Sanikiluaq pleads for Nunavut’s help
Community threatened once again by hydroelectric project
KIRSTEN MURPHY and JANE GEORGE
SANIKILUAQ — As Quebec prepares for a massive new hydroelectric project on rivers flowing into James Bay, the people of Sanikiluaq say Nunavut must ensure that their voices are heard.
Hamlet councillors and members of Sanikiluaq’s environment committee brought their pleas to Premier Paul Okalik and Hudson Bay MLA Peter Kattuk at a public meeting last weekend.
“We’ve had no delegates from the government to inform us,” said Alec Ippak. “We want the government to regard us as full members of Nunavut’s family.”
Sanikiluaq’s environment committee asked Okalik for help earlier this year, shortly after the James Bay Cree signed multi-billion-dollar agreements with Quebec and its power company, Hydro-Québec.
The deal clears away all legal obstacles to hydroelectric developments on the Rupert River, which empties into James Bay, several hundred kilometres south of Sanikiluaq.
After that, the Inuit of Nunavik signed their own billion-dollar deal, with provisions for similar developments along the Hudson and Ungava Bay coasts, and provisions for plugging Nunavik communities into Hydro-Québec’s power grid.
“The agreements are like saying ‘Go ahead and dam rivers.’ People are worried,” Kattuk said.
Sanikiluaq’s environment committee wants the Nunavut government to lobby for the idea that Hudson Bay and James Bay be considered one region — a massive inland sea.
“We live in the dumping grounds of the Hudson’s Bay and we get absolutely nothing from those [compensation] agreements,” said Lucassie Arragutainaq, who co-edited the 1997 report, “Voices from the Bay: Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay Bioregion.”
But in the recent agreements struck with Hydro-Québec, the Crees and Nunavimiut, there are no provisions that involve Sanikiluaq or Nunavut.
“We are not opposed to the benefits [Northern Quebec] will get, but the negative impacts are a major concern,” said Zacharias Novalinga.
“Hudson Bay is where mining and sewage is dumped. Minerals and ore are dumped into the rivers that flow into our ocean. It’s not just us. Contaminants can flow into Coral Harbour and Cape Dorset.”
The waters around Sanikiluaq, the only community on the Belcher Islands, host the community’s food staples: seals, walrus, whales, polar bear, cod, sea urchins and mussels. The waters are also breeding grounds for eider ducks, loons, geese, Arctic terns and gulls.
“This is our land. We live here and future generations will live here. We want to preserve our environment,” Caroline Tookalook said.
People in Sanikiluaq remember how they were ignored during the environmental review of the Great Whale hydroelectric project 10 years ago — when Peter Kattuk, now an MLA, was their mayor.
Hydro-Québec then refused to include offshore areas in its environmental assessment, despite guidelines requiring the power corporation to look at the project’s impact on the Belcher Islands and Hudson Bay.
Hunters and elders say dammed rivers from past hydro projects have changed water levels, water quality and bird migration patterns. One hunter said goose meat has declined in quality. Another elder said he’s worried about possible flooding of grave sites.
“It could represent a loss of a way of life,” Miriam Fleming said.
When the Great Whale project was still alive, Sanikiluaq’s environment committee was enraged when Hydro-Québec wanted the treeless community to evaluate the impact of the Great Whale project on forests.
Fleming, who is now Sanikiluaq’s senior administrative officer, said members of the environment committee who spoke out during the Great Whale process are still in Sanikiluaq — and they haven’t forgotten those experiences.
“No one takes the community seriously,” Fleming said.
He says Sanikiluaq and the Nunavut government should come up with an action plan together, so that the community’s voice will be heard this time.
Many residents want the government of Nunavut pay for a study using traditional Inuit knowledge, much like the report :Voices from the Bay.”
“Give us the money and we’ll do the study ourselves,” one woman said.