Inuit groups remain wary of Mary River mine expansion

Government agencies tell impact review board most of their concerns are resolved, while Inuit worries remain high

Lori Idlout, technical advisor for the Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Organization, shared her final presentation Friday at the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s hearing on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed mine expansion. (Screenshot from NIRB hearing/Zoom)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Inuit concerns over a proposed mine expansion on north Baffin Island persist after public hearings on that proposal adjourned last week, even as government institutions now say their concerns are largely satisfied.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. wants to double output at its Mary River iron mine, as well as build a 110-kilometre railway and an additional dock at Milne Inlet. Representatives from North Baffin communities worry the expansion will harm wildlife and disrupt hunting traditions.

“We continue to experience colonialism,” said Lori Idlout, technical adviser to Arctic Bay’s Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Organization, Friday afternoon.

Representatives from hamlets and hunters and trappers organizations have expressed similar concerns: they say Baffinland does not have adequate baseline data to measure environmental impacts, wildlife is already thinning due to the current mining operations, and the socio-economic arguments in favour of the project remain vague.

It’s a sentiment that’s sparked protest. A small group of hunters have been blockading the Mary River airstrip and road since Feb. 4.

Louis Primeau, senior administrative officer for the hamlet of Sanirajak, said animal populations are already being depleted by the current mining operations, depriving Inuit of opportunities to hunt.

“It is extremely hard to reconcile this with the current federal government’s goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples of Canada,” said Primeau.

The hamlets of Igloolik and Sanirajak both said they are not against mining, and that some people in their communities would prefer the expansion be approved, but not at the cost of the environment, or Inuit rights.

“Our community, just like the rest of the impacted communities, rely heavily on country food and land use as a way of life. We’re being asked to gamble all of that with the hopes that we get it right,” said Igloolik Mayor Merlyn Recinos.

Government agencies at the federal and territorial level, on the other hand, reported they are satisfied with Baffinland’s answers to their questions and concerns about the project.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has one unresolved issue, concerning carbon emissions. The department recommended Baffinland use a cleaner type of fuel – a suggestion that, earlier in the hearings, the department said the company deemed not economically viable.

Brian Asher, senior air quality analyst with the department, spent a portion of his time to explain the feasibility behind cleaner fuel, stating that Baffinland would not be in line with the government’s mandate to reduce carbon emissions if it were to ignore the department’s recommendation.

“The Government of Canada believes in the ‘polluter pays’ principle, and we therefore believe it is appropriate for the proponent to bear some increase in cost in order to reduce pollution in the Arctic,” Asher said.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is working with Baffinland to resolve concerns with icebreaking, but other issues, such as invasive species monitoring, have been resolved. The department also suggests Inuit and Baffinland should determine early warning indicators of narwhal distress levels.

Just because concerns have been resolved doesn’t mean there will be no harms posed to marine life and fish habitats, said Alasdair Beattie, DFO’s lead for reviewing Baffinland’s proposal. Instead, it means “rather that mitigations are applied where possible, and that risks and remaining impacts are monitored and managed.”

The Government of Nunavut said it had submitted 86 information requests about Baffinland’s proposal in 2018, and only one remains outstanding: The territorial government said it disagrees with the company’s conclusion that caribou will not be affected by the expansion.

Natalie O’Grady, the Government of Nunavut’s impact assessment project manager, said that although its concerns have been resolved, that doesn’t mean Inuit concerns have been as well.

“We want to acknowledge that our resolved concerns about phase two do not invalidate the issues raised by community groups, individuals or other intervenors,” she said. “We trust the Nunavut Impact Review Board will consider and weigh all perspectives and voices they’ve heard on this proposal.”

Baffinland has stated throughout the hearing that it considers western science and traditional Inuit knowledge to be equal.

The board hosted a community roundtable Saturday, the last day of the hearing scheduled in February. More community roundtables are postponed until March in Iqaluit.

When the hearings are completed, the Nunavut Impact Review Board will send its recommendation to the minister of northern affairs, Dan Vandal, to either approve or reject the project.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by concern man on

    Haha, most mine companies clean up the permit area and I don’t know why this is issue when Nanisivik was around longer. simple adverse environment needs good lawyers and testimonial. This is wrong to deal with and single application can proceed without personal drama development of each collective inuit. QIA gets funds for it and distribute regularly to communities.

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      • Posted by Gloria Wagener on

        Are you exposing that communities do not benefit in any way? Please clarify.

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  2. Posted by Colonial on

    “We continue to experience colonialism”
    .
    Lori should know better than throw around ‘colonialism’ without due regard. By making everything ‘colonialism’, the word and importance of the concept are diluted.
    .
    You are not experiencing colonialism here Lori. This is QIA land under a QIA lease to Baffinland. There is an IIBA. The NIRB is a board and process established under a land claim. Where is the colonialism when Inuit own the land, decide what happens to it and have concerns address by the process in their land claim? Nowhere.
    .
    Can Inuit who control QIA impose colonialism on North Baffin Inuit individuals who just don’t like the deal?

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    • Posted by sorry but on

      sorry, but the federal ministers make the decision on this project, not the NIRB under the NLCA, and not QIA, the elected leaders. it is still political, still the feds, just like under the horrendous indian act for about 100 years.

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    • Posted by oh god not the colonialism police again on

      I should also know better, but why does it seem your mansplaining to Lori (and all of us) what colonialism is and is not is itself a form of colonialism. “The NIRB is a board and process established under a land claim.” Why is there a land claim? Colonialism.

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    • Posted by Augustine on

      Yes Dear Colonial:

      Take one step back and see how patronizing your opinion is. You choose to mansplain to an Inuk professional the “true meaning” of a word where she has living experience in its shadow.

      Her experience also includes tolerating the ranting of those blind enough to voluntarily publish their diatribes on how much more they know about everything. These pompous people feel unlimited confidence in their own opinions – despite limited knowledge of the process they defend – and feel empowered to berate her – based on their superior status in the world.

      What word could best be used to describe these people?

      Yes everyone has the right to speak and you have the right to be a pompous speaker.

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      • Posted by No Moniker on

        If you haven’t taken notice before, these comments are a good place to observe an ascendant form of progressive orthodoxy in public discourse;

        Example #1: a person’s (oppressed only) “lived experience” is sacrosanct and beyond question, given this they are allowed sovereignty over word meanings (and consequently, reality).

        Calling this process ‘colonial’ is a tenuous at best, but as the underlying dynamics fit so easily into the ‘oppressed-oppressor’ narrative it is to be expected.

        Example #2: Any time a man disagrees with a woman and states his case he is, by default ‘mansplaining.’ This isn’t just a lazy way of dismissing a point, it’s a way of exerting control over what can be said, by controlling who can say it.

        These argumentation tactics are not about discovering truths about the world or gaining meaningful insight, they are about exerting power through language, which they aim to weaponize and use as a bludgeon.

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    • Posted by Colonial on

      Of course the Feds make a decision. They have jurisdiction in this area. They are required to consider the NIRB outcome carefully and can be reviewed by a court. It is not unique to Nunavut.
      .
      Land claim = colonialism. Are you really suggesting the Inuit were not on fair terms to negotiate this? You obviously have not read the land claim. This is not your 1700s treaty.
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      ‘mansplain’. Wow. Nowadays critiquing someone that words have meaning and should be used properly is apparently misogynist. Not worth the effort to engage with you.
      .
      Not one comment that engages on the foundation of reason. This is why the NIRB hearings are a hot steamy mess. These are legal processes governed by reason and evidence. Leave your emotion home.

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      • Posted by Language Games on

        “Not one comment that engages on the foundation of reason”

        This is the right observation to make. There is a much larger movement in the direction away from reasoned discussion and debate in our society, and we need to take notice of it and call it out. I’m glad you’ve done that.

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  3. Posted by Joey Smallwood on

    The whole reason for a southern route railway was to be able to use capesize ore carriers and to avoid the confined Eclipse Sound waterway where Canadas biggest Narwhal population summer. Every increase in ore production (there may be more – look at the additional orebody candidates in the project area they are assessing) is going to push this northern delivery route closer and closer to a point where it is not feasible.

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  4. Posted by Louise on

    All I have to say is that 700 employees (including my son) are being held hostage in this mine who were due to fly home today. One man is missing his wedding, others funerals,etc
    Come on 7 young men are blocking the airstrip building fires and setting up camp all the while the mine is providing them with food and fuel and shelter…this is serving no purpose!!

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    • Posted by Qaunaq on

      BIM does not supply anything. They are self supporting.
      Dig a little deeper

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