'Anyone who operates here has to make a real commitment to develop the land in partnership with

Symposium declares Nunavut open for business

By JOHN BIRD

As Nunavut celebrates its 10th anniversary, outside interests that powered the early growth of Nunavut's two largest communities are poised to play major roles across the territory again, participants at the Nunavut Mining Symposium's Iqaluit town hall said earlier this month.

The question on everyone's lips was whether and how Inuit can benefit economically from the resurgence of both mining and military interests. Iqaluit started as a military base, and Rankin Inlet as a mining town.

Concerns about managing the social and environmental costs were much more muted.

But both questions hinge on a much anticipated land-use plan for the territory – promised within two years.

Mining companies want the plan to streamline development, and ordinary Inuit want it to protect their land.

University of Calgary professor Rob Huebert told the town hall that perceptions about climate change have northern nations like Russia, Norway, the U.S. – and even Canada – all ramping up their arctic military capabilities, to put muscle behind diplomatic squabbles over how to divy up what they see as fresh arctic pie.

Other powers, like China, Japan and South Korea, are showing interest too, Huebert said. It's all related to the North's:

  • oil, gas and mineral reserves that international players expect will become increasingly accessible; and
  • shipping routes, expected to soon become commercially viable across the pole, along the north coast of Russia – and through Canada's fabled Northwest Passage.

"The international community is jockeying for control, and for regulations to increase resource development," Huebert said.

In the last three months, he noted, both the Americans and the European Union have claimed the Northwest Passage is an international strait.

But for the Inuit, Nunavut is home, not a pie to be carved up.

Canada and Nunavut say the passage is an internal waterway, lying within and under domestic control.

Huebert said management of shipping in the Arctic is integral to the management of resources.

Mining may be slowing down right now with a serious world economic downturn, but it has been growing steadily over more than a decade, and will come out of the recession stronger than ever, Keith Morrison, a geologist with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and a member of the symposium's steering committee, predicted during a synopsis of the event.

"We're entering a new age in the territory when it comes to mining," he said. The mines coming onstream now are major projects that will have regional, territorial, national and even international impact.

There is more diversity now, he added. "We don't have all our eggs in one economic basket anymore."

But for Nunavummiut to benefit from this growing interest in the north, panel members at the town hall said two things are needed:

  • "the regulatory system needs to be effective," Paul Quassa, vice-chair of the Nunavut Planning Commission, said; and
  • the territory needs better training programs to prepare its citizens to work in the industry, Kugluktuk MLA Peter Taptuna, who is also Minister of Economic Development and Transportation, said.

Quassa promised a complete, "Nunavut-wide land-use plan within two years," with a one-window approach for developers and the NPC as the entry point.

The territory needs a land-use plan "to protect and promote the future well-being of its people, and to protect and restore the integrity of the environment."

Quassa said one of the biggest changes in the last 10 years regarding mining in Nunavut is that there is now "more participation at the community level."

The Inuit are not just watching development from a distance, as with Nanisivik.

Mike Vaydik, general manager of the Nunavut and Northwest Territories Chamber of Mines, said the mining industry must work with the Government of Nunavut, the institutions of public government like the NPC and the Nunavut Impact Review Board, Inuit groups like NTI and the regional organizations, and local communities.

"The Nunavut land claims agreement made the Inuit the largest private landholder in the world," he said. "Anyone who operates here has to understand that, has to make a real commitment to develop the land in partnership with the Inuit."

Vaydik echoed the general tenor of the symposium, which not surprisingly, was overwhelmingly pro-development, when he said:

"The close relationship between the Inuit and the land is great, but the Inuit have to recognize that the land produces not just animals, but also the income to provide education and jobs that are the hopes and dreams for the future."

"We used to think mining was a pick-and-shovel job," Taptuna said, emphasizing the importance of training. There will be many other opportunities for Inuit trained to do them.

"We've learned that opportunities have to be earned. They are not just given to you."

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