Nunavut government, Inuit org go to bat for rejected mine project
KIA suggests NIRB overlooked Section 35 Aboriginal rights of Kitikmeot Inuit
After working with Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. at a public hearing last April to save its controversial Back River gold project, the Government of Nunavut and Kitikmeot Inuit Association now want Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to send the proposal back to the Nunavut Impact Review Board for reconsideration.
“The GN maintains its conditional support for the project…,” Nancy Guyon, an acting deputy minister of economic development, said in an Aug. 22 letter to the federal government.
And the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which also conditionally supported construction of the mining project, also told the federal government that they should send the project back to the NIRB for another look.
That’s because KIA owns most of the land the project sits on and is capable of imposing its own terms and conditions through an Inuit impact and benefit agreement and a land tenure agreement, the KIA said.
The KIA also said it’s not clear if the NIRB accommodated Kitikmeot Inuit Aboriginal rights under Section 35 of the constitution — because the NIRB did not address suggested terms and conditions that KIA and Sabina worked out at the last minute
“The NIRB report does not specifically address or consider these terms, and as such, KIA cannot determine if our Section 35 rights have been fully accommodated at this time,” KIA president Stanley Anablak said in an Aug. 24 letter to the federal government.
This past June 15, the review board recommended that Bennett and other federal ministers reject the Back River gold mine.
The company’s environmental impact statement contained inadequate plans for protecting caribou from the project’s impacts, the review board said. And they said the project’s potential impacts on caribou herds are likely too serious to mitigate.
On April 30, the final day of a public hearing in Cambridge Bay, the GN and the KIA each made joint submissions to the review board — with Sabina — that suggested revamped terms and conditions aimed at improving the company’s proposed environmental protection measures, especially for caribou.
Those joint submissions flowed from negotiations between GN, KIA and Sabina that occurred after the public hearing had begun.
“This has been a productive meeting, and the Government of Nunavut thanks the proponent for the numerous discussions it had with our representatives and its efforts to resolve various outstanding issues,” Lou Kamermans of the GN said April 30 in his closing remarks.
And the KIA’s executive director, Paul Emingmak, told the NIRB April 30 that the KIA’s support for the Back River project had not changed.
“We need jobs for our youth and other Inuit who have skills and a desire to work in the mining industry. KIA and the Kitikmeot Corp. have business interests active in the mining industry and will expect contracting opportunities,” Emingmak said.
Sabina’s Back River project would comprise a chain of open pit and underground mines at an inland location about 400 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay and 520 km north of Yellowknife.
The project would operate for at least 10 years and involved damming or draining lakes and streams and building a 157-km road from the mine to a seasonal docking facility and fuel tank farm at Bathurst Inlet.
All that infrastructure would be created on lands that the Bathurst and Beverly caribou herds migrate through.
In recent years, the population of the Bathurst herd has plunged to as few as 20,000 animals, down from nearly half-million.
That prompted many intervenors at the April public hearing, including the GN, to criticize Sabina’s plans for mitigating damage to caribou herds, especially during post-calving and calving periods of time.
One early proposed measure was to shut down all mining operations if calving or post-calving caribou show up on site.
But Sabina said it’s not possible for them to shut the mine down that easily, and instead, proposed things like the staged shut-down of noise-making activities.
The KIA agreed with Sabina’s position.
“We do not agree that there is need for complete stop of Sabina activities during the summer season. This kind of shutdown would threaten the project,” Emingmak said last April.
In their negotiations with Sabina, the KIA tried to flesh out the meaning of staged shut-downs in greater detail.
That work is reflected in suggested terms and conditions they filed with the NIRB near the end of the April hearing.
“While KIA is satisfied with these plans, it should be noted they were only finalized during the hearing and that they were the subject of a joint submission by Sabina, Kia and the Government of Nunavut on the final day of the hearing,” KIA president Stanley Anablak said in a letter posted Aug. 29 on the NIRB’s public registry.
But the KIA said the NIRB may not have had time to air out those new proposals. That’s one reason they want Bennett to hand the Sabina proposal back to the review board.
And the GN, in its Aug. 22 letter, said they take issue with the NIRB’s “zero tolerance” approach to caribou disturbances.
“In the GN’s view, the application of such a standard across the territory could be unnecessarily detrimental to responsible development of the territory’s resources,” Guyon said in the letter.
Various other players also have chimed in with letters of their own.
The Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association in Taloyoak said it’s still opposed to the Back River project.
But hamlet councils, HTOs and elders groups in other Kitikmeot communities said they support the mine and oppose the NIRB’s recommendation.
Some Sabina employees from the Kitikmeot, including one group who appear to have used the same fax machine at the Amundsen Hotel in Gjoa Haven, also said they want the Back River project to be approved.
In its own letter, the NWT-Nunavut Chamber of Mines, the regional industry lobby group, dumped all over NIRB’s recommendation, saying it “does not align with the evidence.”
“The uncertainty created by the NIRB’s decision on the Back River Project may lead to significantly reduced investment in exploration which will potentially stifle the growth of Nunavut’s minerals industry,” the chamber said.
KIA Letter to Northern Projects Management Office by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd