Op-ed: What’s next with the Mary River iron mine Phase 2
In 1990, Inuit land claim negotiators invited our chamber and the two national industry associations to a meeting.
They asked industry to support their vision of Inuit ownership of an unprecedented amount of mineral rich lands in what would become Nunavut, to be used to improve Inuit lives and well-being. We gladly supported them, and negotiators successfully won Canada’s support in making Inuit the largest private land owners in the world.
Thirty years later, mines are operating on Inuit owned lands in each region of Nunavut. The Nunavummiut workforce and Inuit businesses are growing. The goals of the Nunavut Agreement negotiators are coming true.
Baffinland’s Mary River project is the largest known and underdeveloped resource in Nunavut and if its future can be assured with Phase 2 development, it will provide a foundation for significant Inuit employment, business and royalty benefits for generations.
Of course, in creating these benefits, Phase 2 must also protect the environment, which is the basis of responsible and sustainable development. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has emphasized that environment and economy are not mutually exclusive, and we agree.
A growing number of communities also recognize this balance is achievable with Pond Inlet joining hamlets of Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord and Sanirajak in supporting Phase 2.
The Hamlet of Pond Inlet described significant benefits already received, writing: “Approval of Phase 2 and the ongoing successful operation of the Mary River project ensures positive generational impacts to the hamlet.”
Critically important to the hamlets’ support is the first ever Inuit Certainty Agreement, negotiated by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland, including likely the most progressive set of commitments made by a mining company in Canada.
These include: “environmental protection, with Inuit-led independent monitoring, improved and expanded wildlife compensation; measurable and enforceable employment, training and contracting goals; community direct benefits; and significant royalty improvements.”
Negotiations by the QIA with Baffinland created this landmark agreement. There are substantial benefits for Inuit on the table, including empowerment in decision making and environmental protection through Inuit-led independent monitoring and joint approval of comprehensive adaptive management plans.
The Nunavut Impact Review Board will now weigh submissions and interventions and make final project recommendations to the minister of northern affairs.
The NIRB process is another result of the Nunavut Agreement, intended to ensure balance between socio-economic development and environmental protection for projects like Mary River and assure prosperity for Inuit.