Op-ed: What’s next with the Mary River iron mine Phase 2

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. is hoping to expand its Mary River iron mine located on north Baffin Island. (File photo courtesy Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.)

By Kenny Ruptash, President, NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines

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.

Kenny Ruptash is president of the President, NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines (Photo courtesy of NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines)

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.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by Questions on

    If Trudeau said it..??? Where is this guy from anyway? He has seen from above but what about feeling it at -50 on the ground without caribou parka and kamiks. In southern gear? He looks comfortable in the pic.

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  2. Posted by Value Added on

    If phase 2 is approved, the ore at Mary River will likely be exhausted before Inuit have acquired the skills to operate their own mine on their own land, for their own benefit.
    .
    Inuit operating their own mines on their own lands and then using the resources in their own industries has always been the objective.
    .
    Selling resources in the ground for pennies a ton has always been seen as a necessary means towards that end.
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    Mining is almost never an end in itself. Mining is necessary to have the resource, but true wealth comes from adding value.
    .
    Mr Ruptash, you are asking Inuit to continue selling iron for pennies a ton. Inuit want to make knives (and other things) that are better than those made in Switzerland, so we can get more than $100 for a 4 ounce knife. (for example)
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    Others will get almost all the value from Mary River. But it must happen slowly, so Inuit will have time for the learning. For Inuit, Mary River is not about today’s mine and today’s money. Mary River is about acquiring the skills for the future. And that takes time. Mary River is a give-away, a trade for knowledge, skills and experience.
    .
    It’s about Value Added. We want the resource to last long enough for us to develop the skills necessary to truely benefit from those resources. A single ton of iron ore (70% iron), when converted into Swiss Army Knives, sells for over $500,000.
    .
    You are a business man. Surely you can understand.

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    • Posted by UseYourGreyMatter on

      running own mine? be realistic, get someone else with all the know how required to take the huge risks involved and be happy reap the benefits with far less risk. make knives? give me a break! Go and figure out how many knives you need to make to reach the same benefits. Where will you sell them? Mars,Venus, Pluto??
      The world need lots of steel to enable the transition to a cleaner economy and the very high grades make that easier. The landowners stand to benefit for a very long time. Used wisely their future could be transformed.

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    • Posted by why oh why on

      I wonder why 11 readers don’t want Inuit to acquire the skills and experience necessary to own and operate our own mines on our own lands. It will take generations to get there, but we will get there.

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    • Posted by Juutai on

      Not only that. We need the resources and capacity to engineer solutions to challenges associated with developing a modern standard of living in our arctic environment. We don’t put enough market pressure for foreign engineers to bother designing for the north, and with natural resource wealth like these minerals as well as our offshore fisheries primarily benefiting the development of southern Canada’s money pit that is car-centric suburban infrastructure, that’s not likely to change.

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    • Posted by Bottom up. Not too down. on

      Stop trying to “solve problems” from the top down. Work from the bottom up.

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    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      This got to be the dumbest thing I have read in a good long while:
      – the mine has an almost 100 year life span.
      – There is no Inuit-owned company on the planet with the wherewithal and expertise to run a smal diamond mine let alone a vast iron operation.
      – the objective has NEVER been for Inuit to operate their own mined, the objective has and remains one of royalties and benefits accruing from IIBAs.

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  3. Posted by Name withheld on

    Let me tell you on thing about baffinland, it’s a great place to work you move up the ladder, inuit are being trained and you can speak your own language unlike agnico eagle, ive worked in both of the mones and baffinland is the great place to work more opportunities than French company

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  4. Posted by Charles Barkley on

    Most of the folks working at Baffinland are intently waiting this result. We respect the Inuit of Nunavut and hope that the NIRB’s recommendation is, as designed, representative of the people whose land we are on. A fair number of us are simply boots-on-the-ground and have no real rooting interest other than Inuit voices are heard and a fair decision is made.

    The reality is that if phase 2 isn’t approved, myself and other southern workers will be out of a job, but mostly we’ll be able to find comparable paying work without too much trouble. Life will go on.

    For our Inuit coworkers for whom this mine means stable, high-paying employment, training opportunities and the like for current and future generations – that might be a very different story. For them to lose that would be a shame.

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  5. Posted by Old timer on

    Let just make life easier now approve it let the younger people work now you can’t hunt everday and you need money to buy gas bullet skidoo boat get on with life start working just cleanup the mess .

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  6. Posted by Not a simple yes or no on

    The working g relationship of this inevitable with Inuit communities is non existent.

    It’s not that we don’t want mining. It’s that the mine needs to slow things down am stop rushing to make a buck. Baffinland seriously needs to chill out and slow things down.

    Inuit are pro mining, but if you don’t do it right we are not scared to say no.

    Money is most important to you folks, our people lived without money and I fully understand we live in times where money is king but we also value our livelihood, and our environment more than a few bucks.

    NIRB can say yes to phase II but with very strict conditions for baffinland to slow down and do things right. If not, the NIRB must recommend a hard NO!

    Proposed pase II eliminate all man operational jobs anyway…. keep the Inuit working and provide more training! Stick to phase I and do things right!

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    • Posted by SouthernBIMemployee on

      Not a simple yes or no, you’re missing the point.
      Its not that Baffinland are rushing to make a buck. Baffinland has not made any profit yet. So everything thats presently been purchased or money thats presently been used has come from INVESTORS. If these investors cannot achieve a guarantee of their return, they will pull out. Leave and wont loan Baffinlamd anymore.
      Phase 2 is a securement for Baffinlands investors.
      If Phase 2 gets approved, the investors are happy and continue to provide Baffinland with what it needs. ( money). Until Baffinland can sustain itself.

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      • Posted by Investors pay Inuit. on

        And let’s not forget that Baffinland would not be in a position to pay the Inuit their “fair share” without those investors. Like you said, it’s not BL money ATM. It’s investors.

        Go ahead. Bite the hand that feeds.

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      • Posted by Northern Baffin on

        There is so much to this that some people do not understand. The money comes from other people, banks, lenders, investors. This mine does not come from free money, its borrowed, and lots of it in this case, billions. People have put billions of their own money into this mine. Although they have been selling tons and tons of this ore, the money they generate goes back to operating the mine, which it has to, and to pay back the banks and investors.
        The future. this mine could go for a very, very long time. they are only working on deposit number 1. how many out there? more than 1. There ARE inuit benefiting from this mine, they are the workers. sometimes some people want the benefits without working. Impacts to environment? it happens everywhere in the world, everywhere. thats the trade off, the current wildlife around the north Baffin, should it actually come to it, probably could not sustain all of the people from traditional ways. if you had to feed 1 seal for 1 household for 1 day, that’s ALOT of seals. this may be a bad analogy, but, we need to look to the future, we cannot move forward in a planned way by always looking behind us. we need the retrospect to help guide us into the future. The world stops for no one, we need to work with this project to help us move forward for us, not just them. it s not just them advancing, is us too.
        future looking inuk.

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    • Posted by John on

      Building anything in the north is not cheap. Anyone who lives in the north knows this. Operating a mine in the north is not cheap either. It is going to take a whole lot of money to get this mine going and the company needs to attract people willing to invest their money.

      So… imagine this sales pitch for a new car. “I have this very fast high performance car with all the luxuries you could ever imagine. It may cost a fair bit of money for you to buy but it is definitely worth it. Oh… one small point, because of the rules in place, you aren’t allowed to drive it any faster than 10km/hr”.

      The previous post suggests that the investors can risk all of their money but just aren’t allowed to get a very good payback on it. If you build a rail line, the cost is the same whether you put one train on it per day or 20 on it per day. The rail enables the high performance/efficiency but at a big cost. The limitation on the number of trains you can put across it is the same as telling them that despite the huge investment, you are only able to operate it in first gear.

      Nobody will ever want to invest in a mine where making money is considered a crime.

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