Inuit afraid to show Baffinland support: former councillor

Joanna Innualuk-Kunnuk says Inuit lost trust in the company a decade ago

Inuit in Pond Inlet are afraid to show support for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., says a former hamlet councillor. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There are Inuit who support Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed mine expansion, but they might not say so out loud, says a former Pond Inlet hamlet councillor.

Joanna Innualuk-Kunnuk said people have always been wary of supporting the mine publicly.

“Most of the people who support phase two won’t say anything,” Innualuk-Kunnuk said in an interview.

“When you’re poor and hungry, you have no say. And the people who are more wealthy have a better say, because they show themselves as a successful person and you’re not.”

On May 13, the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal reject Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River plan to build a 110-kilometre railroad and double its shipping output from six to 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

Vandal’s decision is expected later this summer.

The board’s recommendation concluded a four-year public hearing that heard from community members, Inuit organizations, Baffinland, hamlets and hunters and trappers organizations in communities that may be affected by the expansion.

Baffinland stated throughout the hearing that it may temporarily close down the mine if Vandal doesn’t issue the company a project certificate.

If the proposal is approved, the company expects expansion to bring 127 jobs to the community.

Innualuk-Kunnuk said she wants to see the expansion happen slowly and carefully, so it doesn’t come at the expense of the land and animals.

“I want [the mine] to grow, but I don’t want it to grow so fast that it ruins us and our community and the land and the animals,” Innualuk-Kunnuk said.

She wants young people in the community to be able to get jobs and afford equipment to hunt. She’s proud of the ones who are already working at the mine and can afford snowmobiles.

In April, she had to resign from council and leave Pond Inlet to receive cancer treatment in Ottawa.

“I still need my grandkids and my great-grandkids to have land and hunting and teach them about our ways,” she said.

“[But] in order to keep our traditions alive, we need economic development to grow in our communities so we can buy stuff to take us out on land … so it’s mixed feelings.”

A lack of trust between some Inuit and the company began around December 2012, when Baffinland received a project certificate to ship 18 million tonnes of iron ore through Steensby Inlet and build a 149-kilometre railway connecting that port to the mine, she said.

Just over a month later, the company said it couldn’t afford that project and instead needed to make money by trucking 3.5 million tonnes of iron ore to Milne Inlet.

“We shouldn’t have said yes to the money-making proposal at first,” Innualuk-Kunnuk said.

“The elders and all the people in Pond said, ‘Yes, go ahead, go ahead’ [with the Steensby Inlet plan]. Then [the company] changed and Baffinland kind of tricked us.”

The company said in November it still plans to fulfill that project certificate and eventually have 30 million tonnes of iron ore being shipped per year — 12 million out of Milne Inlet and 18 from Steensby Inlet.

Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman confirmed that is still the plan, but said the company will have to re-evaluate its future if the expansion is not approved by Vandal.

Kaujak Komangapik, an elder, mother and board member of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, said she wants to see Baffinland revert back to its Steensby Inlet proposal, because Milne Inlet shouldn’t be open to mining.

“I don’t want Milne Inlet to be serving ships, because narwhals usually migrate over there,” she said, adding she is happy with the review board’s recommendation because the company is “damaging the land already.”

Baffinland has implemented monitoring systems that are run partially by Inuit for environmental impacts, such as the marine and terrestrial working groups. They identify and then address any effects the mine might have on the environment, Akman said.

In terms of narwhal, the company has produced three consecutive years of aerial surveys the federal government typically does every seven years, and plans to implement a tagging program in 2022, Akman said.

“Our environmental monitoring programs continue to confirm the effects of the project are within what was predicted,” he said. “This does not mean the effects the communities are experiencing are not also happening, but in all cases the project is not driving them.”

Aaron Pitseolak, a hunter and office administrator for the Nunavut government, attributes the lack of narwhals around Milne Inlet to the ship noise and said some of the water near the project is discoloured, translucent and dusty.

“For me, no mining would be good, but they’re not going to go away. It’s best [to] try to work with them and see what can work better always and gear towards that,” Pitseolak said.

Baffinland has moved closer to where some Inuit want to see it, but he believes it can do better, he said.

“Bringing jobs — I’m really happy for that. But at what cost, right?” he said. “The land and animals are going to suffer and, in turn, us.”

Asked if Baffinland agrees there are impacts caused by dust from the mine, Akman said it hasn’t caused any “unanticipated impacts” to air, water, fish, freshwater or vegetation, and that there are other natural causes of dust spread.

“The visibility of dust on snow or in drinking water affects Inuit perceptions regarding the esthetics and quality of the environment,” he said, adding Baffinland will commit to improving its dust management.

The company has proposed to crush ore indoors, spray the tote road with material to contain the dust, and postpone shiploading when there are high winds if phase two is approved, Akman said.

 

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Truestory on

    I support the phase 2 as it is the way of “Progress”. Tired of someone else making decisions for us B.I.M. workers from the hamlets. Go forward, not backward. Don’t forget. When the Northwest Passage is open, more ships from all parts of the world will use that. Even the “Land Guardians” will have no say about it. Stop being short sighted and move forward.

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    • Posted by just look at Nigeria’s land on

      I don’t support phase 2. Just because someone have different view than you doesn’t mean it’s “progress.”

      Short sighted is only seeing what’s in front of you in few days and months. People are protecting the land and Inuit way of life now and in the future!

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      • Posted by Truestory on

        Species from the south are migrating to the north as it is warming up. Narwhals did not die, they just migrated elsewhere. All over the world, when a mine opens animals and mammals migrate elsewhere. You’re the one who is short sighted as you can’t see the actual truth.

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    • Posted by BigWheelsTurning on

      Always support your good inocent people and things you believe in,
      Come out of closet and say something.
      Canada need to be productive and get big things going to support the economie of your town,provinces and country.
      I am Canadian, hey

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  2. Posted by archie pudlat on

    i like baffinland. eat lunch there. talk to workers running trucks. get a ride. really nice and warm.

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  3. Posted by Henry Baffin on

    The precautionary principle needs to apply. No one, not the mining company, not the hunters or community, not the scientists, can predict the effects of this mine on wildlife. It’s all a huge risk. And it may be a permanent adjustment of reduced wildlife and the end of Inuit hunting. That’s a possibility brought on by mining. No getting away from that.

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  4. Posted by Norman Inootik on

    At my cabin where we hunt Narwhal inside milne inlet she is my neighbor. Her husband, their boys and us, we struggle not seeing narwhals for weeks and when we finally can catch narwhal we celebrate and sometimes we invite eachother and eat our catch. If the family decides to donate or sell their cabins and hunting gear i want to be the first to know.

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  5. Posted by let the truth be told on

    When. you have people who will outright lie like below. is shows they have no integrity and do not care what damage is caused And if that doesn’t scare you Imagine what they really will lie about

    Asked if Baffinland agrees there are impacts caused by dust from the mine, Akman said it hasn’t caused any “unanticipated impacts” to air, water, fish, freshwater or vegetation, and that there are other natural causes of dust spread.

    Inuit are very resilient and are trust worthy, they care deeply for the culture , land and animals many inuit are ok with a development of the resources but first and foremost care about. the environment
    This is something the management/owners of Baffin Land will lie straight that they do while destroying future generations livelihood and the environment the wildlife require

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    • Posted by Let There Be Truth – Absolutely on

      Today in broad, sweeping generalizations, “…Inuit are trustworthy and resilient”. My experience has been that they are no different than any other group of people – some are, some aren’t, and some are both and neither at the same time.

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    • Posted by the truth is….. on

      Did you know many hunters over hunt Caribou? We seen hunters stashing their catch in the middle of the night so people won’t see them.
      Over hunting is the major cause of declining caribou in north Baffin.

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  6. Posted by Stephen C on

    Rail transport has miminal dust being kicked up. Sept Iles to Labrador City QNSandL rail bring huge quantities of ore, don’t see much dust at all outside the plant are a .

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    • Posted by northbaffin on

      the dust is from the massive ore stockpile at Milne Inlet.
      its only the size of a few football fields.

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  7. Posted by Truth’s Ugly Head on

    The point and title of this article is crap. Divide technique attempts?

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    • Posted by Piitaqanngi on

      My thoughts exactly and also thought of being misled by the headline. Where’s the silent supporters? Oh yeah they only show up on Nunatsiaq talk back under a pseudonym.

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      • Posted by Fake out on

        I thought the same about the disconnect between the title and the story. It starts off talking about people who are afraid to show support for the mine, then veers into an overview of all the cons about the mine.

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  8. Posted by northbaffin on

    There are people who are afraid of supporting this locally in Pond Inlet. they want the work, but the only voices heard are the ones that make the news. Congrats to that national radio syndicate that recently shed light on the situation behind closed doors at our municipal office. there ARE people that want to work. not everyone wants to be on welfare and hand outs. some people actually want to take charge of their futures. Cant take charge of your direction on welfare very much. the poor just getting poorer…….

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  9. Posted by Inuk on

    More Inuit support phase two and the mine, there are just very vocal borderline bullies with their own agenda and interests to go against phase two.
    Some families want more in their contracts, more and more.

    There needs to be a better way to do community consultations as we all know each other and speaking up in support will get us bullied and outcast by some families.

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