Baker Lake HTO still wants public vote on Areva uranium project


Editor’s note: The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization sent this letter July 4 to the Nunavut Impact Review Board. They asked that it be published in Nunatsiaq News.

The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization participated in the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s community roundtable and pre-hearing conference for Areva’s proposed Kiggavik uranium project.

The HTO would like to express several concerns with the structure of these meetings.

During the meetings, the NIRB stated that the purpose of the community roundtable was to hear community concerns and to see if the communities opposed or supported Areva’s proposal.

However, the HTO is concerned that the structure of the meetings resulted in a biased discussion, so the NIRB may not have an accurate picture of what the community feels about Areva’s proposal.

The meetings were held in the spring, when many families in Baker Lake are busy fishing and preparing dried fish and dried meat out at their camps.

The meetings were mostly held during working hours. Many people who work full-time or depend on fish and caribou did not attend the meetings. The NIRB did not hear their perspectives.

The time allotted for community questions was also very tight. Some community members were able to dominate the floor, speaking many times, while many others were never given an opportunity to speak.

The format of the community roundtable was also an issue. Community members were told to ask questions to Areva. Areva answered questions and responded to concerns like any mining company would. They told people not to worry, that they’d take care of any problems, and reassured us that everything would be okay.

The NIRB staff was present, as were many intervening parties, but they mostly stayed out of the discussion, as they were never called upon. As a result Areva’s staff were left to guide the discussion and were allowed to steer the discussion in a very positive direction for them.

Many Inuit in Baker Lake have complained that they do not feel comfortable voicing concerns directly to the mining industry. They feel intimidated to voice opposition because Areva’s staff of experts provide answers that make them feel stupid for opposing Areva.

These experts are well-coached in public speaking and are trained to talk circles around the rest of us. If the interevening groups were allowed to participate more, the conversation may have been quite different.

Instead of having community members ask Areva questions, community members could have had a day to discuss their concerns with the intervening groups.

They could have had the opportunity to ask these groups if they agree with Areva’s assessment and if the intervening groups though Areva’s promises of jobs and environmental protection were possible.

This would have given the community a chance to discuss their concerns with independent parties that reviewed the Areva’s proposal. It would also have resulted in a much more critical discussion of what Areva is proposing.

The community has had many opportunities to discuss their concerns directly with Areva. As Areva said in their presentation, they have already held hundreds of “community engagement events” since they came into Baker Lake. In a way, the community round table ended up being another community engagement opportunity for Areva.

While community members did have an opportunity to ask questions to the intervener groups during the pre-hearing conference, the pre-hearing conference was very rushed and there was very little time for community questions and concerns to be discussed.

Some community members have also become very disheartened because they have shared their concerns and sometimes opposition many times before, but it does not seem to have any effect.

Some people feel they’ve been consulted to death on this topic, and that the process will continue to move along no matter what they say. After almost eight years of sharing concerns and opposition, many people are wondering what the point is in speaking out at meetings.

Due to these issues, the HTO is concerned that the NIRB got a very inaccurate view of the community’s perspective on Areva’s proposal. Many residents of Baker Lake are still opposed to mining uranium at Kiggavik.

As the Baker Lake HTO suggested in our presentation to the pre-hearing conference, a public vote is the only thing that could accurately determine how the majority of the community feels about Areva’s proposal.

Hugh Ikoe
Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization

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