Pond Inlet and the NLCA: Q&A with Malachi Arreak, former IIBA negotiator

Malachi Arreak worked as a regional land negotiator on the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in the early 1990s and negotiated the Qikiqtani region’s first IIBA, for the Sirmilik National Park, across Eclipse Sound from Pond Inlet. Last week, I talked with him about the NLCA in relation to Mary River, as well a project he’s working on, the Tununiq beneficiaries corporation, to ensure Pond Inletmiut see direct benefits from Baffinland.

BW: How did Pond Inlet and Igloolik prepare for the Mary River project in negotiating the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement?

Well, if you want the real historical story, Pond and Igloolik are the main communities that use Mary River. We can prove that we have more families that use it, even though it’s pretty much a shared area. That’s where we used to go when Tununiq [the clan that Pond Inletmiut come from] and Igloolik and other clans went to gather. Our clan used that area mainly for caribou and fishing.

So mainly, when we were doing land selection, we had always assumed the railway would go to Milne Inlet and the shipping would go out that way. Even so, being the regional land negotiator, I tried to get Igloolik to keep Steensby, just in case the mining company wanted to run the railway through there instead. But they said, “Nah, they’ll never go there.”

Igloolik made a decision at one of our last land selection meetings to take Steensby off the table; to not own it. This was a separate process beside the Land Claim. And this was where Inuit chose 150% of the land they wanted to own and then it was cut down to what it is now. In those negotiations, Igloolik did not want to choose Mary River but we were adamant about owning it. At that time, iron was like 20 cents a ton. Worthless, pretty much. But Pond’s always viewed Mary River as a development area. We knew eventually it would lead to jobs and that’s why we kept it.

So as opposed to Iglulimmiut, we’ve been really proactive in how we protect our lands and what areas will be developed; and we’ve got a really clear idea of how to do that. Igloolik chose their lands more for traditional reasons; for conserving their fish, their walrus, their camping grounds. They didn’t choose a whole lot of lands for development, whereas we did.

So once we identified all the possible areas, we started working on the Sirmilik national park. And finished that in ’99.

BW: When Igloolik gave up Steensby, what did they choose instead?

Originally Steensby was identified as part of the Land Claim. At our last meeting, when we were making the very final decisions on which parcels are owned by Inuit, they instead chose…if you look at the map there’s a parcel to the east of Steensby…

BW: Nuvuit?

Yeah. They chose that and cut off Steensby. And that’s how they cut off their own foot.

BW: So Pond Inlet was very smart about the lands that it set aside.

Well, we ended up having to decide whether we wanted a park, and if we wanted a park, what areas do we keep? So protected areas in the park are the areas that were so important we couldn’t let them go. At the time, though we were told it would be hundreds of years before that iron ever got developed.

BW: Because iron prices were so low.

Yeah. So we created the park in ‘99, and then seven years later, Baffinland came back. The only reason why we picked that was because we knew it would be developed one day, maybe far in the future, because it was a world-class deposit. And having looked at our assay results, the average iron content was around 69% with some reaching 72%. Even at 73%, that’s pure iron.

BW: So what difference does it make that it started getting developed earlier than everyone expected?

Well, I would have liked another ten years to get the communities ready ‘cause that’s how long it takes ‘em. (Laughs). You know, they can’t understand the urgency sometimes. That’s why I kind of gave up on Pond Inlet. Just too many people that are too traditional and they only want to do things a certain way.

On top of that, about 90% of the Inuit in the communities have no idea, don’t give a shit. Most of them have never been outside, they don’t know how the real world works.

BW: It seems like there are a lot of people in Pond who are very supportive of the mine but they’re not sure how they’re going to see benefits.

Well, for that reason, around 2007, I created a beneficiary co-op. Ten of us are creating a society that then incorporates it and works towards designated Inuit status so that we start taking over QIA and NTI land stuff.

BW: And was there a trigger to that?

Yeah. At first, a lot the decisions to do with Baffinland were made locally. We had a local contract—a local employment and business contract, through the Co-op—to supply food, equipment and workers to the mine site. Then QIA and NTI came in and said, “You can’t do that! You have to negotiate with us.” And then they cut off close to a million dollars in contracts with local businesses. They forced Baffinland to cut off all existing contracts with Pond Inlet. So that pissed us off.

And then they brought in Qikiqtaaluk Logistics to run things. Sure, you have to follow the Land Claim, and that says contracts have to go through QIA, but to a small community, that was a big loss. And they could have handled it better. They could have held a meeting with Pond Inlet; we could have come to an agreement. Instead, they just slashed our contracts. That’s not how you get partnerships going; that’s how you get opposition started. So a lot of Pond Inlet attitudes and perceptions are a lot different from other communities’.

And finally, the original intent of the Land Claims was to eventually create local corporations anyways, but that kind of got lost in the implementation. Eventually we wanted to see, in every community, that the people weren’t just an advisory body but owners of the land. Right now, we’re being managed and sometimes consulted, but our lands are being run for us and some of us don’t like that.

It’s basically to repatriate the ownership of the land. Basically, it’s a beneficiary corporation in that every Pond Inlet beneficiary signs on. This body would get all this money, identify, every year, out of say 100 million that comes in, let’s say 35% will go out, cash payment.

Most of us are not anti-development but anti-QIA, anti-NTI. With all the things we’ve seen happen at NTI, we don’t trust them at all to handle our money.

BW: So what is QIA not doing?

For one thing, they’re not being very open with the community about the IIBA and neither is NTI. They’re being very close-lipped. And having been an old negotiator, I don’t see the point. You come to the community and speak entirely in Inuktitut and give them the news without letting the feds know or even without letting Baffinland know. It feels like we’re being taken for a ride.

If you’re a proper leader, you deal with your people’s concerns and we’ve been expressing our concerns for two years about this IIBA process. At least with the IIBA for the national parks, I would go on the radios in the two communities and speak about it. I wouldn’t say this has been agreed to, I’d say these are the issues we’re discussing and this is what we’re trying to get. These guys are so scared, they won’t even mention anything: “We’re having a meeting,” and that’s about it. We have to try to infer what they’re discussing based on Article 26, which is the non-renewable resource IIBAs. So there could be anything in there, but they haven’t even given us an overview an outline of what they’re looking at.

BW: And NTI?

NTI was supposed to just be just a tiny little organization with ten to 20 people overseeing the Land Claim. The vision we had for NTI was very different from how it turned out. Originally, it would be a small organization, mainly looking after the implementation of the Land Claim. But once the Land Claim was signed, it went from a small organization to what I call a white elephant. Too large, too unwieldy, too many unqualified people working, and now it’s just another bureaucracy.

So sometimes we find that NTI’s becoming more and more pro-development, to recruit revenue and to pay for itself; the money they owe to Nunavut Trust. So instead of being a proper steward for the Inuit, they’re becoming more and more like lobbyists. That’s how different it is.

BW: So this would be called the Pond Inlet Beneficiaries Corporation?

Maybe Tununiq Beneficiaries corporation.

BW: And how do you get it incorporated and approved?

We will go to the government of Nunavut to get the society creation funding. We have to create the society to start the corporation. Once it’s incorporated, then we’re going to ask every Pond Inlet beneficiary irrespective of where they are, whether they want this corporation to proceed, and then if it goes ahead, we’ll start distributing benefits.

BW: When do you expect that to happen?

Well, that will take at least a year.

BW: Are you’re hoping that other communities follow suit?

We don’t give a shit what other communities think. This is our response to a challenge we face. Other communities aren’t thinking like this.

BW: And how aligned are the two most impacted communities, Pond and Igloolik?

Sometimes at opposite ends. Sometimes we feel like Igloolik is too traditional, they don’t have any vision of the future. Yes, it’s good to be traditional, but that’s not going to put money in your wallet, unless you manage to find something every lucrative.

BW: Maybe because Pond is already seeing benefits—more Pond Inletmiut are already working at the mine than Iglulimmiut.

I ran the camp for a while, contracted to work for Qikiqtaaluk Logistics. That was from September 2007 to April 2008, I think and at that time, it was 65% Pond, 35% anybody else. And my goal was 50/50. For a while it was 60% Iqaluit and 20% north Baffin and 20% everywhere else.

BW: What happened with Steensby Inlet? I heard that Pond and Hall Beach initially stood behind Igloolik on opposing the Steensby port site. Why did Igloolik weaken and when did Pond weaken?

We would have supported them, but when people waffle…

BW: Did they waffle?

Initially, they opposed the walrus, and then it turned to dredging, and then someone said, “What about this steel barge?” And then after they got some of their concessions they said, “Oh, well…” I think to us, all this fight about the shipping route, that’s got nothing to do with us. Once they start talking about the shipping route, they drew in the south Baffiners, Cape Dorset, then Coral Harbour and now it’s Nunavik! I thought, Are you just greedy or are you actually trying to protect the wildlife? You start seeing two sides. For Pond, we’ve been pro-development but not at any cost. Pro-development with very responsible environmental protection.

BW: And the majority of Iglulimmiut are just oblivious, looking to the past and not seeing the possibilities the future?

Well, from my perspective, yeah. Yes, it’s good to save our culture and our language, but not at the expense of taking advantage of the modern world.

They’ve been so enamored with traditionalism that they haven’t really done much else other than protect their language and their culture. Some of us look at them like Inullariit. They’re trying to retain too much of their Inuit customs and taboos.

BW: What’s that word, Inullariit?

Inullariit. Too Eskimo for their own good. It means they’re not willing to change. That’s what we call those who are too traditional that they don’t bother with anything else.

And the difference here is I see a lot of…I consider myself Eskimo. Because up here, being an Eskimo meant you could survive when white men were dead. We were proud to be High Arcticmiut. Unlike other clans…well, some of my fellow clannies I think have a problem with Eskimos, not me.

BW: The word Eskimo?

I have an E5 number and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not ashamed of being an Inuk or Eskimo. Sometimes I’m ashamed to be an Inuk, because becoming an Inuk now, there is no definition and nobody knows what the hell an Inuk is. That’s why we’re in trouble, because, at least with Eskimos, we knew what we were, we knew our capabilities, we knew our culture, and usually, the Inuk term was more between Inuit as opposed to being a word for us.

It was only people like Tagak Curley, Jose Kusugak, people like that, who hated the term Eskimo because they thought it was derogatory. Up here, it wasn’t derogatory, we were quite proud of it because that meant we could survive anywhere, anyplace the white man couldn’t. and that’s why we were proud to be an Eskimo. Up here, I’ve found this particular clan of Eskimos are tougher and meaner than others. We always pay back. And payback’s always a bitch. 

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