Nunavut’s radioactive issue


If the Nunavut land claims agreement actually worked the way its starry-eyed backers promised it would work nearly 20 years ago, there would be no need in Nunavut for a independent lobby group to scrutinize uranium exploration and mining.

But the public institutions and Inuit organizations set up to make the Nunavut land claims agreement work have so far failed in the performance of one of the land claim agreement’s primary tasks.

That task is to encourage the sustainable development of non-renewable resources: a form of economic development that serves human needs while, at the same time, ensuring the environmental damage caused by such development is kept to a minimum.

Because of a long series of foolish blunders, most committed within the past 10 years or so, no reasonable person can now claim that the environmental protection system laid out within the land claims agreement is capable of inspiring public confidence.

So it’s no surprise that this past November, a small group of Nunavut residents formed an independent pressure group called Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit.

This group’s stated objectives include the promotion of things that the Nunavut land claim agreement is supposed to provide for: community consultation, the protection of various imputed rights and the dissemination of information.

The Makitagunarningit group portray themselves as a source of “accurate information on uranium issues,” but this claim is undercut by their rhetoric. This is an anti-uranium organization. Their ultimate goal, clearly, is not to spread “information” but to stop the development of uranium projects in Nunavut. The group also appears to act as an Arctic subsidiary of Mining Watch Canada, a well-known non-governmental organization based in Ottawa.

This is good, but not because of the particular position this group holds on uranium mining. It’s good because it demonstrates that Nunavut residents do not think with one mind on that and many other important public issues. It demonstrates that Nunavut residents are capable of thinking for themselves.

This group also has the potential to do useful scrutiny of Nunavut’s shoddy environmental protection system. For example, they’re now raising questions about the behaviour of a company called Uravan Minerals Inc., which, they allege, is operating a exploration site without a licence and in defiance of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Nunavut’s various land claim bosses and the lawyer-consultant ventriloquists who do their thinking for them won’t like all this, of course.

But they brought it on themselves. Think back to 2007, when, in response to angry complaints from Kitikmeot business interests, Philippe di Pizzo was fired, without cause, as executive director of the Nunavut Water Board. The board’s entire technical staff, representing nearly all its actual brain-power, quit in protest, crippling the organization.

This happened because di Pizzo’s staff rejected a water licence application from the Miramar Mining Corp., likely delaying the Doris North gold project. By caving in to powerful commercial and political interests who wanted the project to move ahead fast, water board members destroyed their organization’s integrity. And they have yet to earn it back.

Consider also the Kivalliq Inuit Association’s spineless response to Areva Resources Canada, the company that hopes to turn the Kiggavik property near Baker Lake into a collection of open-pit uranium oxide mines by 2016. Instead of posing tough questions, the KIA gives them congratulatory plaques for “community involvement.”

It’s no surprise that Areva is good at “community involvement.” In 2008, the Areva group, which does business in about 100 countries, posted earnings of nearly $600 million US, based on global sales of roughly $18 billion.

This is a company that can afford to buy all the public relations it needs. But it’s unlikely even they believed the KIA could be suckered so easily.

As for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., this organization became a shareholder in a new uranium exploration firm, called the Kivalliq Energy Corp., in a 2008 deal that NTI struck with the Kaminak Gold Corp. If this project, still in its early stages, leads to a feasibility study, NTI has an option to buy 25 per cent of the company.

Because of this glaring conflict of interest, NTI, therefore, possesses no credibility on any environmental or health issue related to uranium development. The organization cannot claim to represent Inuit interests on these issues with any degree of objectivity.

So it’s no surprise at all that there’s now a new group out there whose members think they can do better. JB

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