Ex-mayor and IIBA negotiator Paul Quassa opened Tuesday’s discussions with a speech on Iglulimmiut’s long history of settlement at the proposed port site, Steensby Inlet, or Ikpikitturjuaq, and their changing relationship with the land, from hunter-resource to economic development—Igloolik plans to build a fish-packing plant supplied by several Baffin Island lakes around Steensby and the Mary River site. On the whole, Quassa said, Iglulimmiut have begun to accept the prospect of Mary River and look past the losses—of wildlife, archaeological sites, family history and sole source of sustenance—to see possible benefits—employment, training, income and self-sufficiency, but stressed the need for community confidence that Inuit will see tangible benefits.
And for the most part, youth and Elders who spoke agreed. “Young people these days don’t really go hunting anymore,” youth representative Curtis Taqqaugaq said. “They’re not as in touch with the land as the Elders were.” Asking about jobs and training, he said he’s never been to many of the places where his mother grew up—she can’t afford to take him there. And besides, he said, “I know for a fact that mining will keep going no matter what is said at these hearings.”
Elder Peter Awa spoke in support of the project. “We used to go caribou hunting in Steensby,” he said. “We used to. Not anymore. Nobody goes there to fish anymore; people don’t go walrus hunting, they don’t go polar bear hunting; they don’t even bother hunting for clams.” After two days of lengthy discussions on the uncertain impacts to marine mammals and comparably brief ones on uncertain Inuit benefits, he asked, “Which is more important to you; to Inuit: people or wildlife? Since the Mary River project has been on the agenda, we mostly talk about wildlife, period. But our population is growing in Igloolik. I don’t know the number of grandchildren I have anymore and we have to talk about that more. What will benefit them?… Baffinland has told us what we want to hear: there will be insignificant damage to our waters and our land…. Let’s give our children an opportunity for employment.”
But Mary River Project Committee and HTO board member Solomon Mikki was skeptical. In recent years he’s seen bloody fish and seals dead on the ice, their flippers mangled by boat propellers, and attributes the incidents to increased boat traffic. And regardless of whether or not people actively hunt at Steensby anymore, he said that many who lived in outpost camps along the south coast of Baffin Island have already been impacted; he asked Baffinland to plan a trip for Elders who lived in the area to visit the land to say goodbye before construction starts. “It’s not a question of money,” said Baffinland’s Greg Missal, “just of figuring out who those people are and what’s the best time for everyone.” Baffinland plans to take Elders from Igloolik to Steensby to help with archaeological work next month. Still, “It’s not our doing,” said Mikki. “It’s what you wish to do. I hope there’s a possibility we can say no to the project.”
For others, regardless of whether or not Baffinland or their study results will prove to be reliable, there are still too few reasons to trust the project or government of Nunavut to hold miners accountable to their promises. Moshi Kotierk, a scientist with the GN department of environment but who asked to speak as a resident of Igloolik, asked the board to consider public confidence in their decision whether or not to approve the project. “Is there public trust?” He asked. “Is there faith? Is this well-planned, so there’s confidence in their plans? We talk about consumer confidence, confidence in the justice system, the health system and votes of no confidence, when another election is called because there’s not much confidence in the government. Yes, some people are confident in the government but this should be a part of your decision-making.”
HTO president David Irngaut urged people to come forward with their objections to aspects the project, “just to make your concerns a part of the decision-making,” and two more community members approached the board to tell them simply to veto the mine. “I have no questions for the Baffinland corporation; I have no questions for the intervenors or the Inuit committees” said Frances Piugattuk, who contributed to a 2009 socioeconomic baseline study of Igloolik in preparation for the mine. “So I’ll speak in Inuktitut: do not say yes. Do not approve this project.”
Next, Igloolik economic development officer Lucie Idlout asked a seemingly simple question: based on the department of fisheries and oceans worst-case scenario estimates of five bowhead, 14 beluga and 40 narwhal mortalities from ship strikes, how would incidents along the shipping route affect Inuit harvesting quotas? Since the GN representative for the department of Environment was out of the building, GN spokesman Paul Suvega deferred the question. Idlout asked three more tough questions from Baffinland about training and community support services before NIRB chair Elizabeth Copland said, “Taima.” Some of the parties’ planes were leaving for Pond right after the meeting and the hearing would have to end at five o’clock. About the process, Idlout said, “I’m disappointed that the questions that were asked in Iqaluit were not allowed to be repeated here. I think it would have given us some insight into questions that have been asked and given Iglulimmiut the opportunity to understand some of the issues that have been raised.”
Celina Irngaut, an artist and interpreter-translator, spoke last, and prefaced her comments by saying, “I’m not happy about the fact that we’re being rushed. The person prior to me [Idlout] seemed to be left with questions she wanted to ask that might have been useful for everyone to know. Why aren’t you going to stay longer?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “We’re working under assumptions. We need guarantees. And as for monitoring, look at our town dump. When it was built years ago, someone must have said, ‘we’ll do the monitoring.’ It’s not being done. Now how do you monitor everything when you’re dealing with a project of this magnitude.” She pointed out that fewer than 30 Iglulimmiut had a chance to speak at the public hearing but the population of Igloolik is close to 2,000. “Why don’t you hold a plebiscite?” she asked. “There are many people here opposed to this project.”
NIRB board member Allen Maghagak answered, “The NIRB process is set under the Land Claims Agreement, and the process has always been clear under article 12 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. If there were an article in the agreement telling us to hold a plebiscite, we would. But that’s not in place. We are merely following the process that the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement gave us.”
“Can’t you change it for Nunavummiut—us?” asked Irngaut.
NIRB’s legal counsel said it was clearly outside the jurisdiction of NIRB to amend the NLCA.
As in Iqaluit, community roundtable sessions were shortened by half a day after Baffinland’s repeated summary presentations and intervenor comments went long, even after the NIRB board extended discussions into evening sessions on multiple days. Despite Copland’s concerns about ending late, the Igloolik session adjourned at 4:40pm, 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Final hearings continue in Pond Inlet July 26-28. I won’t be there to report on them, but will continue post interviews with Pond Inletmiut planning to speak at the community roundtables this week and next.