“It’s in the Tough Times You See Who the Vulnerable People Really Are”: The Perceived Health Influences of Hydroelectric Development Along the Lower Churchill River Among NunatuKavut Adults in Labrador, Canada
Many Indigenous people around the world have a strong connection to the natural environment, which is, in turn, connected with their health and well being. This connection, which can be thought of as spiritual or personal in nature, moves beyond the connection that all people have with the natural world (i.e., we need a healthy environment to have healthy people). The connection Indigenous peoples have with the land is special in that the natural world is how they enact everything related to their culture- this is how they access culturally relevant food, medicine, housing, clothing, among other necessities. Beyond the physical health effects of contamination and pollution, damage to the natural world can influence the overall social, emotional and spiritual health of Aboriginal peoples. Hydroelectric development of the Lower Churchill River in Labrador has stirred controversy for the residents of this area, including the Inuit of south and central Labrador, who are politically represented by the NunatuKavut Community Council. Concerns about this development have centered around changes to the natural world, as well as what is perceived to be a lack of meaningful consultation with NunatuKavut members during the environmental assessment process. Previous research has indicated that these types of developments can influence Aboriginal peoples’ health, through the physical changes to the environment. Given that Indigenous definitions of health are often holisitic in their approach, the physical changes to the environment may influence culturally relevant land use as well, which may influence emotional health (SHRG, 2004). This study explores the influence of hydroelectric development along the Lower Churchill River on emotional health and social relationships, and how changes to these social relationships may influence the emotional health of NunatuKavut adults. This study involved qualitative interviews with 10 adult members of NunatuKavut. Critical lens theory, narrative inquiry, and principles of Two Eyed Seeing informed all elements of this study. Data were coded by hand and analyzed for major themes and sub-themes. From these data, it was found that participants view emotional health as being connected to culture and the natural world largely through social relationships, and that having healthy physical and social environments are key to protecting Inuit culture. Four themes have emerged from this data: 1) the connection between the natural world, culture, social relationships, and emotional health; 2) concern about the changes to the land and community and loss of resources; 3) lack of voice and power with respect to the overall development of the Lower Churchill River; and 4) the tensions and challenges of the Lower Churchill development and social relationships. The knowledge generated from this study will inform the academic community on perceptions that Inuit have about how the Lower Churchill development will influence their emotional health and social relationships. It will also provide NunatuKavut leaders and members with critical and timely information about how its community members perceive the development as impacting their emotional health.