In defense of emotionalism, Makita responds

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

The editorial “On uranium, don’t look for simple answers” (March 28) asks “What, exactly, does … ‘political oppression’ consist of?”

Oppression consists of residents of Baker Lake who voted to oppose the proposed Kiggavik uranium mine in a municipal plebiscite in 1990 — the only free vote ever held on the question in Nunavut.

More than 90 per cent of the voters said no. Between that and Term 3.6 of the Keewatin Land Use Plan (“Any future proposal to mine uranium must be approved by the people of the region”), many people thought the question was settled.

But after some backroom manoeuvres, virtually no public discussion, and no second public vote, somebody somewhere decided that “the people” of the Kivalliq had somehow approved uranium mining in the region.

Oppression also consists of unilingual hunters and Elders in Baker Lake last week, watching the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) workshop in the community hall. Twenty-five of the 26 people at the table were unilingual non-Inuit, the discussion was in English (with excellent interpreters), and the document being discussed was available only in English.

The Board of the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization had requested that NIRB’s review process be suspended until uranium-related terminology was developed and the key document was translated, but NIRB had decided that this would be too much of an inconvenience to the company wanting to build the mine.

“NIRB has failed us,” HTO Board members told the workshop. (All quotes are translations.) “You have failed hunters and Elders who only speak, read and write Inuktitut.”

The HTO noted that uranium mining was first proposed for the Kivalliq region in the late 1980s. “Uranium-related words should have been translated a long time ago… The environmental review process is now moving forward quite quickly, while many hunters and Elders do not understand the process of reviewing the proposal. There are many companies that want to build mines on our land. We can’t fully grasp the concepts that the mining companies and the NIRB use if they are not translated into Inuktitut.”

Such a clear violation of the hunters and Elders’ rights to participate made it seem as though we are still living in the Northwest Territories in the 1970s, and that we haven’t reached Nunavut yet.

Oppression may soon be continued through approval of the proposed Kiggavik project — opening up the region to wider uranium development, with who knows how many mines and roads, all impacting on the sustainability of the caribou herds.

The editorial says the debate over uranium mining has been characterized by “emotionalism,” which suggests that there is no room for vigorous dialogue in Nunavut.

Serious dialogue is emotional, Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit is emotional, to oppose the status quo is irrational… this logic discourages democratic debate, and begs the question “How dare Inuit speak their minds?” — which, in an ironic way, is oppressive behaviour in itself.

The editorial also states that “private [Inuit organization] affairs are accessible only to insiders,” but then declares that “It’s too late to do anything about that now.” We disagree. The whole point of Makita has been to open up the decision-making process to as many Nunavummiut as possible, and we’ve had some success in doing so.

The GN uranium policy development process includes a public consultation component, and hopefully NTI’s review of its Uranium Policy will as well. Both organizations have a duty to consult those they represent, and not just make decisions behind closed doors.

What we hope would be for NTI to take appropriate action to achieve certainty on the question of uranium mining after its policy review process wraps up. This means a democratic vote, as happened over the question of whether or not to allow the sale of municipal lands.

Nunavut could, if residents chose to do so, take the same approach as British Columbia. Say a clear NO to uranium mining and YES to other forms of mining (subject to the usual regulatory processes). Does anyone view B.C. as a jurisdiction that is opposed to development, or hostile to the mining industry? Not at all. B.C. is pro-mining, but anti-nuclear.

We think that land claim beneficiaries should be given the opportunity to vote for that kind of certainty about their future.

Finally, why does Nunatsiaq News feel that such a vote would pit the Qikiqtani region against the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions? There is far more opposition to uranium mining in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions than people in Iqaluit might think.

It’s just that many of the people who feel that way have also been feeling oppressed, and have been afraid to speak out in public. Not to mention that there has been no safe forum to discuss these important matters.

That’s starting to change, but a democratic vote is the only way to know for sure how people feel — no corporate spin or backroom deals, just you, your conscience, and a ballot.

Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit
Iqaluit and Baker Lake

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