Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland sign new multimillion-dollar benefit agreement
Inuit Certainty Agreement “sets new benchmark for Inuit benefit agreements”
A new multimillion-dollar benefits agreement signed by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association for the Mary River mine is “unprecedented” for Nunavut Inuit, says QIA President P.J. Akeeagok.
The amendment, titled the Inuit Certainty Agreement, has 34 sections that outline direct community benefits, Inuit oversight of the project and expanded programming for the affected communities, a QIA news release said.
“It puts Inuit in the driver’s seat,” Akeeagok told Nunatsiaq News.
Akeeagok said the ICA was developed from what the QIA heard from communities through public hearings and community consultations.
“It’s a culmination of years, really,” Akeeagok said.
In November 2019, the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s public hearing on Baffinland’s phase two proposal for Mary River was abruptly adjourned after some interveners, including the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, expressed concerns about the project’s environmental impacts and the lack of consultation with communities.
The hearing was set to resume in March, and then in April, but was halted again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The situation gave the QIA some time to work on the ICA, Akeeagok said.
“Since the NIRB process was halted, we’ve had a chance to meet with the impacted communities to talk about different approaches and different priorities, different concerns, and areas where the communities want us to prioritize,” he said.
The ICA was negotiated with Baffinland, Akeeagok said. The current IIBA, which was created in 2013 and amended in 2018, will need to be amended again to include the ICA.
In a separate news release, Baffinland said the new agreement “strengthens the relationship between QIA and Baffinland and represents a reaffirmed commitment to the responsible development of the Mary River Project on Inuit owned lands.”
“Baffinland is proud of the work completed to reach agreement with the QIA on many of the issues that have been of concern to Inuit with respect to the current operation and expansion of the Mary River project. We look forward to working with the QIA and with impacted communities to ensure the ICA is implemented to its fullest extent,” Baffinland’s release said.
Inuit to be “eyes and ears” of the project
Throughout the last public hearing, communities raised concerns about the environmental impacts of Baffinland’s phase two proposal, including a proposed 110-kilometre rail line north from the Mary River site to its Milne Inlet port.
The ICA is meant to address most of those concerns, Akeeagok said.
“With that in mind, we’ve pushed hard in terms of what we’ve heard from the communities … and as a designated Inuit organization, it’s our mandate to ensure that the environmental concerns, as well as the socioeconomic opportunities for Inuit, are balanced.”
Under the ICA, the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization in Pond Inlet will receive a one-time payment of $1.3 million to help offset additional harvesting efforts needed in the past, the QIA said.
“This agreement sets a new benchmark for Inuit benefit agreements,” QIA’s news release said.
Baffinland’s existing Harvesters Enabling Program provides $400,000 worth of fuel to Inuit in Pond Inlet each year. Under the ICA, this benefit will continue for the life of the mine, and a $750,000 annual benefit for fuel will be shared among the HTOs in the affected communities.
Also under the ICA, an Inuit committee for the Mary River project will be formed. That committee will be made up of knowledge holders from the communities affected by the mine.
The Nauttiqsuqtiit Inuit Steward Program created for the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area will be expanded to all communities affected by Mary River. It will be funded by Baffinland and run by the QIA.
Baffinland’s adaptive management plans will also contain key triggers and observations established by Inuit that will require Baffinland preventative measures to protect the environment. Those triggers will be monitored by the Nauttiqsuqtiit program.
The ICA will also require Baffinland’s adaptive management plans for the mine be approved by Inuit. The QIA also has the right to approve adaptive management plans.
“We’ve worked extremely hard in terms of laying a foundation where it really puts Inuit in the forefront. I’m really proud in that sense, in terms of what we were able to accomplish here,” Akeeagok said.
“In terms of what impact it has, I think it sets the bar to another level for all projects on what equitable benefits and what equitable authority and oversight can look like.”
A new social monitoring framework will also be created. Community members will be hired to work on a community research team to gather information and monitor things like language preservation, housing, education and mental health.
The Inuit committee will also oversee a culture, land use and resources monitoring program that will ensure Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is respected and integrated into the project. A culture, land use and resources assessment, funded by Baffinland, will be conducted before any major construction activities.
“It’s Inuit-led, Inuit driven and that’s not just a report that’s going to be sitting at a table now. It’s one that’s going to influence how the project advances,” Akeeagok said.
Under the existing IIBA, Baffinland has a water compensation agreement with the affected communities. Under the ICA, the QIA will identify bodies of water affected by the project and determine a compensation amount for the communities.
ICA lays out millions for daycares, new child benefit for workers, increased royalty
An early childhood subsidy of $19 per day for every child under 14 for Inuit working at Mary River will be created under the ICA and funded by Baffinland.
Additionally, Baffinland will spend up to $3 million per affected community to build daycares. The daycares would be licensed and run by the communities, the QIA said.
“The benefit agreement is between Inuit and Baffinland, so they’re instrumental in terms of being a partner, in terms of what’s being committed here,” Akeeagok said.
Currently, Baffinland sets minimum Inuit employment goals for Mary River every year. Under the ICA, this will change to every three years. If Baffinland does not meet these goals, a set amount of compensation will be given to the affected communities.
Also under the ICA, the QIA will receive a one-time payment of $400,000 for “past Inuit requirement content issues.” which will be distributed through community direct benefits.
The ICA will also change contracting measures with the mine to ensure Inuit-owned firms in the affected communities benefit from the project, Akeeagok said.
The ICA will also see the company’s royalty payments to the QIA gradually increase, if phase two goes ahead. The QIA’s current royalty is 1.19 per cent. If phase two is approved, it will increase to 1.50 per cent, which will be retroactive to June 15, 2020. Five years after phase two’s effective date, it will increase to three percent.
Akeeagok underlined that although the ICA helps solve many of the issues brought up by communities during the hearings, it does not supersede the NIRB process.
“The ICA does not limit or strip the ability of any hamlet or HTO to voice their concerns, to be able to provide their input through the NIRB process.… This advances us to NIRB to [be] able to put solutions before the table and to be able to say from a QIA standpoint, that there’s a roadmap in terms of how we see Inuit really taking the oversight of a project that’s unprecedented,” Akeeagok said.
The ICA was ratified by the QIA’s board last month and is already legally binding, Akeeagok said. The QIA will work with communities to “define plans on how to best deliver these new benefits,” the QIA said in its news release. These plans will be presented before QIA’s board at their annual general meeting in October.
Akeeagok also said the QIA wants the final public hearing on Baffinland’s expansion plans to be held face-to-face in Pond Inlet, the community most affected by the mine.