Inuit welcome jobs Mary River iron mine will bring

Inuit in Nunavut's Eastern Arctic are making preparations for Baffinland's Mary River iron ore project, after the federal government approved it on Monday.

But concerns still exist about negative impacts of Baffin Island project

The Nunavut Impact Review Board holds a public meeting in Igloolik in July as part of the final hearings on Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore project. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC )

Inuit in Nunavut's Eastern Arctic are making preparations for one of the biggest mining projects ever in the North, after the federal government approved Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore project on Monday.

Many Inuit on Baffin Island have given the project the seal of approval through a series of consultations as part of the environmental impact assessment although many concerns were also voiced

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which owns the land where the mine will be built, is negotiating a benefits agreement for Baffin Inuit and the key priority is jobs.

"We need to train a lot of people to have the opportunity to have a job in the mine site," said Solomon Awa, project co-ordinator for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Paul Quassa of Igloolik said he wasn't surprised by the news of the approval, saying he has known for many years that the Mary River site would eventually be mined.

He said even the elders in his community support it as a way to get the younger generation into the wage economy.

"We're not relying on the land as much," he said. "Our children don't rely on it as much."

Tommy Enuaraq, a former MLA for Clyde River, said though he welcomes the positive aspects of the development, "I'm also concerned with all that money that will now flow in, it can have negative impacts."

John Graham, mayor of Iqaluit, said the mine's potential impact on the city is still not clear. Baffinland has an office in Iqaluit, and work crews heading to the site move in and out of the Iqaluit airport.

"Are lots of people going to move in here, take up residency in Iqaluit and put a further strain on our already strained municipal infrastructure?" said Graham.

"I don't think we really know the answer to that question."

When construction is completed, once the permits are in place, the Baffinland mine site will be almost a town of its own, bigger than many Nunavut communities, and with a road, railway and deepwater port of its own.

The federal government's approval of the project comes at a time when iron ore prices are down, but Baffinland says it still plans to invest $4 billion to build the mine about 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet.

Greg Missal, Baffinland's head of Corporate Affairs, said today's prices won't affect the company's plans to move ahead.

"We're a number of years away from producing iron ore so what happens in the iron ore markets today, it's of interest for us to watch, but until we actually start mining or shipping and selling, we can't worry about that too too much," he said.