Many Nunavummiut who attended a uranium forum Thursday night said they do not want uranium mining in Nunavut, while some even attacked the territory's Inuit group for supporting uranium development.
More than 120 people in Iqaluit came out to the public forum, which was organized by the Nunavut government as it works on developing its own policy on uranium mining in the territory.
After hearing from officials representing government, the mining industry and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, most of those who spoke made it clear that they want nothing to do with uranium mining.
"For me, there's about four industries that we should never go into, and they're asbestos, uranium, the tobacco industry and building of weapons," said Madeleine Cole, a family doctor in the city.
"We cannot agree to something for the next 1,000 years that our descendants have not agreed to. I think it is irresponsible," resident Aaju Peter said at the forum.
The threat of a nuclear disaster in Japan, which was rocked by a devastating earthquake and tsunami last week, weighed heavily on the minds of many audience members.
"Somebody who's watching the news over the past few days has to be thinking about the implications of uranium and radioactivity in general on the environment [and] on people," said Robert Anawak.
Growing mining interest
The territorial government wants to establish its own position on uranium amid growing interest in Nunavut from mining and exploration companies.
Areva Resources Canada wants to build a uranium mine at its Kiggavik site, 85 kilometres west of Baker Lake in Nunavut's Kivalliq region. The company's proposal is currently in the regulatory process.
Most of the eight panel members at Thursday's forum assured the audience that uranium mining in Canada is not a dangerous industry and not much different from other types of mining.
"Uranium mining is a very strictly regulated industry, which has very high standards for safety and environmental protection," said George Schneider of Golder Associates, which prepared a report for the Nunavut government.
But Baker Lake resident Joan Scottie, who has been fighting proposed uranium projects near her community for more than 20 years, said Inuit elders like herself believe caribou have already been scared away by a gold mine that recently opened in the area.
Having the Kiggavik uranium mine near Baker Lake could take an even bigger toll on caribou and other wildlife, Scottie said.
"It's going to be worse on the south side of Baker Lake, because that's a major migration route," she said.
NTI blasted for owning shares
Some at Thursday's forum berated Nunavut Tunngavik (NTI), the territory's Inuit land-claim organization, for supporting uranium mining and having shares in two companies that are exploring for the heavy metal.
"I did not agree as a beneficiary, as a trust member, to own shares in a uranium company," Iqaluit resident Susan Enuaraq, an Inuit land-claim beneficiary, said during the forum.
Keith Morrison, a senior adviser with Nunavut Tunngavik, told the audience that the organization received shares in exchange for issuing exploration agreements to those companies. No money was paid for those shares, he added.
Sandra Inutiq, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit, accused Nunavut Tunngavik of denying its pro-uranium stance and pretending to give out balanced information on the topic.
"The spirit and intent of the land-claim agreement is not being fulfilled," Inutiq said. "We expected, as Inuit, that we would participate in decision-making."
Group wants plebiscite
Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie recently said she wants to review her organization's uranium mining policy, which since 2007 has supported uranium projects in Nunavut as long as they are environmentally and socially responsible.
Inutiq said her group wants a territory-wide plebiscite so Inuit land-claim beneficiaries can vote on whether Nunavut Tunngavik should support uranium mining.
"When the review process is complete and the documents resulting from the process have been prepared and released to the public, there should be a plebiscite for beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement on the question of whether or not to allow uranium mining in Nunavut," Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit said in a statement Thursday.
"Beneficiaries should be given a free and democratic vote on this important question and that vote should settle the question once and for all."
But Nunavut Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson said a plebiscite would not respect the land claim, particularly for Areva's Kiggavik proposal.
"It would probably not be in good faith for NTI to change the rules for a project that has already begun," Patterson said at the forum.
The Nunavut government is holding another public forum in Baker Lake on March 30 and 31. It will then go to Cambridge Bay on April 12-13.
Those who cannot attend the meetings in person can send in comments online, or by email, phone, fax or postal mail.