Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut March 18, 2015 - 3:05 pm

Baker Lake Inuit, NWT Dene pledge to fight uranium project together

“Areva has not succeeded in convincing us"

Caribou outside of Baker Lake. (IMAGE COURTESY OF BAKERLAKE.CA)
Caribou outside of Baker Lake. (IMAGE COURTESY OF BAKERLAKE.CA)

Inuit and Dene from Saskatchewan have joined forces in opposition of Areva Resources Canada’s proposed Kiggavik uranium project outside Baker Lake.

Baker Lake’s hunters and trappers organization signed a declaration of cooperation with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories March 11, a document the two parties submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s two-week hearing into the uranium project.

The declaration hinges on two main issues: the project’s lack of a timeline and start date, and the absence of designated protected areas for caribou calving and post-calving grounds.

Those are the same arguments the HTO made at the very start of the hearing, when it filed a motion to have the process suspended, although the motion did not pass.

“We cannot reasonably consider the impacts of a mine if we no idea when the company will build it,” said the March 11 joint declaration.

“We are concerned the Kiggavik will cause further exploration and mining in these sensitive areas, it they are not designated protected.”

The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation has already expressed its opposition to Areva’s project — or uranium exploration in general — in fear of possible contamination of the natural environment.

“The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation has maintained a long-standing ban on uranium-related development in its territory based on past negative experiences with this particular industry,” the First Nation said in a submission to the NIRB hearings.

“Areva has not succeeded in convincing us that this project does not pose a risk to the caribou herds on which we depend.”

Another issue is the proximity of the project to the Thelon River and Thelon wildlife sanctuary, Lutsel K’e wrote in its submission; a proposed road crossing the river and development close to the sanctuary “are prospects that we are not comfortable with,” it said.

Lutsel K’e is located roughly 800 kilometres southwest of Baker Lake.

“With this declaration, we affirm that we will try to work together to stop this proposal as it is currently presented,” the groups said together March 11. We commit to standing together to protect the caribou herds that both of our communities depend upon for our traditional cultural and economic well-being.”

But Baker Lake’s HTO chair Richard Aksawnee appeared to soften the group’s stance in its closing statement to the hearings last week, by suggesting the HTO is not necessarily against the Kiggavik project.

“Some people seem to think that the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization is against mining, and against jobs. Like we can either have jobs, or have caribou to hunt,” Aksawnee said. “I disagree. I want the next generations of Inuit to have both.”

“We may not necessarily be against Kiggavik, but we are firmly against it being approved at this time,” he said in the HTO’s closing statement.

That hearing wrapped up in Baker Lake March 14. Next, the NIRB will prepare its final hearing report, which should be complete and made public by the end of April.

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