ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A Labrador politician apologized Tuesday for belittling the spiritual claims of native protesters who are opposed to the planned Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject.
Keith Russell, the provincial Progressive Conservative member for Lake Melville, says he is of Inuit descent and was raised to respect the beliefs of others.
But in a media interview last week, he dismissed the spiritual claims of native protesters as “mumbo jumbo.”
“With regards to my recent comment about Muskrat Falls, I apologize for my poor choice of words,” he said in an emailed statement.
“My comment was not intended to be a blanket statement about spirituality or aboriginal people in general. Aboriginal cultures have a rich history in this province and I am proud that my family and I share in that.”
Russell’s constituency assistant Shannon Tobin said he was travelling Tuesday and unavailable for an interview.
Russell made the remark on CBC Radio’s “Labrador Morning.” He also warned people to be wary when native opponents of the proposed development refer to land around Muskrat Falls as sacred ground.
“You have people talking about Mother Earth and sacred waters and, you know, spirits flowing through these rivers. And that’s all well and good. But people have to understand too that there is a need for this development. We do need this power.
“I don’t buy into the mumbo jumbo about the trail leading to the Muskrat Falls site as being sacred ground. You can romanticize and sensationalize that particular piece of land all you want, but it is a resource.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale has said the comments were unacceptable.
The government is expected to decide this fall whether to approve the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam in Labrador after a debate in the legislature.
Aboriginal people who oppose the development say it will flood cherished traditional territory and hunting grounds without adequate consultation or compensation.
Other critics say the Dunderdale government is pushing ahead with the project, expected to cost more than $6.2 billion, without thoroughly exploring alternatives.
Dunderdale says the project has been studied for decades and that Nalcor Energy, a provincial Crown corporation, has assessed other options.
An independent analysis of updated cost estimates and other data by Manitoba Hydro International is to be publicly released in coming weeks.
Russell, who was twice elected to the Nunatsiavut Assembly, was elected last October to the provincial house of assembly.
Nunatsiavut, which means ‘our beautiful land’ in Inuttitut, is the homeland of Labrador Inuit.
Russell served the local government as health and social development minister before he was ousted from cabinet in early 2011. At the time, former Nunatsiavut President Jim Lyall said he had not fulfilled his duties and was not meeting regularly with department staff.
Russell denied those charges and told CBC Radio in Labrador that he was dumped for being too outspoken.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported that Manitoba Hydro compiled data on Muskrat Falls.