Mine expansion opponents slam NIRB hearing process, call it unconstitutional

Public hearing considering Baffinland’s proposed expansion of Mary River mine

Igloolik Mayor Merlyn Recinos asks a question during the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearing for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed railway and dock expansion. (Screen shot)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

In a public hearing to address concerns about a proposed mine expansion — which is expected to have immense effects on Inuit culture and way of life  — opponents have been restricted in asking questions, or excluded. On the hearing’s fourth day, some frustrated intervenors called the process unconstitutional, “insulting” and “unacceptable.”

Critics of the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed railway and dock expansion at its Mary River mine have been held to three questions per round since Wednesday morning, when the board announced it was already a full day behind schedule. Members of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization say they have been excluded from asking questions altogether.

As a result, community leaders say Inuit are being left behind in the discussions. The Nunavut Impact Review Board’s hearing began Monday to consider Baffinland’s request to expand the mine, a move it says is necessary to make it financially sustainable.

“Inuit should not walk away from this meeting not knowing and not understanding the impacts of this project on their families, on their hunting grounds, on their rights. They shouldn’t, but they’re being forced to,” Igloolik mayor Merlyn Recinos said, before walking out of the board room in Pond Inlet Thursday.

Nunavut Impact Review Board executive director Karen Costello told Nunatsiaq News the board “is unable to address questions from the media on matters that are actively before it,” but added that the community roundtable, scheduled for next week, is when Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge, is typically shared.

Amanda Hanson Main, technical adviser for the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, said the board has a constitutional obligation to be the conduit for Inuit and government, stemming from Canada’s largest land claims agreement.

The board’s mandate comes from the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. One section refers to public hearings specifically and instructs the board to “emphasize flexibility and informality” during hearings and “give due regard and weight to the tradition of Inuit oral communication.”

Recinos and Lori Idlout, technical adviser for the Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Organization, criticized the board during an open forum Thursday. Both argued Baffinland routinely deferred its answers to specific documents — documents that could be located in a registry of over 1,000.

“Our communities do not have the capacity and capability that [Baffinland] does. We have continued to talk about the amount of documents that are on the record for this proposal. And a lot of it is misinterpreted,” said Recinos, who then walked out of the room.

Others, such as Chris Debicki, vice-president of policy development for Oceans North, says he has received multiple non-answers.

Baffinland did not respond to a request for comment on the fairness of the proceedings. In two previous requests for comment, Baffinland said it will not comment on the hearing while it is ongoing.

Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization chairperson Eric Ootoovak said in an email to Nunatsiaq News that the hearing has been “very disrespectful to Inuit culture.”

“Intervenors are very unhappy with the way Inuit are being treated. We thought this process was supposed to be flexible, and allow us to be heard,” he wrote, adding that the pandemic has been challenging for Inuit’s participation in the hearing.

The hearing, which began Monday, is taking place at two hubs — one in Iqaluit and one in Pond Inlet — as well as permitting people to tune in through broadcast, Zoom and teleconference. That has separated communities and made it harder for Inuit to communicate and speak with their elders, Ootoovak said.

“Oral communication is fundamental to Inuit culture,” he said.

Pond Inlet technical adviser Frank Tester, in a phone interview with Nunatsiaq News, described the restrictions on questions and inaccessible materials in conflict with what the board should stand for.

“The Inuit have been forced into a format and a way of dealing with information which is not respectful in and of itself,” said Tester. “We’ve got a format here that is a western process for holding a hearing and deciding what makes sense, in which Inuit have been squeezed or forced.”

At the end of the hearings on Feb. 6, the Nunavut Impact Review Board will send its recommendation, based on the evidence provided during these hearings, to federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, who will then make a decision on the expansion.

The Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs said Inuit must be included in the conversations.

“The Government believes that members of the communities impacted in the Baffin region must have a meaningful opportunity to make their views known during the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s (NIRB) Final Public Hearing, to inform and influence decisions about this important project,” a spokesperson said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

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(27) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jennifer on

    When QIA signed that agreement, Baffinland probably thought they were in the clear. But, as we see, all the communities have gotten were words. None of the northern communities have seen any benefits from the beginning, while Iqaluit infrastructure is booming. If this billion dollar agreement was what it is supposed to be then the northern communities would be tickled pink about it, but as QIA has shown over the last decade, this is not the case.

    On another note, being behind schedule should not have to be the peoples’ problem. The NIRB and Baffinland organizers are dealing with something that could make or break people’s livelihoods, and nothing like this should be expected to be “on time.” Nor should people be excluded or pressured, ‘unconstitutional’ may just be the proper word here.

    I have always agreed that the protection of the natural food supply is paramount. Especially when the very people that own the land are being excluded from decisions and benefits of it’s developments. The northern Baffin communities have the most to loose here, and subsequently should have the most to gain.

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    • Posted by Pangloss on

      There is a glaring omission in this line of reasoning, and thats is the role of regional Inuit association. QIA has received millions in royalties from this project, so the real question is why that hasn’t, as you allege, made it into the communities ? Your argument needs to be reframed if it is to represent the real issue here.

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  2. Posted by Zoom Zoom on

    I don’t get the accusation that having the hearings in two communities and online makes it “harder for Inuit to communicate and speak with their elders”?

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    • Posted by Upon reflection on

      There’s a lot of theater going on in these meetings, by the looks of it. To run down the big bad mine is to “stand up to the oppressor” or to defy the “south” or the “colonialism” or whatever meme-able fits best.

      Granted, not being there I can only comment on how it is presented through this news source. So, perhaps Baffinland is obscuring information and being avoidant. I don’t know.

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      • Posted by upon reflection too on

        Okay, Boomer 😉 Ya the worst thing about capitalism, colonization, oppression, inequality etc etc is how totally cliche it is. It just keeps happening! Over and over again! The same old story. How boring! But why shoot the messenger? Or those trying (again and again) to change the plot? Tho I agree framing things in this way is too simplistic, not v. helpful. From what I can see, Inuit at the hearings are busting their asses trying to get straight clear answers to questions we should all be asking. And they likely do this at a tremendous personal cost. As if this is how they want to invest so much of their time/energy. And they do this for what? What do they have to gain from stopping the expansion, or asking it be slowed down or the hearings to be fair? I don’t know how anyone who can answer that question could reduce it to or dismiss it as some trendy meme isms

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        • Posted by Not a boomer, but okay then on

          “Memetics [is] an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer. Memetics describes how an idea can propagate successfully, but doesn’t necessarily imply a concept is factual.”

          In other words, ideas can be successful and spread for reasons that have nothing to do with their correspondence to reality. Of course, this happens all the time. Your use of the term ‘trendy’ is a good one.

          So, for example. Do you think the mine is a colonial imposition? Do you think capitalism is an unjust economic system? Do you think the mine and capitalism together are forces of oppression?

          These suggestions are crude and simplistic and don’t tell us anything useful, yet you would be sure to find them if you scratched even inches below the surface of many of the arguments here.

          • Posted by Okay okay, not boomer on

            But isn’t memetics so1970s? like some debunked, reductionist, out-dated, social evolutionary model of culture? And even if it’s not, as wikipedia tells me, then might it have succumbed to its very own theory and itself be a concept that propagated itself successfully, wihtout necessarily being factual?

            Equations where the mine is evil capitalist/colonial/oppressive are, as you say, crude, simplistic and so also inaccurate. And so are the ones that circulate about the mine as social and economic development/progress/opportunity, or hunting as traditional vs. modern, or iron ore as a valuable resource to extract, and seals as something that need to be saved. Cultural tropes, sure. But whose?

            When we scratch the surface and find familiar patterns there, it might not be that we are finding them so much as drawing or re-inscribing them ourselves. I don’t disagree with your points. It’s just that in reducing people’s concerns about the mine right now to some kind of meme – it seems you risk further reproducing/contributing to the very problem (of reduction) that you critique. So does my rambling. Tune in and listen for yourself to what people are actually saying: http://www.isuma.tv/es I don’t think it is crude or simplistic and is far more interesting and complex than anything either you or I can/have/should add to the matter.

            ((Also I am sorry about the “okay, boomer” thing. It was meant to be a kind of jk about the dismissive nature of memes. But I can see it was a bad joke and that it might have seemed rude))

            • Posted by Upon reflection (Gen X) on

              I’ve never thought of memetics as being a model of culture. To me they model how cultural ideas are replicated and spread over space and time.

              The idea of the ‘meme’ (memetics, as an analogue to genetics) is from Richard Dawkins in the 70s. But it’s become more useful today thanks to social media. Calling the tropes mentioned meme’s is to say they are ideas that get passed along through culture because of an appeal that corresponds to economy and bias; simplicity, anti-modernism, a complement to grievance, things like that. There are kernels of truth in them, and that adds to their allure. Yet as you say, they are reductionist and simplistic.

              It’s also true that offering up an alternate narrative that unduly favoured ‘progress’ ‘development’ and the mine would be no different in that sense. I’m not trying to do that here (granted, I bias in that direction).

              Also, let me clarify, I didn’t mean to reduce everyone’s concerns to simple theatrics, or to reciting memes. My point was that there is theater being performed here and it comes across in the reporting (though I doubt that was intended). I conceded my opinions on that were a bit one dimensional, as I wasn’t there. So, I’m not trying to make a sweeping generalization or dismiss everyone’s concerns. I meant only to poke at some of the histrionics I sense going on.

              Thanks for the link, I will check it out.

    • Posted by Henry Mike on

      Not everyone has internet access and a lot of people are still computer literate. Theyre playing capitalist games, im sure some would have loved to be at the hearings but had obsticles. ive been to one NIRB meeting and i thought it was a joke. Everything was ruahed, hushhush. Do not give this company a green light anytime just yet, theyre playing games with us.

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    • Posted by Julian Vee on

      Idk, it’s pretty hard to participate in the hearings at the same time as you are trying to simultaneously consult with people in another community by phone, internet? Uhhhh what internet…..This is a place where access to affordable and reliable internet is practically a human rights issue. In fact, the hearings were shut down in the middle of a big moment in Saturday night’s session because the connection was lost between the two communities – Pond and Iqaluit.

      Next week’s community sessions were always meant to be a chance for community members to finally meet, present, share, question, discuss the proposal and voice concerns. Having everyone dispersed in different places sort of limits the potential there for making an impact. People complaining that the hearings are slow/behind schedule like it’s the fault of the intervenor’s somehow when how much time we spend getting each speaker lined up by video/ the delays, and glitches “are you there”? “can you hear me? ” “oh you’re muted” “Can you turn off your notifications?” “What’s that feedback sound?” “We can’t hear you”. “Can you say that again?” “Oh we seem to be having technical difficulties”

  3. Posted by Artie on

    First off I am Inuit. I want to make that very clear from the outset. I have applied for jobs at Baffinland several times… rejected everytime.

    Baffinland has only 1 thing in mind… make a profit for the co. & their shareholders & earn bonuses for exec officers & the BOD.

    Baffinland does not give a ratz! azz about Inuit or the impact their proposed expansion plans will have on Inuit & the environment.

    Baffin Inuit already know tuktu are in serious decline in the region & they also know that joe/jane Inuit in the region are getting the basic jobs at mine… if they are lucky. Job split between NU Inuit & QC is 80-20.

    Raglan mine… Inuit are getting hosed worse @ 85-15 job split.

    So yes! Inuit make your demands & don’t back down. A hearing during a pandemic is a f’n joke!

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    • Posted by whitskimo on

      i love how we can blame a mine for the decline of the animal populations, i guess it has nothing to do with over hunted and selling online. also i see baffinland working hard to improve our life styles. putting our people through schooling and to get trades to provide a better life for our familys. we lived on the system for so long why is it such a problem for us to want more? not everyone will have a government job the most cant buy food with the price at the stores. so i would like to ask you this are you okay with poverty? you are okay with the government owning us with the system? i think we need to take our lives in our own hands and make it to what we want. i for one am not happy with the little we get from welfare. i love my people and will stand arm to arm with any but why do you think me and many like me should be on the system? it hurts me to know that like always to few people with moneys in our communities who like to be the big one in the pond will be against the rest of us moving forward.

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      • Posted by what money on

        I don’t think people in Pond have big money as you assume.

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    • Posted by Poachers on

      Baffin caribou are being poached! I personally saw two people shoot at least two caribou just north of Iqaluit a few weeks ago. One was a mother with a young calf. Yes, I reported it, but the poachers will probably get away with it and keep selling the meat online.

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  4. Posted by toot toot! on

    why is pond inlet hamlet and hto the only ones in pond inlet? seems the QIA pres and Baffinland CEO were good to stay in iq with all the other community people. divide and conquer. and if the nirb don’t let anyone speak, that’s a good way to make sure the hearing and the project gets a full steam ahead approval. toot toot!

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  5. Posted by Make it happen. on

    If it wasn’t for baffinland the less than 500 wouldn’t be paid to stay at home with 85% of pay. Wouldn’t that be nice. Awesome on baffinland paying millions so Inuit will not get covid. If it wasn’t for baffinland people in the community wouldn’t get food hampers. If it wasn’t for baffinland nunavut would fail even more. This is a opportunity for nunavut to thrive yet we still are very spoiled wish to be taken care of. Rest of Canada is in university and nunavut still in kindergarten. My take and maybe because I’m a BIM employee I feel this way and my lively hood is in jeopardy because of the HTO decision.

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  6. Posted by ??? on

    So let me get this straight. On one hand, let’s complain that there isn’t enough information and then turn around and complain that there is too much information? How on earth can anything move ahead when everyone thinks they need to know everything but they either don’t have the time, expertise or interest to actually read and understand it? Seems to me that the best thing is to get all the inputs from MHTO, Hamlets, QIA, Baffinland reports etc to NIRB and then let them do the important work of trying to make an informed decision based on what is known. If it hinges on what the Hamlets etc “don’t know” then we’ll all still be talking about this a decade from now….

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  7. Posted by Work on

    QIA represents Inuk in the Qikiqtani; I think there is a lot of frustration from those in the northern communities that the money paid to QIA from the Mine thus far have not made it to the northern communities the way they wanted; the new ICA agreement seems to send money directly to the communities – and a lot of it. The QIA is responsible for these negotations and seem to have done a good job. Most of the actual residents of the communities are in favour of the expansion. They are earning good money from the mine and with this expansion the future looks better… All of the information is there in the documents; it just needs to be read. I believe some have an agenda to delay; and by any means they can come up with.

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    • Posted by Echo Chamber on

      Their agenda is clout chasing and performative displays of moral purity and righteousness. Their reward is social and political capital that they cash in amongst Nunavut’s social elite.

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      • Posted by gossipers spread like crazy on

        There is no social elite in Nunavut. Get out of whatever your smoking and get a clear view for once. Also, stop spreading false information. People like you stand on the side gossiping like little high school girls of the world.

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        • Posted by Echo Chamber on

          Sad to see a gendered attack considered an acceptable form of insult. When you say “like high school girls” are you suggesting young women are frivolous or lack intelligence?

          Also, if you can’t see that a room full of mayors, media, heads of organizations and other well positioned Nunavummiut form a privileged class, and that within groups people perform fealty rituals for one another and to their gods (that is, to sacred values that define group membership), then I guess there is no conversation to be had here.

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    • Posted by Northerner on

      If the money was dispersed do you believe it would be well spent? Likely not. Booz away

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  8. Posted by Wow, a reaction on

    Would be interesting to hear MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq’s opinion on all of this.
    It would offer a bit more clarity on the substance of her office, and her willingness to face the presence of a little friction locally, to ensure Nunavummiut come out on the right-side of these hearings/future negotiations.

    • Posted by Not in Her Lane on

      Not really within her remit though, is it?

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  9. Posted by Wow, a reaction on

    Not sure on that, but it’s good to see, yesterday, she brought this forward in the House of Commons. Her voice is important, especially in ensuring an issue as important as consultation gets attention and is shaped to the appropriate context within the bill to implement UNDRIP.

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  10. Posted by Inuk guy on

    Jeez do a plebiscite already. All Inuit on Baffin island need to stop fighting amongst themselves and sending consultants so much money. Do you value jobs and progress OR preserving your traditional way of life and protecting your animal stocks?

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    • Posted by tig on

      I dont think we must always oppose “job/progress” to “traditional way/animal stocks”, you can find more sustainable economic models, people are creative. Problem is that the wealthy industry are the ones running current models $$$$, and are not willing to explore other ways of business that respect the Inuit way of life. And no one in mining industry take locals preoccupations seriously. They after the mine

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