Pro-Baffinland video prompts pushback at mine expansion hearing

One critic says video is ‘racist’; union says it shows testimonies freely given by Inuit workers

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. vice-president Udloriak Hanson, left, responds to Anita Uvuttuvak, right, after Uvuttuvak received loud applause for her speech. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Inuit were self-sufficient before Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. existed and will continue to be if the company’s proposed expansion doesn’t go through, said a Pond Inlet resident Wednesday afternoon at the Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing.

The board is conducting a hearing into the mining company’s proposal to expand its Mary River mine. Opponents say the plan to build a railway to Milne Inlet and increase shipping threatens caribou and narwhal, integral to traditional Inuit culture.

“Saying how Phase 2 is the only way Inuit are going to survive — that statement is false,” said Anita Uvuttuvak at the Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing. “Inuit have survived for years before Baffinland existed.”

Uvuttuvak made the comment in response to a video played Tuesday evening during the community roundtable — time allotted to residents from affected communities to voice their concerns — produced by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793, which represents Baffinland employees.

The video warns that the mine’s Nunavut employees could continue to experience layoffs, as they did during the COVID-19 pandemic, if the mine expansion is not approved.

“This tough reality, experienced on a temporary basis due to COVID, could be a permanent experience if Baffinland’s Phase 2 expansion is not approved,” the video’s narrator said.

One employee featured in the video said they he tells people that Phase 2 “should happen. And they just agree with me all the time, they’re jealous of wanting to work over there.”

Uvuttuvak said the video was filled with “brainwashing tactics to get Inuit to believe Baffinland is the answer to all their needs.”

The video was “culturally offensive and racist,” wrote Chris Debicki, a vice president with Oceans North, in an email to the board’s lawyer, Teresa Meadows.

Debicki said the video depicts harmful stereotypes of Inuit, making them look desperate.

Mike Gallagher, business manager of IUOE Local 793, said the union “strongly disagrees” with Debicki’s assertion that the video is racist.

“The video is a collection of testimonials freely given by our Inuit members at the mine and expresses their personal views and opinions concerning Phase Two,” he said in an email to Nunatsiaq News. “They want their voices heard during this regulatory process and as their union, we facilitated this happening.”

Debicki also objected to the NIRB allowing the video to be played because the union is not a registered intervenor, and so he said it shouldn’t be able to present during the community roundtable.

Meadows responded following the lunch break Wednesday, saying that several parties had objected to the video being considered by the board. They have until Nov. 8 to file their objections to the video, and Baffinland can reply up until Nov. 15.

In the meantime, the board will not file the video materials, pending the outcome of the decision.

Udloriak Hanson, a Baffinland vice-president, said the company had nothing to do with which employees were featured in the video, or what they were asked.

But Baffinland was thrilled when the union approached them to say they were going to make a video about employee support for the expansion, because many employees are scared to voice their opinions, Hanson said.

“So for people to disregard what some of those employees so courageously shared and so happily, I mean, some of them were so happy to share,” Hanson said, adding that more than 300 Inuit work at the mine.

“We need to celebrate that.”

Uvuttuvak received loud applause from attendees in the Iqaluit conference room — a rare display during the hearing — after she finished her 20-minute speech.

Uvuttuvak told the board about her experience growing up, and how there is hardly any wildlife left near Pond Inlet. She said the hamlet’s residents have been “treated like guinea pigs” and are expected to accept the expansion.

“[The expansion] will ruin our waters,” she said. “The people of Pond Inlet have already lost so much.”

Hanson said trusting the company will be hard, but that her, along with many Inuit employees at Baffinland, wouldn’t work there if they didn’t believe harvesting and hunting could coexist with a mine, she said.

The company wants to double its iron ore output to 12 million tonnes per year and build a 110-kilometre railway from the Mary River mine to Milne Inlet. The in-person, public review phase of its proposal is scheduled to end on Saturday.

After that, the board will prepare its recommendation for Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal, who will either approve or deny the project.

Our Inuit Voices Matter: Supporting Baffinland's Phase 2 Expansion from IUOE Local 793 on Vimeo.

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(54) Comments:

  1. Posted by Settle down white saviour on

    Inuit speaking up for themselves is racist – but debicki jumping up and down saying he knows what’s best for Inuit, isn’t?

    Inuit voices in support and opposition are louder than ever. That’s what the community roundtable is for.

    Enough with the white saviour performances oceans north. it’s time you excuse yourself and let Inuit take the mic.

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    • Posted by Oh Ima on

      I agree I confronted him before, he doesn’t have to live with poverty, he’s a southerner that lives a comfortable life! Most Inuit live in poverty and institution racism with Government doesn’t give opportunities for Inuit. The mining industry is the only one that steps up and doing best to hire Inuit and follow IIBA. I have relatives that had nothing before mining started and only have grade 9 education if that! Now they are able to provide for themselves and family, purchase hunting equipment to go hunting during their time off. It’s rich that an a non-Inuk is speaking about Inuit experience.

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  2. Posted by Mine Owner to Be on

    Let’s do some arithmatic.

    We were told the mine would last for 100 years, maybe more. They are mining 6 million tonnes per year now. They want to increase that to 12 and then 30 million tonnes each year. When that happens, the 100 years becomes 20 years. Of course this makes sense to investors. They will be dead in 100 years, so the investment will be of no value to them. They want the money as soon as possible, so they can use it.
    .
    They say the mine will have to shut down if the price of iron ore falls below $100 US per tonne. At today’s exchange that’s $123 Canadian per tonne.
    .
    Selling 6 million tonnes at $123 per tonne gets them $742,000,000 each year. Where does it go? We don’t know for sure, because most things are “confidential”.
    .
    We’ve been told BIM employs 441 Inuit. We don’t know the average wage, but let’s be generous and say the average Inuit wage at Mary River is $100,000 per year. It might be closer to half that…
    .
    That works out to $44,100,000 per year for Inuit wages at Mary River. Let’s guess that QIA and the communities receive $10,000,000 each year. Correct me if you know I’m wrong. That gives a total of $54,100,000 going to Inuit each year.
    .
    Now subtract the $54,100,000 going to Inuit from the $742,000,000 BIM gets from selling the iron ore. That leaves BIM with $687,900,000 every year. Of course, they have some other expenses.
    .
    But who does that money go to? Is it possible that many of their investors are also suppliers, so they are, in effect, paying themselves? We don’t know. But that is not uncommon.
    .
    It appears that Inuit are getting between 4% and 8% of the money the iron ore sells for.
    .
    Is someone is taking notes, so Inuit can build and operate the next mine by ourselves and at our own pace, with all the money going to Inuit?

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    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      This is the most over-simplified and inaccurate assessment of how companies generate profit that I have ever seen. What are Baffinland’s annual construction costs? What are their operations and maintenance costs. How much does Baffinland pay in salary to ALL employees and not just Inuit employees? How does Baffinland pay out to shareholders in annual dividends. What are Baffinland’s costs against the depreciation of their physical assets? Somebody needs a serious refresher in basic mathematics let alone economics before they should be in a position to post the kind of nonsense you just put up here.

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      • Posted by I can add on

        Mine Owner to Be did not mention profit. Northern Guy talked about profit. At $100 US per tonne there presumably is no profit. That’s the definition of a break-even point.
        Northern Guy says the analysis is too simplistic, but he provides no additional details and he does not deny anything written by Mine Owner to Be.
        Mine Owner to Be says there are other expenses. It does not matter what they are. We know how much they come to, even if we don’t know who the money is going to.
        In particular, Northern Guy does not dispute that Inuit are receiving between 4% and 8% of the Revenue.
        Is it worth risking the future for 4% or even 8% of the present?
        That’s the question. It has nothing to do with profit. It’s a gamble.
        From what I’ve read of European tradition, the land owner received 50% of the year’s crop and the people who worked the land received the other 50%.
        As far as Inuit owning and operating the next mine, don’t you think we can learn what we need to know in less than 100 years?
        If you don’t, please be clear in your statement of your opinion of us.

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        • Posted by Northern Guy on

          Except that it DOES MATTER WHAT THOSE COSTS ARE. That’s the whole point of valid robust economic analyses. You can’t simply take the market value of iron ore multiply that by the number of tonnes extracted and then subtract the salary cost for Baffinland’s Inuit employees and baldly claim that this the company’s profit margin. Even a simpleton should be able to see that.

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    • Posted by Smarten Up on

      This is one of the most unrealistic calculations I have ever seen and it just reflects the fact that you have absolutely not idea about business costs, never mind mining.
      As for your last paragraph, it will be a long, long, long time until a mine can be planned, staffed and operated by Inuit. This is sadly the truth

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    • Posted by Reality on

      If rent costs me $1200 and I have $2000 per month I should be fine right? I know I have ‘other expenses’ but they shouldn’t cost too much.
      The reality is ‘other expenses’ are what causes a person to live in poverty or any business to go bankrupt.
      I admire the attempt to simplify Baffinland’s financial situation but attempts like this only scratch the surface and ignore reality. This comment bares a good similarity to the extremely inaccurate statements and reports given by Ocean’s North in previous hearings. If these intervenors are such financial experts, their environmental agencies wouldn’t be funded by donations from billionaires with opposing interests.

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    • Posted by Redbrew1 on

      So Baffinland only expenses are salary ?? There are many other factors that make up the cost of production and your simplistic view doesn’t cover any of them.

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  3. Posted by Stay in your lane on

    ‘The video was “culturally offensive and racist,” wrote Chris Debicki’

    As a southerner and a follower of this issue, I am frequently annoyed by other southerners with a savior complex.
    Inuit can speak for themselves and don’t need a caucasian ex-criminal lawyer turned environmentalist to weigh in on what is racist or culturally offensive in this issue. Just doing so is racist and culturally offensive!
    Outsiders need to listen to all members of the affected indigenous communities, not speak for them and then try to quash dissenting voices of the opposite opinion.
    Stay in your lane, you don’t have the right or privilege to cross that line.

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  4. Posted by No Moniker on

    Interesting story, I do wish the video was available for public viewing so we could judge for ourselves. Debicki’s comments, for example, feel a bit performative. It’s just too easy for a group like Oceans North to make incendiary claims about racism at absolutely no risk or cost knowing there is an audience eager to devour these kinds of claims at any chance.

    Hopefully we will get to see it for ourselves at some point. Until then be mindful that we are observing narrative warfare.

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  5. Posted by can we watch it? on

    I’d like to see the video for myself, and I’m sure others would as well. Perhaps IUOE Local 793 could make it available online?

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    • Posted by Uninformed on

      Video is embedded on the article. Just click on the ‘video played Tuesday evening’ with the underline and it will automatically link you to the video

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      • Posted by anon on

        Well, you could if Oceans North hadn’t submitted a copyright strike to Vimeo and had the video pulled.

        Classy move, ON.

  6. Posted by Sam on

    One person can stand up and read a prepared statement opposing the expansion, and be applauded in a staged statement and be applauded, and employees that depend on this employment are brushed off, but I guess the media can play a different song that people are forced to hear sad.

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  7. Posted by Northernee on

    The hearings are there so that Inuit voices can be heard.

    Unfortunately, people only want critics to be heard while employees at the mine complain that they are not allowed to speak. They have voices to.

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  8. Posted by John K on

    The real racism here is the tokenization of the Inuit in the video by their own people. They disagree with you so they MUST be brainwashed and obviously they’re racist because everything we don’t like it racist.

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  9. Posted by Think about it on

    Over harvesting, global warming, fossil fuel and expansions of human settlements have nothing to do with the disappearance of animals? Give your head a shake and welcome back to the days where most of the community will rely on income support and welfare.
    Do you really think the iron, gold, silver, uranium, diamonds, will stay in the ground forever? Give your head another shake. Self efficient? Inuit were not self efficient anymore as soon they started dealing with the whalers and HBC years and years ago. Just go ahead and ruin it for all Inuit residents who actually want to receive training, work and to break out of this stereotype life, and have a good career, to support their families

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  10. Posted by Terry D on

    I like the statement by Debicki objecting to the NIRB allowing the video to be played, because the union who produced the video is not a registered intervenor. Why are organizations like Oceans North and WWF allowed to be registered intervenors? Clearly they have a biased agenda. If these organizations with a clear mandate to appose the expansion are allowed to be registered intervenors then why can’t organizations like the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines who advocate for industry. At least, then there would be a more balanced approach to these hearings.

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    • Posted by Warren Bernauer on

      Hi Terry,

      Has the NWT & Nu Chamber of Mines ever applied to be intervenors in the process? I don’t remember seeing an application from you when this process began.

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      • Posted by Terry Dobbin on

        I remember trying for intervenor status back in 2019 and received negative feedback.

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        • Posted by Warren Bernauer on

          Thanks for the clarification. Did you apply as part of the Phase 2 review? I checked the public registry and the only document I can find from the chamber of mines is a letter supporting the phase 2 proposal…

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  11. Posted by Caribou Hunter on

    Would be this just as bad if they shipped the ore on the Igloolik side of Baffin like they originally planned?
    The original plan was to ship the ore all year round but it was over turned by the people that don’t even live on Island because of their walrus breeding ground.
    So a big sacrifice for their walrus for caribou and narwhal so this was wrong planning and decision making right from the beginning so maybe redraw the plan before the railway is built ?

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    • Posted by Not true on

      Not true…the south project was not overturned or rejected by Inuit. Baffinalnd apparently can’t afford to build it. Boo-hoo

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      • Posted by Financial Reality on

        Can’t afford to build it? Nope. They could but the investors they originally had got scared off by all the stall tactics that were pulled by the opposition delaying approval until the price of iron ore dropped. Once Baffinland got approval, the original investors were long gone. It’s surprising the mine kept going, 5 billion in lost investment is a lot to lose in any business.

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  12. Posted by Optical Illusion on

    The idea that there is self sufficiency among the Inuit of Pond Inlet, or Nunavut in general is not a serious one. Is anyone left in this world whose economic fate is not tied to the broader global community? There may be a few, but I don’t believe anyone thinks that is the case here.

    The question, it seems to me, is whether we can adequately balance the aspirations and concerns of both groups here. I don’t have the answer, but am waiting and hoping to see that properly addressed at some point.

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    • Posted by “Self-sufficient” on

      Yep this whole fetishization of a subsistence lifestyle can only go so far. Pond Inlet was never self-sustaining. Once the town site was erected, inuit needed foreign fuel (heavily subsidized by the gov) to hunt, to heat their homes and to power their lights. Same can be said about firearms. I’m sorry, but when is the last time you saw a group go out hunting with sled-dogs or a kayak?

      This expansion will benefit the heck out of north baffin and anyone who disagrees has likely been tricked into believing some misinformation. Let these Greenpeace /ocean network/Greta thunburg types do the speaking for other groups but they can keep their deep pockets out of Nunavut

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      • Posted by My neighbour on

        My neighbour goes out by dog sled to hunt. Buuut as if to prove your point he does take a “colonial” rifle with him.

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  13. Posted by Northern Guy on

    A lot of grandstanding and theatre going on. First off the union represents Baffinland’s employees so they are entitled to speak at the hearing on behalf of the company that employs them. Second Ms. Uvuttuvak is technically correct, the continuation of the mine is not a matter of Inuit survival; however, to the best of my knowledge, no one from Baffinland has ever characterized the project in this way. What Ms. Uvuttuvak didn’t talk about are the choices that the mine does offer Inuit in the North Baffin. The continuation of the mine is a choice between prosperity and poverty. It is a choice between dependence on government handouts and independence,. A choice between years long waits for social housing and being able to afford to build your own home. There’s no getting around this folks jobs mean prosperity and if Baffinland shuts down don’t for a second think that Mr. Debicki and Oceans North are going to step in hire the 400 or so Inuit who are going to lose their jobs.

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  14. Posted by Responsible and beneficial mining on

    Anita Ootoowak’s statements are largely unsubstantiated.

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    • Posted by sharp shooter Inuk on

      Anita Uutuvak’s statement is 100% right, sulijuq. No Inuk ever write’s “largely unsubstantiated.” Now I know this is written by Baffinland employee.

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      • Posted by Really on

        So you’re saying that Inuit are unable to write something with big words?

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        • Posted by sharp shooter Inuk on

          Some words are not with-in our vocabulary that we use in our Inuit day to day life, “largely unsubstantiated,” is one of them and it’s a technical term used a lot more in meetings.

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          • Posted by Sharp shooter inuk on

            I have never in my life heard another fellow Inuk say “largely unsubstantiated.”

            NEVER! EVER!

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            • Posted by River Rat on

              I think this entire thread is largely unsubstantiated!

              There. I SAID IT.

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            • Posted by Putting this out there on

              I have. Does it mean that person should not be considered an Inuk because they use words like that.
              I have never heard an Inuk speak Spanish. But if an Inuk wanted to learn Spanish why not, doesn’t make them less Inuk.

              Increased vocabulary in English does not take away who you are.

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  15. Posted by Manapik on

    Save your money, once all natural resources disappear we’ll be eating gold bricks, Iton and cash.

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  16. Posted by Uvanga on

    Residence who rely on income from narwhale, i wonder how much they are losing out on because there isnt much around pond inlet. How many hunters are impacted with this loss. We have great hunter families who benefit from narwhals.

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    • Posted by Really? on

      Yes tell me more about these residents who pay for their entire livelihoods by hunting narwhal? Few hundred bucks don’t put a roof over your head, but 100,000 a year certainly does. Where else can someone with a ninth grade education make that kind of money?

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  17. Posted by River Rat on

    “But Baffinland was thrilled when the union approached them to say they were going to make a video about employee support for the expansion, because many employees are scared to voice their opinions, Hanson said.”

    When the union and company bosses are holding hands, it usually doesn’t bode well for employees. Be cautious.

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  18. Posted by Northerner on

    There’s going to be lots of high paying jobs lost because of ignorance. Baffinland are a very environmentally mine no chemicals . If you have gold mines that is bad . Also everyone blames baffinland for everything but the drilling in ponds harbour , the over hunting of caribou ,global warming among other things . WWF and greenpeace with there naysayers are only bull——- they don’t care about people and jobs they are publicly funded by muilimillioners this project will help a lot of people and our children because only few will get jobs in these very racist communititys and that’s a fact

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    • Posted by Jennifer on

      Your comment deserves a reply…
      .
      People driving trucks would be replaced by a rail.
      Any remaining caribou would be driven away.
      Only jobs given to locals are 99% janitorial.
      The promised training facility from the Pre-revenue phase never happened.
      The training facility promised in Phase 1 never happened.
      The only people who benefited so far are QIA employees in Iqaluit, and the occasional funded sewing class in the smaller communities.
      Throughout all the baffinland promotions are ultimatums- give this and get this, say no and get nothing, remain in poverty.
      Other communities are preventing Pond-muit from going there to hunt.
      Communities such as Arctic Bay that still have animals are being given a voice in favor, but they are not coming from the public, just hamlet bosses, this is made clear in the comment sections of this newspaper.
      Baffinland employee stating in the hearing that ‘Inuit have never had such power before.” That is Fact Fake News at its best.
      Inuit get free education in any subject as per the Land Claims Agreement. They do not “need” Baffinland to prosper.

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      • Posted by Let B Real on

        “Inuit get free education in any subject as per the Land Claims Agreement.”

        This is a false statement.

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        • Posted by nope on

          yes you do. First 2 years in NU and if the degree is not offered in NU you can go elsewhere in canada it is offered if it is on a list of recognized institutions. Paid for, housing assistance too. Even if you are Inuk in southern canada. Dont have to start in NU, just need to be an approved school

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      • Posted by Get real on

        Sorry Jennifer, but clearly you are against the mine and are unwilling to to listen to both sides. There are a number of mistruths in your statement as well as omissions. Is anyone going to talk about the little things that Baffinland’s done that make a huge difference in communities? How about the food banks in local communities that Baffinland donated to and raised money for? How about the laptop program for North Baffin graduates? How about the winter jackets for kids donated to communities not to mention the search and rescue support and open door policy for any local visiting the mine? Baffinland hasn’t brought up these acts of community outreach in the hearings because they speak for themselves, unless of course this is all just ‘fake news’ and all the stories about Baffinland helping out local communities is just a pile ‘alternative facts.’ Try to look at both sides of a discussion rather than dismissing something only because it counters your point.

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        • Posted by Funny on

          Haha, yeah thanks millionaires for the food baskets and orange snow

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          • Posted by Real is as real does on

            If you are going to quote people, dont be one of those people Mark Tawin wrote about. Use them the way they were written instead of applying them to irrelevance.

      • Posted by Mines and railroads killed the Bluenose Herd? on

        So was it a railroad that drove the Bluenose Caribou herd from 100,000 animals to 15,000 in 10 years?

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      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        Absolutely incorrect. Take a look at Meadowbank, Meliadine and Hope Bay. Inuit employees there have jobs as heavy equipment operators, drillers, plumbers. electricians as well as other kinds of trades people (all trained by the mine). To say that Inuit will only get janitorial jobs is bald faced fallacy. This doesn’t even begin to consider the millions of dollars that will go to Inuit companies that will service and support the mine site.

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    • Posted by Sad but true on

      I know that we, Inuit over hunt and we don’t often or never report our catch to our local HTO. And HTO’s dosen’t seem to mind, nobody get’s charged for that.
      Every 1 animal or 1 mammal harvested is 1 less everytime.

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  19. Posted by Sam on

    These people commenting that this is mostly supported by the communities sound suspiciously non-Inuk. The grammar and vocabulary used doesn’t line up with how Inuit speak or write English. Feels like Baffinland employees trying to convince people to blame members of the community for them not getting new ski-doos and stuff. Shameful and unethical.

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  20. Posted by Hold Your Ground on

    It’s funny reading this thread – lots of shareholders, employees, and suppliers to BIM in this thread.

    The truth is though, this is our land, not yours. We make the decisions here, not you.

    If the affected communities don’t want it, there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.

    Broken promises have a way of coming back to bite you BIM. Ultimatums and threats do not usually work out the way you want them to. Not here.

    If Phase 2 gets rejected, you will have only yourselves to blame.

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    • Posted by Ditto on

      Hold Your Ground – It is your ignorance and the people who think like you that are the problem – not BIM.

      Since you became a Territory, it is no longer your land, it is a piece of land of Canada and administered by the local governments of the respected Territories and Provinces.

      Your way of thinking will continue to make the territory a drain on the rest of Canada, while continuing to oppress the local people that look at life in a different way than the past.

      No one is stopping you from living your ways of the past, but are you willing to give up all of the modern day conveniences you know have. I doubt it. So what are you bringing to the table? I hope it all of the stuff you have taken.

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