'Like part of their spirit.'
Baker Lake hunters, elders oppose uranium mine
Joan Scottie was on the front lines 20 years ago when the community of Baker Lake said an historic "no" to uranium mining – and she's still fighting the same battle today.
But this time, key Inuit organizations have switched sides.
"I'm frustrated with our aboriginal organizations," Scottie said. "They are the ones who are supposed to represent us. Instead, they are getting revenue in millions of dollars from the mining companies for our hunting grounds."
"We are the ones who are going to get the negative consequences if something happens."
In a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board for the Baker Lake Concerned Citizens Committee, Scottie said the committee opposes uranium mining in the Kivalliq region because:
- once one mine is opened it will be politically impossible to stop the development of others;
- mining activity will harm the Beverly and Qaminirjuaq caribou herds "upon which our culture as Caribou Inuit is based;"
- it will damage human and community health and infrastructure, and traditional activities;
- "there are very serious moral issues associated with uranium mining, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and the storage of radioactive waste for countless generations to come."
There have been numerous development proposals and exploratory ventures, but so far, uranium has not been mined in Nunavut.
In 2007, NTI changed from a policy opposing uranium mining to supporting it when "carried out in an environmentally and socially responsible way and the uranium that results from the mining shall be used only for peaceful and environmentally friendly purposes." It also requires Inuit participation, limited environmental impacts and the protection of human health.
In the face of global climate change caused by greenhouse gases, the argument that nuclear power is a "clean" alternative to coal and oil for electricity production is finding renewed support worldwide, and uranium prices are expected to rise.
In February 2008, NTI signed a deal with Kaminak Gold giving NTI a million shares in a joint uranium mining venture 300 km west of Rankin Inlet.
The deal includes $50,000 a year royalties for NTI before production commences, and 25 per cent participating interest or a 7.5 per cent net profits royalty in any mine that is developed.
Scottie, also a member of the local Community Lands and Resources Committee, said neither NTI nor Kivalliq Inuit Association have provided financial or logistical support so elders, youth and hunters and trappers can be heard in NIRB screenings and reviews on proposed uranium mining.
She requested $5,000 last fall from NTI, and through Edwin Evo, the local representative for KIA. She also invited Evo to speak to the Hunters and Trappers Organization.
She has yet to hear back from either organization or from Evo himself, she said.
"Evo should resign," she said, "because he is not working for the beneficiaries."
Evo directed all questions to KIA president Jose Kusugak, who was unavailable at press-time.
At KIA's annual general meeting in Rankin Inlet last October, Kusugak presented Areva Resources with a congratulatory plaque for being "a really good example of how companies should do consultation work."
Areva told the KIA annual meeting it did 22 Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit interviews in Baker Lake and Chesterfield Inlet last year, and occasionally flies people by helicopter to the sites of outpost camps where they were born.
"I'm sure" the uranium mining development companies "do consult with KIA and NTI," Scottie said. "But they shouldn't be taking action until they have consulted with us, the people, the hunters – not just with the political organizations."
She said the Baker Lake hamlet council did come up with $1,000 in emergency funds recently to help people respond to a NIRB screening on the proposed Areva Kiggavik project.
During blizzard conditions, she was able to get about 50 people out to the Hunters and Trappers office to fill in the NIRB forms, with an additional 20 elders showing up the following day for discussion and response.
Many of the elders were surprised to hear about the feasibility study, she said. "There are a lot of things happening without the elders' knowledge."
Among the elders, all but one opposed the uranium development. Among the hunters, opposition was 68 per cent, and for the youth it was just over 60 per cent.
"A lot of people think it's just me talking," she said. "But it's the people out there that give me strength when they start talking."
"You have to listen to the elders. Some of this land is very sacred to them. It's not just hunting and fishing grounds; some of it is like part of their spirit."
NIRB is looking at two proposed uranium mining developments in the Baker Lake area," said Jeff Rusk, the board's director of technical services.
One is a 45-day screening process under section 12.4 of the Nunavut Land Claims Act of AREVA Resources Inc.'s Kiggavik uranium mining and milling project.
The other is a more extensive environmental impact review process under Section 12.5 of the land claims act of the Uravan-Garry Lake project.