North Baffin Inuit form new group to raise concerns about proposed mine expansion
“Our community members have been screaming and nobody has paid attention,” says Igloolik mayor
Leaders from five communities on northern Baffin Island are unifying as the North Baffin community group in the hope of having their concerns heard by a mining company and by an organization that is supposed to represent their interests.
If their concerns aren’t heard, the group warns Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. that its operations at the Mary River iron ore mine will not continue.
“This information has been the same since Baffinland started—work with the Inuit, you will succeed. If you try to work alone, you’re going belly up,” said Eric Ootoovak, the chair of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization.
Pond Inlet, Igloolik, Clyde River, Arctic Bay and Sanirajak are the closest communities to the Mary River mine. People who live in these communities say they have noticed that narwhal and caribou have been affected by the mine’s activity since it started operation in 2015.
“The data that’s being provided right now is not correlating with what the communities are seeing on the ground,” said Merlyn Recinos, the mayor of Igloolik.
“Our community members have been screaming and nobody has paid attention,” he said.
Baffinland’s plan to expand its mine’s production is currently going through the required environmental assessment. The expansion has been stalled because community leaders from North Baffin are dissatisfied with information the mine is giving them about what they’ll do to mitigate further impacts on mammals in the area.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association legally represents Inuit who live in these communities. However, the North Baffin community group said the QIA signed an Inuit Certainty Agreement with Baffinland in early July without consulting the communities in the area.
The QIA disputes this. A spokesperson for the QIA sent an email to Nunatsiaq News, listing the dates of 13 meetings that were scheduled between different community groups and the QIA to show the extent of their engagement, saying the ICA was explained “clause by clause.”
But Recinos contends that this engagement occurred after the ICA had been signed. “Consultation doesn’t happen after something is signed,” he said. “That’s a presentation.”
The signing of the ICA caused the North Baffin community group to speak publicly as a unified voice for the first time.
The group includes hamlet leaders and the chairs of the hunting and trapping organizations in each community.
Ootoovak said that QIA signed the ICA without consulting the people who see the effects of the mine, and that this tells him that the organization isn’t representing Inuit.
“It’s like they’re running their own show,” he said.
The North Baffin community group wants to work with the QIA to learn what the expansion will look like for the communities.
The expansion is a “multigenerational decision,” said Recinos.
“Once we know what we have to lose and what we have to gain, we’ll go into our communities and engage them,” he said.
Once the North Baffin community group knows what the people who live in the communities want, that information can be relayed to the QIA, who can relay it to Baffinland, Recinos said.
The group emphasizes that it’s not against mining. “Let’s do this right,” said Joshua Arreak, the mayor of Pond Inlet. “If mammals are affected, money won’t bring them back.”
Baffinland wants to expand the mine’s annual production and exportation of iron ore from six million tonnes to 12 million tonnes. To accomplish that, it wants to build a railway to transport the iron ore from the mine to its port at Milne Inlet, and increase shipping to the port.
The communities currently don’t have a clear picture of how this will further impact the animals that they hunt, especially narwhal and caribou. The worry is that the animals will disappear, and along with that, knowledge of the land, culture and language, Recinos said.
“[The communities] should be the ones that are making the decision if they’re willing to forgo that,” he said.
The group is creating a list of outstanding issues that they have with the information Baffinland has provided them, Recinos said, and will present that to the QIA.
They’re also working to gather information in preparation for the upcoming technical meetings. The hope is that the QIA will work with the North Baffin community group and represent their interests to the mine. If that isn’t happening, Recinos said, then the group will apply for intervener status, so they can represent themselves during the assessment process.
Currently, the communities and hunting and trapping organizations have individual intervener status. The hope is that identifying questions and concerns that everyone in the region has, and presenting them as a united front, will help them be heard.
“We see the ships every day,” Ootoovak said. “The people [Baffinland] is contacting in QIA, they don’t live in Pond Inlet, therefore they don’t see the same impacts. They simply see money coming in.”
Seeing as the decision to expand the mine is a multigenerational one, Arreak said that there shouldn’t be a rush to make it.
“If [the mine] closes, then it closes,” Arreak said. “The iron ore won’t go away. So what’s the rush?”
The QIA declined an interview request, but a spokesperson said in an emailed statement that it looks forward to working with affected communities.