Azimut wants to exploit land near 'Caribou Heaven'

Uranium firm fights for mine near Kuururjuaq

By JANE GEORGE

Uranium exploration companies don't want Kuururjuaq, Nunavik's second provincial park, to prevent them from mining near the area.

But several other groups want to see park boundaries expanded by 1,800 sq km to protect rare fossils, pristine lakes, and caribou breeding grounds nearby.

Arguments for the two opposing views surfaced during public hearings held March 14 and 15 in Kangiqsualujjuaq on planning for Kuurujuaq Park.

Azimut, a Montreal-based firm with a uranium property near Kuururjuaq, strongly opposes any limits on mineral exploration or mining near the park.

Azimut says Kuururjuaq is "an opportunity to demonstrate how the coexistence of mining and park activities can be successful."

"Mining exploration and development activities are compatible with park activities. Their presence provides economic diversification and growth for the local economy while meeting sustainable development objectives," says the company's brief.

DeBeers in South Africa has mined close to protected areas, Azimut points out. There, DeBeers also collaborated with the South African National Parks agency and the Peace Parks Foundation to establish the Mapungubwe National Park near its Venetia mine.

Azimut wants a promise that lands around Kuururjuaq will "never be subject to prohibitions against mineral exploration."

But Makivik Corporation said the birthright organization has "very serious reservations" about plans for uranium mining near Kuururjuaq, which includes a scenic mineral-rich belt near the Torngat Mountains.

And the Society for Nature and Parks in Canada and the Kativik Regional Government want to see a buffer zone as well as an expansion of the park's boundaries at Mont Nuvulialuk and around Tasikallak Bay.

"It is a very sensitive ecological region," Maggie Emudluk, chair of the KRG, told the hearings.

These groups want the park's boundaries expanded by 1,800 sq km at the south and north ends to protect fossils and lakes near Tasikallak and unique land features near Nuvialuk that date back to the last ice age, including rocky ice fields and remnants of ancient shorelines.

These groups say thousands of mineral claims to surrounding areas should not be renewed after 2008.

The Society for Nature and Parks in Canada also suggests an additional 14,000 sq km be added to the park to protect the breeding and grazing grounds of the George River caribou herd.

They worry mining activity may frighten caribou, pollute nearby water, and damage permafrost already melting from climate change.

In contrast, Azimut and Northwestern Mining Ventures want a formal recognition of promising areas in Nunavik for mining, "just as governments designate protected areas in order to conserve biodiversity."

Azimut says it won't be able to afford working near Kangiqsualujjuaq if a buffer zone limits access to its North Rae property, only 30 kilometres southeast of the community and skirting the future park's borders.

Preliminary studies show this property has excellent potential. Its uranium deposits, spread over 759 square kilometres, are thought to be worth about $500 million. But the company says it will have to invest millions to bring it into production.

Azimut is also active in other parts of Nunavik. Azimut and Majescor Resources Inc., whose South Rae uranium property is 130 km. southeast of Kuujjuaq, are exploring and developing the West Minto uranium property near Inukjuak, for a possible open pit mine.

Quebec's department of sustainable development, environment and parks is now reviewing comments and briefs submitted at the hearings, and by summer, should release its recommendations. These will, among other things, touch on suggestions for changes to Kuururjuaq's boundaries and the creation of a mining-free buffer zone.

The park hearings, presided over by former KRG chairman, Johnny Adams, attracted many local residents. Many wanted reassurance that Kuururjuaq won't affect Inuit harvesting rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Although no mining is to be allowed anywhere in the Quebec park system, beneficiaries are entitled to continue hunting and fishing in Nunavik's future parks, just as they do now.

The hearings also heard Kuururjuaq needs:

  • More money. Within five years, the KRG says it will need at least $1.2 million per year to manage and operate Kuururjuaq. "Sufficient financial and human resources must be made available to take the park into the next phase and later to operate and promote it," says the KRG;
  • A logistics unit, similar to the Polar Continental Shelf Project, to coordinate all research activities in all Nunavik's future parks. "When a number of parks have been created, an agency like this will be very much needed," says Laval university's Centre des études nordiques;
  • More tourism promotion. "Inuit culture, Arctic environment, parks and resource development are compatible and, if properly tapped, could help Nunavik compete with Greenland, Alaska and Nunavut as an attractive Arctic destination," says the Nunavik Tourism Association;
  • The designation of Caribou Heaven, where the Naskapi believe caribou originated, as a sacred area within the park, say the Naskapi of Kawawachikamach;
  • Appointment of a Naskapi elder to a member of the committee responsible for managing the park, say the Naskapi;
  • Installation of a plaque in Naskapi, Inuttitut, English and French at a viewing point close to the agreed site of the Caribou Heaven, say the Naskapi;
  • Integration of information about the Caribou Heaven into the cultural and educational facilities and materials of the future park: "To that effect, we undertake to share our knowledge. We shall commission a painting of the Caribou Heaven by a Naskapi artist as a gift to the interpretive centre," say the Naskapi.
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