Diamond exploration concerns abound at Iqaluit project

Some people in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, are concerned that plans to expand a diamond exploration project on South Baffin Island will negatively affect caribou and other wildlife in the area.

Some community members worry Peregrine Diamonds helicopters scare caribou

Some people in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, are concerned that plans to expand the Chidliak mining exploration site will negatively affect caribou in their traditional hunting grounds. Caribou is considered to be an integral food source for many in the community. (Canadian Press)

Some community members are concerned about plans to expand a diamond exploration project on South Baffin Island.

Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. owns and operates the Chidliak project near Iqaluit. The company wants approval from regulators to bring in more workers, more equipment and set more trails to support the next phase of its exploration work.

But people who hunt and travel in the area are worried.

Rebekah Kanayuk of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, said her family used to hunt caribou in the area but does not anymore. She blames Peregrine Diamonds for scaring caribou away as the company’s helicopters go to and from the Chidliak property.

"The helicopters were flying right above us … we were picking berries on the land.  We even saw their faces, waved at them, waved them to go away from here … and they just smiled," said Kanayuk.

Kanayuk's concerns are echoed in other letters to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which complain that the Chidliak project threatens wildlife and the environment. 

In a letter to the company, the board states it has received comments about the project from 25 people in Pangnirtung. Many of the submissions state that Peregrine is operating on traditional hunting grounds where people in the community have spent a lot of time throughout their lives.

In a letter to the board, Andrew Nakashuk, 37, from Pangnirtung, said he and his family used to hunt for caribou in the area. He writes, "… in the last four years I have not catch any caribou from that area, but I had to go a lot further south and it is a lot more dangerous to go down there because of the location and distance," he said.

Nakashuk said he tried to get Peregrine to cover the cost of the extra fuel needed to get to more southern hunting grounds, but said they refused, citing there was no case law in that circumstance.

In another letter to the board, Billy Etooangat writes that he and his family have used the area in Chidliak Bay to hunt for caribou and beluga for decades. He said that since Peregrine began exploring the area in 2009, he has noticed caribou have abandoned the area.

Both Nakashuk and Etooangat wrote that they spend a considerable amount of money to hunt, covering the cost of gas, bullets and food. They wrote that country food is integral to their lifestyle, and they note it is very disappointing to go home empty-handed after a hunt.

The Nunavut Department of Environment and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association have also expressed concerns.

Peregrine Diamonds responded with its own letter to board, outlining how it's working to minimize the project's impact and stating its willingness to contribute to research in the area.

The public has another week to respond to Peregrine's submission, after which the board will decide whether it supports the company's bulk sampling program.  Peregrine said bulk sampling is the next step in determining whether Chidliak can support an economically viable mine.

The company recently said that even if approved, the work could be postponed until next year. 

Peregrine recently took over full ownership of the Chidliak project, after BHP Billiton decided to sell its 51 per cent stake.  Peregrine said it will complete a full analysis of its exploration program before deciding how and when to proceed.