As an Oregonian, I’ve long heard epic and heartbreaking stories about Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. Straddling the border of Oregon and Washington State, Celilo Falls was a traditional fishing area for indigenous people, including the Yakama, Umatilla, and the Walla Walla Tribes.
Celilo was the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America until 1957 when the falls and nearby lands were submerged by the construction of the Dalles Dam. The flooding of Celilo Falls had profound and terrible impacts on the culture of Native Americans that had taught generations to fish for their traditional foods on the Columbia.
I want to believe that we have learned to do better with our water resources in the decades since Celilo was flooded, but as I read about the massive hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls in eastern Canada my heart broke again for First Nations people, including the Inuit, whose traditions are destroyed in the name of modern progress.
There are many Waterkeeper groups around the world working to stop the myriad impacts of dams. One such is Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Roberta Benefiel. Located in Newfoundland and Labrador on Canada’s far eastern shores, the Grand Riverkeeper Labrador’s mission is to preserve and protect the water quality and the ecological integrity of the Grand (Churchill) River and its estuaries for present and future users.
Where some people see the Grand River as an irreplaceable resource for drinking water, tradition, and fish and wildlife, Nalcor Energy sees it as one of the most attractive areas for hydroelectricity in North America. Nalcor began construction on the more than $12 billion Muskrat Falls project in 2013 with anticipated completion by 2019.
Among all variety of concerns that arise from mega-dam projects, including threats to indigenous rights and culture, and damage to the river, the residents of Labrador are concerned about the dangers of methylmercury. Methylmercury is a neurotoxin linked to heart problems, neurological development in children, and other effects. Nalcor admits that the dam is creating higher levels of methylmercury, making fish consumption dangerous and harming traditional foods for First Nations.
The energy produced by the Muskrat Falls hydro project is destined for Nova Scotia and New England in the U.S. and as a result, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Roberta Benefiel is hitting the road this month. Starting this week, Roberta is on a “Big Dams, Big Damage” tour through the northeast to lead discussions about the real costs of the Muskrat Falls mega-dam project. Check out the tour schedule and attend an event to learn more about the dangers of hydropower in eastern Canada and the U.S. northeast.