Is environmental board shilling for uranium mine?
After reading Joan Scottie’s letter dated May 7 regarding the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s recent scoping sessions in Baker Lake, it is with considerable dismay that I must report very similar observations in Repulse Bay.
I just happened to be in town on other business, so I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the public meeting.
Attendance was very low — what else would you expect during the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially on a night when the Montreal Canadiens were playing in Game Seven? Could the timing be any worse?
More to the point, both Joan Scottie’s report and my observations suggest that the NIRB officials were acting much of the time in the role of advocate for the proposed uranium mine.
This is surely not appropriate for the environmental review organization of Nunavut, a body created by the Nunavut land claim agreement to work on behalf of Inuit — not mining companies — to protect “the land” in the broadest sense of that term, meaning all of the renewable resources upon which Inuit have depended for millennia.
But in effect, as I observed, the NIRB spokesperson spent most of the evening “selling” the mine to the people of Repulse Bay.
Although reps from INAC, KIA and the mining company itself were there, notably, Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit, has not yet been provided with intervener funding to participate in these community visits, which would help ensure people hear a different perspective on the issue, and encourage them to speak out.
As disturbing as this was, even more distressing is the complete lack of understanding on NIRB’s part of how to engage a community in meaningful consultation.
Anyone who has been working in Nunavut’s smaller communities for any length of time knows that a large public meeting is rarely a forum in which the grassroots are likely to find their voice.
Informal, sit-down sessions with small groups of local people, where they can more easily drive the agenda, are far more effective.
It takes more time and sensitivity, to be sure, but it also produces much more meaningful results, in terms of actually hearing people’s concerns and opinions.
I may or may not support the development of this or another mine. I am not opposed to mining carte blanche. That is not the issue.
What I do profoundly support is the right of all residents to have their say. And for this to happen, the NIRB, and other agencies, need to learn how to work in the communities.
The crew I saw in Repulse Bay last month had no idea how this should be done.
David F. Pelly
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