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Igloolik leaders say Inuit face barriers in Nunavut mine environmental review

A day and a half into meetings on a proposed expansion at Mary River Mine in Nunavut, community participants say they face barriers that limit the full participation of Inuit.

Baffinland says mine will consult, but may not agree with communities

A specially made iron ore handling system for the Mary River expansion project arrives at Milne Inlet last summer. Technical meetings are happening all this week over teleconference for a proposed expansion at the mine. (Submitted by thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions)

A day and a half into meetings on a proposed expansion at Mary River Mine in Nunavut, community participants say they face barriers that limit the full participation of Inuit.

"Every intervener in this process has lawyers and advisers. We were the only ones that are lacking," said Igloolik mayor Merlyn Recinos, adding that federal funding given to communities to help them hire specialists isn't enough.

In response to Recinos, a representative from Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) said that applications from communities were not "robust" enough to justify the amount of participant funding they requested from the Treasury Board of Canada.

Nunavut Impact Review Board meetings over Mary River Mine's proposed expansion from an annual output of six million tonnes to 12 million tonnes resumed this week after a 10-month delay.

The mine, operated by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, is located 176 kilometres from Pond Inlet. 

At the meetings, Baffinland is presenting on Inuit traditional knowledge included in the project and the mine's potential impacts on wildlife. Communities are given time to ask questions.

Hunters and trappers groups in each community received around $40,500 to participate in the review board's process between 2018 and 2021, the CIRNAC spokesperson said. 

'Inuit are secondary in this project,' Igloolik chair says

Peter Ivalu, chair of the Igloolik Working Group, said the mine needs a "full Inuktitut lexicon" for its translated documents. He said he noticed many discrepancies in the material given to participants. 

"Inuktitut-speaking people need to follow the English presentations" to understand, Ivalu said.  

The technical meetings are being led primarily in English via teleconference, with Inuktut interpretation on a separate line.   

"Inuit are secondary to this project. Inuit need to be full participants, even if they cannot understand English," Ivalu said. "Will Baffinland continue to treat Inuit and Inuktitut as second-class citizens who don't deserve full disclosure in their language?" 

A photo of Mary River Mine. Nunavut Impact Review Board meetings over Mary River Mine's proposed expansion resumed this week after a 10 month delay. (Submitted by Baffinland Iron mines Corporation)

A participant from the Nunavut Independent Television Network contradicted this, saying that the interpretation provided was easy to follow.  

Baffinland says it uses a professional service that translates documents and checks them for quality, and has been building a list of Inuktut terms for the mine for more than a decade. The company apologized for any mistakes in circulated Inuktut documents.  

'Consultation is not meant to mean agreement,' Baffinland says

Eric Ootoovak, chairperson for the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, says that he mistrusts both the mining company and Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA).

"Knowing the QIA wants royalties, [and] Baffinland wants as much iron ore as possible, how do we know that this can work for communities," Ootoovak said on Monday. 

The narwhal are travelling in smaller groups, the goose are gone, and people can't catch the fish around Milne Port anymore, he said. 

Inuit are secondary to this project. Inuit need to be full participants, even if they cannot understand English.- Peter Ivalu, chair of the Igloolik Working Group

On Tuesday, Ootoovak had concerns that community input wasn't being heard. He said Baffinland does "presentations" in the communities, but that these are not the same as full consultations.

Baffinland disagreed. 

"Consultation is not meant to mean agreement," said Lou Kamermans, senior director of sustainable development at Baffinland. "We have been listening to the community of Pond Inlet since 2006." 

For example, while the company said it's aware there are caribou calving grounds along the north rail route, Baffinland changed its route to better accommodate caribou. It called this a "major accommodation entirely driven" by feedback from Pond Inlet and Igloolik. There will also be caribou crossings along the rail line, Baffinland said.

No increase to 18 million tonnes

A production expansion to an annual output of 18 million tonnes of iron ore — flagged as a concern by communities last week — isn't within the scope of the current environmental review at the Mary River Mine, Karen Costello, the Nunavut Impact Review Board's executive director, said Monday.  

But on Monday the hearings did cover a potential increase that Baffinland called, "operational flexibility."

This means that if there's a bad year for production at the Mary River mine, Baffinland can mine more iron ore the next year to make up for it. It can't, however, go over the number of ship transits and rail passages allowed by the review board.

Limited talk of disputed Inuit Certainty Agreement

Not on the agenda are the specifics of a recent legal agreement between the QIA and Baffinland over benefits from the mine, called the Inuit Certainty Agreement. 

However, a lawyer for the review board said that environmental monitoring and mitigation plans laid out in the agreement are relevant and will be considered. 

Those include committees for environmental oversight and stewardship that Baffinland says could even lead to temporary halts in production if necessary. 

Communities impacted by the mine told the review board they weren't ready for a benefit agreement. 

The Mary River Mine holds mineral leases and is partially built on Inuit-owned lands. Under the Nunavut Agreement, it is the QIA's responsibility to negotiate impact benefit agreements with corporations. 

The Inuit Certainty Agreement is meant to become part of an existing Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement that Baffinland has with the QIA.

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