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

This ship is leaving Baffinland’s port at Milne Inlet. The North Baffin community group, comprising the mayors and the chairs of the hunters and trappers organizations from communities near the Mary River mine, is particularly worried about how a proposed increase in ship traffic will affect narwhal that migrate through these waters. So far, Baffinland has been unable to address these concerns, the group says. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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.

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by Nu res on

    Good for baffin communities standing up for the health of their land, only if rankin and surrounding communities would do the same as KIA is MIA.

  2. Posted by Northerner on

    “If [the mine] closes, then it closes,” Arreak said. “The iron ore won’t go away. So what’s the rush?”

    ***** best quote ever!! Lol***** well done

    • Posted by Observer on

      How about the followup statement: “If it closes it may never open again.” Mr. Arreak seems to be under impression that mines can simply be started and stopped when one likes.

      • Posted by Shut this one down on

        So tired and fed up with this same crap argument of threatening to close down. Who gives a shit as they have made difference to the residents. Please close down and spare our land and ocean for our food. This company has been one screw up after another so no big deal. Bye bye

  3. Posted by Arctic Troll on

    It would be great to see the mine close and all the workers go home and make nothing but social assistance for a while. It will give them a chance to reflect and continue to pontificate on these made up connections and fantasies about the affects of a few iron ships on the wildlife. I don’t buy this for a minute. People in the north just love to demonize business and make completely absurd and mysterious connections between unrelated things. I would love to see that come home to roost for once.

    • Posted by Nice Name on

      I was starting to get a little angry at your comment but then I read your name.

      • Posted by Pissed Off Cdn on

        I agree with Arctic Troll. From what I have read, Baffinland has been very generous to Inuit and listen to their concerns.

        All Inuit were sent home, with full pay, since March and they are continued to be paid. Everyone should be very thankful.

        • Posted by Consistency on

          Listen to concerns and and act on said concerns are two very different things. and during their last technical meetings last Nov they could not answer basic questions that had been asked many times before. and i would not be surprised if when the mine brings back Inuit workers there have been changes to how things are done. has the rail already started construction… who would know. just like they shipped the supplies to build the rail before approval will they build it before approval?
          Its not like they is much trust there.

          • Posted by Troll on

            Actually QIA approved the shipping of that equipment.

            Baffinland has pretty much met all the terms….

            At this point we all just want the canadian gov to step in and end this stupid game

  4. Posted by Consistency on

    Good for our community leaders to stand up to QIA and BaffinLand.
    Heres and Idea
    For the amount allowed to be removed each year it should be tied to the % of Inuit employment. If they propose and get approved to extract 12 million Tons a year and they only have %25 Inuit employment then they can only extract 3 million tons. This way as Recinos says it is a multi generational mine there can be more training an developing the Inuit work force.
    I think this would also make it so at the beginning of the mine the companies are forced to try and be truthful as to how much they hope to pull from the ground. Instead of say ya we only want to take 3 Million tone (so the mine lasts 100 year)… then the next year be like actually we now need to take 6 million ton, then 12, then 24 (but the mine only has a life of 12 years). because we know they play games. but if they know it is tied to a % they might come straight out with 24 million tons so when they get their %25 Inuit labor to begin with they can pull out 6 million tons.
    So as they invest in training of Inuit more can be mined and the money can both stay in Nunavut as well as get the executives richer.

  5. Posted by Northerner on

    8million$$$$ per ship for 80 ships per season, 640,000,000$$$$ that’s how much they take per shipping season, what are those 5 communities getting with that much money they’re losing from the land?… AFFECTED WILDLIFE. LOSING ABUNDANCE.

  6. Posted by Silas on

    I applaud the North Baffin communities for their bold statements. Regardless of what people say this is still Inuit territory.
    If I had my way all resource development would stop until Inuit have the education and capabilities to extract the limited resources themselves. It is a slow process but once those resources are gone the animals will have been disrupted to the point of no return? At present most of the benefits are going elsewhere more so than they are to Inuit.
    The gold mines in the Kivalliq are disrupting the caribou routes and the mining company has indicating that they are not affected but they are not the hunters who depend on the caribou so they can say whatever they want and keep doing what they do. It is the same with all the other companies that come to our territory to extract the limited resources. Once those resources are gone Inuit will be right back where they were before so I applaud them for standing up to the mines.
    Communities have existed in Nunavut for less than a century and Inuit are still here whereas thousands of people from the south and elsewhere have been here for a number of years then they go back wherever they came from and most could care less about the north and its people once they leave.

    • Posted by no goin back on

      we will not be right back where we were before. we are never going back we have to many people an not enough caribou and live in communities

  7. Posted by Observer on

    No wonder north baffin-miut wanted their own Inuit org. Really showing now that qia is neglecting their own people for their interest.

  8. Posted by Dear God on

    So the Inuit people are turning against the people they elected to represent them lol.

    Its not white man’s greed anymore. This is Inuit Greed.

  9. Posted by delbert on

    Covid has changed the world. Iron ore is not rare mineral there is a abundance of it. I appluad those who want to protect wild life an dthe enviroment. Sadly iron ore can’t be eaten. Multi national companies like Acelor Mittel who own BaffinLand will simply walk away. Leaving those like Mr Recinos trying to explain why the mine closed. Iron has been there for thousands of years and it will stay there for thousands more.

  10. Posted by Suqa on

    Where’s NTI hiding ? In the Ship?

  11. Posted by Rolando P Espinoza on

    Very important issue, before any possible approval for expansion is to check with independent experts if the mine is complying now with environmental permit conditions and what is their land reclamation and water protection long term plan. Then address concerns of local comunities and find a positive balance for future environment recovery and preservation. Iron prices are record high now and many other sources around the world will develop including recycling. Will the mine be sustainable against international competition?

  12. Posted by northbaffin on

    If the communities felt they were represented by the QIA, why did they form their own North Baffin organization? if QIA listened to the communities and represented their concerns, it would not get to this level.

    QIA is only in it for QIA, not the communities. all they see is dollar signs in their eyes. QIA will still be there if this project does not go ahead, why are they worried?

    i will reiterate, if QIA represented the communities concerns, they would not have formed their own group…bottom line…..its not that complicated.

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