Grise Fiord wants IIBA for Mars project

Mars researchers can’t use Inuit-owned land


IQALUIT — The people of Grise Fiord say they won’t let Mars Project organizers use Inuit-owned land on Devon Island until they negotiate an Inuit impact and benefits deal with the community.

Two weeks ago, eight Grise Fiord community leaders toured two major research projects perched on the rim of Devon Island’s Haughton Crater — a 20-kilometre-wide hole created by a meteor collision millions of years ago.

There, scientists, engineers and other researchers are developing the Haughton-Mars Project, run by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency, and the Mars Society Habitat project, run by a non-governmental organization pushing for the colonization of Mars.

Mars researchers like the crater because its terrain resembles the surface of Mars.

But Grise Fiord residents have thwarted the researchers’ plans by forbidding anyone associated with these projects to use Inuit-owned lands.

Inuit-owned land comprises 70 per cent of the area around the Haughton Crater.

Under the Nunavut land claim agreement, Inuit have the right to control access to Inuit-owned land, and every scientific research project must get the approval of affected communities.

For the past three years, throngs of scientists, engineers and media people have congregated at the site, creating unease about the impact of visitors and vehicles on wildlife and land.

Marty Kuluguqtuq, Grise Fiord’s assistant senior administrative officer, says an IIBA would provide “more than just jobs for students,” and permanently involve Grise Fiord residents in the project.

The Grise Fiord visitors tried on space suits, toured a mock Mars habitat, and heard answers to questions about how project organizers intend to use the land.

“I was glad to see how clean the site was and that paths were being used,” Kuluguqtuq said.

Kuluguqtuq said the visit to Devon Island was “very positive,” but it didn’t change Grise Fiord’s stand.

“The position of the hamlet and the HTO is that they fully support the use of the Crown land, but not of Inuit land,” he said.

Kuluguqtuq said an IIBA could lead to more collaboration between the space researchers and Grise Fiord residents.

But Kuluguqtuq doubts that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the Inuit organization designated to handle the job of negotiating an IIBA, can find an experienced negotiator able to work on the deal.

That’s because the QIA is too busy dealing with its own internal problems, he said.

Dr. Pascal Lee, who’s heading the NASA project, said Devon Island is an ideal site for the Mars project, not because it looks like a stage setting for a Mars movie, but because it resembles the fourth planet at its warmest state.

Lee, a scientist at the Search for Extraterrestial Life Institute, and NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, says he’s frustrated about not getting access to Inuit-owned lands in and around the crater.

Lee says his team would never harm a “planetary treasure” and that he’s hardly seen any animal life at all during his stays on Devon Island.

“It’s not like we were disturbing the place or harming wildlife,” Lee said earlier this year. “It’s not like we’re pouring asphalt.”

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