Seven Inuit communities create non-profit to lobby mining industry in Baffin region

A new Inuit led non-profit in Nunavut’s northern Qikiqtaaluk region says its seven member-communities “often feel forgotten” when it comes to economic opportunities at the Mary Rive Mine.

Nunavut Tunngavik confirms the North Baffin Association is not a new regional Inuit association

Equipment is delivered by ship to Mary River Mine. Seven communities in the North Baffin region have formed a new non-profit association to lobby for more benefits for Inuit from development at the mine. (Submitted by thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions)

A new Inuit led non-profit in Nunavut's northern Qikiqtaaluk region is hoping to make sure its seven member-communities benefit from industry in the region, including in aviation, fisheries and mining. 

The North Baffin Association, or Qikiqtaaluk Uangnangani Katujjiqatigiit in Inuktut, was formed at the end of 2020 "after years of coordination," it said in a Jan. 7 news release.

"We are very happy and proud to announce to our members that an organization that reflects their needs has been created to represent them," executive director Neeko Inuarak said. 

To do this, the association says it will create its own separate business arm. 

The association — which represents the communities of  Resolute Bay, Grise Fiord, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Igloolik and Sanirajak — says it's focused on the economic opportunities that come from Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's Mary River Mine on northern Baffin Island, near the community of Pond Inlet.   

The mine is currently awaiting environmental approval to double its annual output of iron ore. 

The association said its members "often feel forgotten" when it comes to economic opportunities at Mary River Mine.

Not a part of other regional Inuit organizations

While it will be an Inuit-owned business as defined by the Nunavut Agreement, the North Baffin Association is not connected to any territorial Inuit organizations, including Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated or the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the new group confirmed in an email.   

Nunavut Tunngavik, the organization that represents Inuit in Nunavut, says it has no connection to the group. It says the making of any new Inuit organization would require "democratic process," and input from the existing Inuit association responsible for the Baffin Region, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

While community groups like the North Baffin Association, as well as hamlets and hunters and trappers organizations, can play a role in lobbying for benefits from development, it falls on designated Inuit organizations to negotiate with mining companies on behalf of communities, Nunavut Tunngavik said in an email.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association does this through an Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement with Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation. 

Mine expansion sees Baffin communities divided

This new North Baffin Association comes amidst ongoing tensions over a proposed expansion at Mary River. Environmental hearings for the expansion have shown municipalities and hunters groups are at odds with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), and how it is representing Inuit in the review process.

Last year, hunters and municipal leaders in five North Baffin communities — Pond Inlet, Sanirajak, Clyde River, Arctic Bay and Igloolik — formed their own North Baffin Group to represent themselves at Nunavut Impact Review Board Hearings for that expansion. 

One Iqaluit expert says that low participation rates in the recent QIA election are a sign of communities being "disenfranchised." 

Former Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern is an advocate for Inuit business. She says many member communities of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association don't feel they have input into decisions made about economic development, or access to the money that comes from mining in the region. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Madeleine Redfern —  an advocate for Inuit business who is a former mayor and lawyer by training — says the division comes down to trust, desire for more input into policy and, to large sums of money. 

"North Baffin and the Inuit membership across the region, and across the territory for the most part feel like they are being kept in the dark," she said. "How are we supposed to trust the Inuit organization or the development corporation without information?"

Redfern says Inuit members wonder why mining royalties haven't gone toward building infrastructure, like daycares and cultural centres, in their communities.

"They don't feel they have access to the funding that QIA receives, not only from the mine, from the federal government," she said. 

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is working with Baffinland to build a trades training centre in Pond Inlet. 

Final public hearings for the proposed expansion at Mary River are scheduled to start up again in Pond Inlet on Jan. 25, beginning with technical meetings.