GN, Inuit association ask for 2nd chance for Kitikmeot gold mine

Some significant voices are joining a chorus of those who want the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to give Sabina a second chance at the Kitikmeot gold mine the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended not proceed.

Review board recommended in June Sabina Gold & Silver Corp.'s Back River Gold Mine project not proceed

Sabina Gold and Silver's Back River proposed gold mine at Back River lies about 300 kilometres east of Kugluktuk.

The Government of Nunavut and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association are joining a chorus of voices asking the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to send a gold mining proposal back to the Nunavut Impact Review Board for further review after the board suggested the project not proceed.

In June, the board recommended Sabina Gold & Silver Corp.'s Back River gold mine not proceed to the licensing stage over concerns about climate change and potential impacts to the Bathurst caribou herd.

The N.W.T. government estimates the herd has declined 50 per cent since 2012.

The Back River property is located 95 kilometres southeast of Bathurst Inlet, Nunavut, and holds an estimated 3.4 million ounces of gold. Sabina estimates it could employ up to 900 people.
Caribou from the Bathurst herd in August 2015. The review board cited concerns about potential impacts to the herd when it recommended the project not proceed. (GNWT)

It's now up to Minister Carolyn Bennett to decide what happens next. Under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement she can accept the board's recommendation, send it back to the board for further consideration, or push the project through on the grounds it's of national or regional importance. 

Sabina has already asked the minister to reconsider the board's decision

"We believe this NIRB report could have significant negative effects as to how investors view risk in Nunavut, for this project as well as others," reads a Sabina report to the minister in July.

The company argues any concerns raised by the review board can be addressed in the regulatory and licensing process, the next step if the project were to proceed.

No to 'zero tolerance'

The Government of Nunavut agrees. 

"Finding a balance between conservation and development means accepting a certain level of impact that is not unnecessarily detrimental to wildlife populations," wrote Nancy Guyon, the territory's assistant deputy minister for economic development and transportation Aug. 22 to the director of northern projects with the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.

"While the GN commends the NIRB's use of the precautionary principle, we do have serious concerns over with the apparent 'zero tolerance' approach that has been taken.

"In the GN's view the application of such a standard across the territory could be unnecessarily detrimental to the responsible development of the territory's resources," Guyon wrote.

The Kitikmeot Inuit Association also believes the project can be managed through the Nunavut regulatory system. 

"While KIA agrees with Sabina that the report should be returned to NIRB under section 12.5.7 of the NLCA, we think that the board should be given the discretion to determine how best to structure any further review," wrote KIA president Stanley Anablak to the minister Aug. 24.

In a handwritten letter, three elders from Kugluktuk write: 'The project is important to us and our families. There are lots of people who need jobs. Our community needs jobs.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

'Our community needs jobs'

Several communities and individuals have also submitted letters in favour of revisiting the Nunavut Impact Review Board's decision. 

"We believe the decision does not properly capture the views of Kitikmeot residents, the government or our HTO board," wrote Larry Adjun, the chair of the Kugluktuk Hunter and Trappers Organization. "The project is very important to our region."

The mayor of Kugaaruk also wrote, saying the hamlet was surprised and extremely disappointed by the NIRB's recommendation to not let the mine proceed.

"Our hamlet is a very traditional community and we would not support a mining project if it was determined that it would have a negative influence on any of our staple foods and especially caribou," wrote mayor Stephen Inaksajak.

The mining project also received several handwritten letters of support from community members across the region. 

"We want the Back River to move forward for jobs and benefits," reads a printed letter signed by Tommy Norberg, Alice Ayalik and Mona Tiktalek, three elders from Kugluktuk.

"Please keep the land and water clean for us and our animals.

"The project is important to us and our families. There are lots of people who need jobs. Our community needs jobs."