjoys and about the tent prepared for her by family members and other sin the community when she arrived at Gull Island.

More than many southerners may realise, Penashue represents a powerful political voice within the Innu community that cannot be ignored. Claims made a couple of years ago about an agreement on land claims and development, for example, proved to be so much hot air.  Penashue’s principled opposition carries great weight in itself and serves as the focal point for others who share her concerns.

Elizabeth Penashue is one of the reasons why any claims that a Lower Churchill deal is imminent or that the project may start soon are just so much hot air. The so-called New Dawn agreement vanished not long after the provincial government made a great noise about it. 

What blew the deal away, was not a mountain of hot air bigger than the blast that brought it.   It was the soft voice of a woman who walks 80 kilometres every fall and who will keep walking 80 kilometres until she can do it no more.

- srbp -

Elizabeth Penashue’s Blog:  elizabethpenashue.blogspot.com

Before I’m gone I want to see some change, I want to help my people and teach the children. I don’t want to see my children lose everything—I know we can’t go back to how things were, but I don’t want them to lose their Innu identity, culture and life.