Open Letter Re Muskrat Falls

PDF Copy of Letter

October 14, 2016

Re: Open Letter on Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Decision on Muskrat Falls

As professors and health researchers who have had the great privilege and pleasure of working in the Nunatsiavut region of Labrador for almost a decade, we are writing this open letter to express our perspectives on the recent decisions to not act on scientific evidence to remove organic materials (topsoil, vegetation, and trees) from the Muskrat Falls reservoir and surrounding area.

Under the current development scenario, not only will there be dramatic environmental alterations in an area that is historically and culturally significant to the Indigenous Peoples of Labrador, but research indicates that people in the region will be exposed to methylmercury well above regulatory guidelines from Health Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The science is clear: without removing organic material from the site to be flooded, methylmercury levels in the Lake Melville ecosystem are anticipated to significantly increase, leading to contamination of important country food sources in the region, and leading to increased methylmercury exposure for Indigenous peoples in the region reliant on these food sources. Methylmercury exposure can have harmful health impacts: scientific literature and medical studies show that long-term dietary exposure to methylmercury is linked to brain development problems in children and can damage the nervous system in adults; and children who are exposed while they are in the womb can have deficits in cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, fine motor skills, and visual spatial skills.

It is a cultural right of Inuit and Indigenous peoples in the region to continue to rely on the land for sustenance, livelihoods, and food security, as their ancestors have for thousands of years. To disrupt important keystone food sources such as fish and seal, and render them inedible and harmful to human health, causes serious impacts to food sovereignty in the region and impacts cultural continuity, history, and heritage. Furthermore, this is a human rights issue – the right of Indigenous peoples in the region to continue to enjoy harvesting from the land for food security, culture, and wellbeing. As such, there is a human responsibility to respond based on the best available scientific evidence and Indigenous science and oral history. Economic compensation will never fully compensate for the loss of food security and cultural wellbeing that comes from actively engaging in land-based activities – activities that have sustained Indigenous people in Labrador for thousands of years. There will also be continued health and social disruptions, leading to increased healthcare costs for physical and mental health issues, and further needless financial burden on individuals, communities, and the government.

Mitigation is possible. The future of how this development continues can still be altered. There is still the opportunity to #MakeMuskratRight. There is still the opportunity to value human and environmental life and health above pressures of a large crown corporation, funded by tax payers, and follow the precautionary principle to ensure the continued survival – and thriving – of the First Peoples of Labrador who will experience the downstream effects.

As scientists and scholars, we stand in solidarity with the Nunatsiavut Government and their recommendations for the removal of trees, vegetation, and soil before flooding and for more environment-health monitoring and management with Inuit partnership. We also stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Labrador, with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and with all the concerned citizens and organizations who have expressed concern and condemnation for this development, and call for immediate evidence-based action to support human and environmental health, and for stronger, more respectful, and more authentic Nation-to-Nation relationships.


Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo
Labrador Institute of Memorial University
College of the North Atlantic Building
PO Box 490, Station B
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL, A0P 1E0
E: | P: 709-896-4702
T: @AshleeCunsolo
Dr. Sherilee Harper
Assistant Professor in EcoHealth
Department of Population Medicine
Ontario Veterinary College
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1
E: | P: 519-824-4120 ext. 58392
T: @Sherilee_H


Reflecting on “Research Matters Pop-Up Research Park” at Parliament Hill

By Alexandra Sawatzky (PhD Student, Dept. of Population Medicine) and Dr. Sherilee Harper (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Population Medicine), on behalf of the InukNet Team.

On May 18th, Sheri and I travelled to Ottawa to take part in the “Research Matters Pop-Up Research Park” at Parliament Hill. We were both honoured and humbled to represent the University of Guelph at this gathering.

Shortly after our arrival at Parliament, we headed upstairs to attend Question Period in the House of Commons. Having the chance to experience this snapshot of political life firsthand was incredible, an added bonus to our already stimulating day.

Following Question Period, we made our way down the hall to set up for the Pop-Up Research Park. The Research Park served as an opportunity for us, alongside other Ontario university researchers, students, and industry or community partners, to engage with MPs and other senior government officials to discuss and share our research.

Each pair or group of researchers was asked to stand under a banner displaying a photo that described our work, as well as a catalytic question that was meant to ignite conversation. While there was an incredible diversity of research topics around the room, all topics related to issues impacting Canadians where they live and work. Sheri and I were there to speak about our experiences working alongside the Inuit community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador to develop a participatory environment-health surveillance program. As our work is premised on creating and maintaining strong relationships with this community, we posed the question: Can community-university collaboration enhance Inuit health and wellbeing?

We connected with MPs from across the country, including Yvonne Jones, MP for Labrador. Sheri also had the honour of meeting Dr. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. Although we were mainly discussing ideas and themes specific to our research, these ideas and themes – such as the theme of collaboration – resonated with everyone we spoke with. Indeed, we also engaged in discussions about the overarching reason that brought us all together in the first place – the importance of strengthening partnerships and communication between research, government, industry, and communities.

Strong partnerships and effective communication are needed in order to support innovation, collaboration, and better futures for all sectors of society. Research-based innovation would not be possible without the partnerships between industry, academia, and government –partnerships that are created and reinforced through events such as this Research Park.

Participating in this event demonstrated to us how important it is to connecting researchers with government, industry, and community representatives throughout the entire research process – from development to implementation to evaluation. Indeed, developing and growing our perspectives on, and approaches to, research and innovation cannot be done in isolation. Rather, creating and pursuing strong partnerships across disciplines and sectors can help us all to pursue better approaches to research, policy, and practice that are aligned with the needs, goals, and priorities of all those involved.


And then we made a podcast… Adventures in integrative knowledge mobilization

Written by Lindsay Day, MSc Candidate

It was with great excitement that we launched the “Water Dialogues” podcast last week at

Nearly a year in the making, the collaborative podcast is based on a Canadian Water Network-funded project, and examines the need for, and our struggle towards, using Indigenous and Western knowledge systems together to address the water issues we face in Canada today.

Audio-recordings were taken during a Water Gathering event that brought together First Nations, Inuit, Metis and non-Indigenous water experts, researchers, and knowledge holders from across Canada.

This Water Gathering was the second of two that were held as part of the 18-month research project. Held at the Wabano Aboriginal Health Centre in Ottawa (traditional Algonquin territory), the format was a series of sharing circles, where every person has a turn to speak and all voices are valued equally.

Using a narrative, audio-documentary format, the podcast weaves together the voices, stories and experiences of those that attended the Gathering in order to explore the key issues and findings from the project.

The result is something powerful, moving, and definitely worth a listen.


Follow the conversation on Twitter: #H2Odialogues

 A huge thank you to all the podcast team members: Dr. Sherilee HarperDr. Ashlee CunsoloDr. Heather CastledenDr. Debbie Martin, Catherine Hart, Tim Anaviapik-Soucie, George Russell Jr., Clifford Paul. And of course, to all the amazing people who shared their words, stories, wisdom, ideas and knowledge at the Water Gathering and in the podcast.


Listen and learn more at

A Tale of Two Conferences

Alexandra Sawatzky, one of the lovely PhD students I have the privilege of co-supervising with Dr. Sherilee Harper at the University of Guelph has written some reflections of her recent experiences and learnings at two conferences.

Written by Alexandra Sawatzky, PhD Student

During the week of April 25, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at two conferences: the Sparking Population Health Solutions International Su…

Source: A Tale of Two Conferences

InukBook Project Featured in Canadian Geographic

This past week, members of the InukBook Team attended the Adaptation Canada conference in Ottawa, Ontario, including Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. James Ford, Anna Bunce, Derrick Pottle, and Jamie Snook. I had the privilege of representing the team, and presenting our project to a large audience of researchers, decision-makers, government representatives, Indigenous leaders, NGOs.

A journalist from Canadian Geographic wrote a feature on our project, highlighting the potential the InukBook has to support Inuit in making near real-time decisions through active monitoring of environment and health conditions. As an excerpt explains:

All the data that’s collected is specifically meant to meet local and regional needs and priorities,” said Willox. “While we expect much of it will be able to be expanded and inform other parts of the polar North, the key right now is to find a way for Nunatsiavut residents to be able to respond to what they’re experiencing at both the climatic change level and the impacts on health.”

To read the article, click on the picture below.

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Introducing… the InukSUK Program in Nunatsiavut, Labrador

For the past two years, I’ve been working with some wonderful folks in Nunatsiavut, Labrador to conceptualize, design, and develop an Inuit-led, Inuit-run community-based environment and health monitoring program. The InukSUK program is based on Inuit-identified priorities, ways of knowing, and cultural contexts, and unites cutting-edge app technology with traditional knowledge and storytelling. It’s an exciting new project, and we’re just in the early stages.

If you’re interested in learning more, click on the picture to read the full article, free online.


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Big thanks to all the amazing people with whom I get to work:

Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. Dan Gillis, Charlie Flowers, Inez Shiwak, Dr. Chris Furgal, Dr. James Ford, Michele Wood, Tom Sheldon, Anna Bunce, Alex Sawatzky, Oliver Cook, and the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. And of course, to all the amazing people in Rigolet who have lent their time, ideas, wisdom, expertise, and knowledge to the development of this app, and will make the program possible. Nakummek!

New Article: IPCC Reports & Indigenous Inclusion

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guides global thought and action on climate change, bridging research, science, policy, and politics.

Yet, as we argue in a newly-published paper in Nature Climate Change, Indigenous voices, issues, and perspectives have been under-represented, leading to disparities in representation and gaps in policy and recommendations. We argue that the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) needs to better incorporate Indigenous leadership, knowledge, and ways of knowing in order to provide a more accurate and robust representation of climate change, mitigation, and adaptation.


The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, forming the interface between science, policy and global politics. Indigenous issues have been under-represented in previous IPCC assessments. In this Perspective, we analyse how indigenous content is covered and framed in the Working Group II (WGII) portion of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). We find that although there is reference to indigenous content in WGII, which increased from the Fourth Assessment Report, the coverage is general in scope and limited in length, there is little critical engagement with indigenous knowledge systems, and the historical and contextual complexities of indigenous experiences are largely overlooked. The development of culturally relevant and appropriate adaptation policies requires more robust, nuanced and appropriate inclusion and framing of indigenous issues in future assessment reports, and we outline how this can be achieved.

IPCC Article released