Nunavut Inuit should be wary of ever-evolving mine plans

“We are unprepared for what’s really in store for us”

A 150-tonne long-haul truck is seen at Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s Amaruq mine. Baker Lake resident Joan Scottie says that dust kicked up by mine traffic is causing caribou to change their migration patterns and move further from her community. (Photo courtesy of Agnico Eagle)

By Joan Scottie

(Updated, June 3, 12 p.m.)

I recently read the news that Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. was granted an amended water licence. The amended licence allows it to transfer water from a containment pond to Meliadine Lake, which is a precious traditional camping and fishing domain site for Rankinmiut Inuit. I’ve also read that Agnico Eagle is proposing to build a pipeline to transport water from the mine to Itivia Harbour, which has a lot of hunters worried that caribou migrations might be disturbed.

These recent developments remind me how many of Qamani’tuarmiut (Baker Lake residents) felt when we were bombarded with uranium mine proposals twice in the last 40 years. Because of these proposals for the Kiggavik uranium mine, my community had to do a lot of research into the negative effects of uranium mining, including the potential contamination and disruption of our environment, caribou habitat, and fishing and hunting grounds.

One thing we learned was that the Kiggavik mine would be a “game changer” for uranium mining companies that were operating near Baker Lake. If the Kiggavik mine was built, we knew that many more mines would likely follow, and we would be politically powerless to stop them.

Unfortunately, when a mine is proposed near our communities, discussion is focused on the specific proposal. There is very little consideration of how the project might change and evolve, or other mines that might follow in its wake once it is approved. As a result, we are unprepared for what’s really in store for us.

Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine and all-weather road near Baker Lake are a good example of this problem. The original proposal was approved in good spirit and trust on our part. We believed that the regulatory system protected our land and wildlife. However, once the mine went into full operation, we were caught off guard. We didn’t expect dust, which now blows and accumulates on the tundra that caribou graze on, to be a serious disturbance to our traditional lifestyle. We also didn’t worry that the caribou, which used to be near our community year-round, might be driven away by the disruption from the mine road. In a submission to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization noted that many hunters in Baker Lake have observed a change in caribou migrations in our area. A lot of people, myself included, believe that mining and exploration activity is at least partially to blame.

A few years after Meadowbank was approved, Agnico Eagle came to us with a proposal for another mine located west of Meadowbank. The Whale Tail mine (sometimes called Amaruq) was not discussed at all when Meadowbank was first approved.

I am concerned that Whale Tail is a very disruptive project, because it involves hauling ore in big trucks between the Whale Tail and Meadowbank sites, through important caribou migration routes.

However, it was very difficult for us to talk back or influence the process. Some elders were very unhappy with the route chosen for the new road, but we couldn’t convince the company to budge. Because Baker Lake residents are employed at the mine, it was difficult for a lot of people to really talk back.

Based on my observations and what I have heard from other hunters, the Whale Tail project has disrupted caribou migration routes. During the 2019 summer season, the migrating caribou herds that usually come close to the community in the fall were six weeks late. Many hunters were coming home empty handed, even though they would drive more than 80 kilometres out of town looking for caribou. I’ve heard from Inuit who worked for Agnico Eagle that the convoys of large trucks were causing disturbance to migrations.

This past winter, I learned that Agnico Eagle wants to roll back the caribou protection measures on the road.

I’m worried that our community organizations won’t have the power necessary to stop them. Experience has shown us that it might be too late to have a say in these amendments that are hurled at us once a mine is going full blast.

Agnico Eagle has brought some positive changes to our community. Their mines have created jobs for local people and new opportunities for local businesses. However, Inuit are losing our means of traditional livelihood. When the mine was first approved, we did not foresee how much we would lose out in terms of subsistence hunting. If these new changes at Meliadine and Whale Tail are allowed to go ahead we will lose out even more.

I am not against mining in principle, so long as our traditional livelihood is guaranteed to be protected. These new changes might cross that line.

On a more positive note, I was very happy to read that residents of Rankin Inlet blocked the road to the Meliadine mine to force Agnico Eagle to take the novel coronavirus more seriously. It was wonderful seeing regular people taking matters into their own hands and sending a strong message to the mining industry expressing how Rankin residents felt.

In all of my years organizing against uranium mining, I have always believed that involving regular people (not politicians and government workers) is very important politically. We can elect the best leaders, but if our community is not pushing them in the right direction, they won’t have much power at the negotiation table. The Rankin Inlet blockade might be a “game changer” for Inuit. I hope it inspires more regular people to stand up and fight for our health, environment and traditional way of life.

Joan Scottie
Baker Lake

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Correction

An earlier version of this letter stated that Agnico Eagle was granted a new water licence for its Meliadine mine, when in fact it received an amendment to its existing licence.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Reality is 150 tonnes of ore on

    Depending how it’s managed over the next year or so and what the economic consequences are, COVID-19 could hurt the federal fiscal situation. That could result in federal cutbacks to Nunavut. While that would be painful, a silver lining might be that it would force more serious discussions about our expected standard of living and the economic (and employment) activities we are prepared to support and engage in to secure that standard of living.
    I am not against Ms. Scottie’s conservationist leanings in principle, but let’s be honest about what they mean for our economy when they are given free rein.
    It’s unrealistic (and frankly, greedy) to expect middle class lifestyles in the arctic based solely on federal transfers. That could become very clear if we have a federal debt crunch over the coming years.

    • Posted by Darek B on

      To my knowledge, there is no company manufacturing guns in Nunavut. There exists no Smelter to refine ore or make steel. No trees grow in the Arctic to build a gun stock to hold onto and aim the gun. All those “technologies” and “influences from the South” have changed the way Nunavummiut ancestors lived just a few hundred years ago.

      300 years ago you’d have to the run-up to the caribou and poke it with a sharp bone if you wanted to eat it. Now you drive up with a $15,000 snowmobile, wearing a $1,000 snowsuit, boots, and gloves, and drop from 200 metres away with your $1,000 rifle and ammunition you bought (and didn’t load yourself). Then you’re back home watching your big screen TV sitcoms before the engine has had a chance to cool down.

      That’s progress. Good, bad or ugly it is what it is. Deciding you want the benefits of “modern” technology and at the same time not wanting to “Pay” for it is just immature. EVERYTHING has a cost. If the community decides that the cost for these modern conveniences is too high for them, they they should consciously decide that the materials and their related costs AND benefits, stay out of their community. Give up the modern conveniences and go back in time when such a lifestyle sustained barely a few thousand people living in the north. I find it hard to believe anyone truly wants that.

      If you want jobs, either start your own mining company or you have to have someone else provide the start-up cash and experience to do pay for it. That someone else will NOT have your values, concerns or attachment to the land. Then once they are done pulling out every penny from the ground, they will want to get out of there as fast as they can and hold onto as many of those pennies as they can. If that means you paying for the cleanup, that’s even better for them since they never cared about your land, you or your children to begin with!

      A Nunavut mine (Doris North gold mine near Bathurst Inlet) recently got sold to the Chinese for $149 million. I didn’t hear of any Nunavut organizations bidding on the project. Why? If you want full control over such a project, then buy it and have at it. Instead of sending profits from Nunavut resources to China, they could have stayed in the north.

      Can anyone think of a better way to train Nunavummiut in business, management, human resources, mining, heavy equipment operation and all of it incorporating northern values to such a project than by owning it, running it and making the decisions for such a project by the people and communities it affects the most? Gold is not just used in manufacturing… instead of carving in soapstone, could not a new generation carve gold?

      Until the north starts owning such project, it will forever be an employee. And when employees get annoying and troublesome and start asking questions the owners don’t want to hear, they get fired. But the business will go on with new, less troublesome employees. And the government will keep sticking out their hand for their royalties since they don’t care where the cash lining their pockets is coming from so long as the cash keeps flowing.

      So take control! Stop being the employee, and own it.

      • Posted by John Legate on

        Derek, I find your statement that Inuit are somehow privileged to “drive up with a $15,000 snowmobile, wearing a $1,000 snowsuit, boots, and gloves, and drop from 200 metres away with your $1,000 rifle and ammunition you bought (and didn’t load yourself). ” to be extremely offensive. The implication here is that certain groups of people are less deserving of technological advances than others. This is a dangerous line of thought that I have seen in the comments too often. If you have made your own internet modem and laptop on which you type, I apologize.

        • Posted by Charitable Discourse on

          I don’t see any insinuation in the comment that Nunavummiut don’t have the right to possess that technology, or that it is a privilege they don’t deserve.
          But adding all that technology and gear to a subsistence hunting lifestyle has consequences that can’t be lightly dismissed. Firstly, it will have consequences for wildlife species. Secondly, if there’s no labour market and economy to allow people to buy all that stuff it’s going to lead to dependence (i.e. NTI’s Hunter Support Program), resentment or some socially corrosive combination of the two.
          There’s nothing offensive about pointing these things out as issues that need to be considered and discussed. On the contrary, I think it’s offensive to insinuate that Nunavummiut need to be or want to be so dependent.

          • Posted by WB on

            if ‘dependence’ is your big concern, I would presume you’d also be weary of dependence on multinational corporations that comes with the mining economy. This sort of dependence opens the door for way more political manipulation than the so-called ‘dependence’ on harvester support programs.

            Canada spends lots of money subsidizing its farmers in the Prairies, as it should. Food supplies shouldn’t be left to the inconsistencies of the market alone. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the same for northern indigenous hunters. Arguments about ‘dependence’ on harvester support are little more than a red herring.

  2. Posted by Chris on

    The most troubling thing here is the “amendment” was decided with a federal minister from Manitoba, while his own federal body has raised serious concerns and doubt about Agnico Eagle’s saline water plans. The Nunavut Impact Review Board is an ongoing proecss; the approval to dump the “emergency water” which happens to be an entire containment pond was down outside of normal procedures and without any transparency. I hope they do not get away with it. Agnico Eagle is not telling the truth!

    • Posted by Observer on

      If by “without any transparency” you mean “all the documents are available to the public”, you’re right. If that’s not what you meant, you’re wrong.

      • Posted by Chris on

        Observor,

        Where can you find the decision from Dan Vandal that permits Agnico Eagle to dump their effluent into Meliadine Lake?

        It is not on the Nunavut Water Board or Nunavut Impact Review Board registry to my knowledge, I scoured very hard.

        • Posted by Did you even try on

          NWB website – registry – FTP – mining milling – 2A – 2am mining – 2am-mel1631 agnico – licence – 1 licence

          Took me about 30 seconds plus nunavut internet lag.

          You can sign up for the distribution list too.

          • Posted by Chris on

            Thanks, I was looking under the emergency amendment folder. I think you can admit, very few people are aware of how to access that information. The process was not transparent; the NIRB process is transparent. Agnico Eagle’s permitting manager should get a trophy for wiggling that application thru Covid-19 crisis to achieve company goals, which was to use the pandemic to their advantage to obtain an “emergency permit” and avoid public debate to hide their saline water problems in CP-1.

          • Posted by WB on

            Alright, it took you 30 seconds to pull it up. I presume you have some sort of a job in resource management in Nunavut. For anyone who doesn’t work in that field, accessing documents on the NWB’s registry is incredibly confusing.

  3. Posted by Inuk on

    Although we are given the freedom of rein, do our opinions, concerns for the well being of our land ever taken into consideration and taken seriously?
    Yes, Nunavut Impact Review Board have consultations with the community members but the opinions, concerns and suggestions are never taken seriously, the representative that attend these consultations on behalf of their mining company tell our community that it won’t impact the environment or the animals! Which is very untrue! We see it today, the very impact our elders were afraid of!

    Realistically it’s the mining companies that are greedy and short paying their Inuk employees, and it will remain the same until Nunavut takes over.

    Come on Nunavut Leaders speak up! We voted for your Voice! MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT HELP!

  4. Posted by All Of Us on

    Not merely Inuit, this affects all Nunavummiut.

  5. Posted by Mat’na Joan Scottie on

    All too often we are asked to bless and follow blindly on the heavenly merits of mines. All we want to see is they be honest and do not harm our food supplies and water we and our wildlife and fish depend upon.

    These companies come and go and we will be stuck with the damage once the ore is tapped out. Please keep speaking up as you are speaking for us, we have a blind, deaf, mute government and need to keep voicing our expectations.

  6. Posted by Miner on

    Wait until the Chinese start operating in Nunavut, that Chinese road and mine in the Kitikmeot will be interesting to monitor, if its like any other mine they operate it will be a lot of damage to the environment.

    • Posted by Bruno L on

      AEM is 75% foreign owned. Do you think they care more about Nunavut then the Chinese? They have a mere 40 employees from Rankin Inlet according to their latest annual report and they are still posting jobs in rural Quebec, only in French for positions such as truck driver.

  7. Posted by inuk on

    Joan Scottie, you are a good advocate, please keep doing what you are doing.
    A lot of our elders that passed on were very vocal, and we are trying but it seems like they are not listening, just greed.
    Us younger generation need to be more vocal and not be afraid to speak.
    Unfortunately our leaders are very silent, NTI president, KIA president where are they. Our previous KIA president he was very vocal.

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