Igloolik’s community roundtables at least 20 minutes too short: Mary River final hearings

120726 Celina BL

Final hearings on the Mary River project ended in Igloolik yesterday—too soon, said some community members who participated in community roundtable discussions.

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.

Baffinland should participate in human rights impact assessment: intervenors Lloyd Lipsett and Zacharias Kunuk on day 1 of Igloolik hearings

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Final hearings for the Mary River project continued in Igloolik today—one of the first summery days of the season—in the Attaguttaaluk high school gym. As ice cleared from the bay at the centre of town, hunters and families fuelled up their boats and Mayor Nick Arnatsiaq gave a warm welcome to presenters, saying, “this community feels that the project should go ahead, but again, NIRB will decide on the side of the majority.”

Baffinland gave summary presentations of the information already presented in Iqaluit last week to a sparsely populated crowd of Inuit, scientists and government officials who drifted in and out with the mosquitos. “I feel like I’m eavesdropping on somebody else’s conversation,” said Lucie Idlout, economic development officer for the hamlet. “It’s just a show now,” agreed Paul Quassa, lead negotiator on the IIBA. “The project’s going to be approved and now we’ve got to get moving forward.”  Panel discussions that took nearly three extended days of discussion to get through in Iqaluit were finished by the early afternoon and intervenors were invited to present their comments to the board.

Since Lloyd Lipsett and Zacharias Kunuk deferred their intervenor comments until this week, NIRB chair Elizabeth Copland allowed them speak first about their intervenor submission, one final impact assessment on the Mary River project. Lipsett’s human rights impact assessment, commissioned by Kunuk and IsumaTV, will gauge how the mine, if approved, can protect and improve Inuit access to basic, international human rights, such as the right to nutrition, education and a safe and healthy workplace.

Lipsett stressed that the assessment, still in its early stages, will benefit from his collaboration with other Nunavut representative and regulating agencies, such as QIA, NIRB, NTI the government of Nunavut, and the proponent itself, Baffinland. Of course, since HRIAs are not required by NIRB, Baffinland has no obligation to participate in, or comply with, Lipsett’s findings, but he gave three arguments why they should:

-Some of the components of the Mary River project have already been assessed in terms of international standards, such as ballast water treatment methods and emergency spill procedures along the shipping route.

-In 2010, ArcelorMittal published an explicit human rights policy that makes reference to international human rights standards and methods for ensuring those rights in its business.

-Providing overarching human rights policies may help guide many of the components of the project; if Inuit are provided with the proper education and training, for example, that will protect their right to work. If they are able to make stable, long-term salaries and helped to manage those salaries, that will protect their right to nutrition and their children’s right to work and be educated.

For Baffinland, Lipsett recommended continued, regular community consultations, but suggested the company work with communities to look for other ways to engage Baffin region communities that respects the Inuktitut language and oral tradition. He and Kunuk proposed a community hub via internet that would allow Inuit from different communities to communicate with each other, Baffinland, representative organizations and regulatory bodies on a regular basis, instead of through intermittent, expensive and often inconveniently scheduled community visits, or written notices and guides.

For representative organizations, he recommended greater transparency in administering beneficiary and tax payments. “Transparency about economic growth is fast becoming an international standard in the extractive industry,” he said. “Therefore we suggest that all parties…set an appropriate example of transparency and access to information, in order to 1) facilitate positive human rights benefits from the mine, and 2) to reinforce public confidence in the project.”For NIRB, Lipsett recommended explicit requirements be instituted for development companies to address human rights in their environmental impact assessments. “I know that this recommendation is outside the scope of this particular review process, but we mention it because it is well-known that review processes in Canada are going to be streamlined. Wherever human rights can be addressed proactively and constructively will be very useful.”

Kunuk argued the need for Lipsett’s presentation with a short speech about growing up at Steensby Inlet and being suddenly sent to attend school, years behind, in Igloolik. When he and many Nunavummiut were growing up, there was no formal education, no right to formal education, no one yet to infringe that right, and therefore, no one to protect it. “Many of us haven’t completed our education today,” said Kunuk. “We’ve also started slowly letting go of our culture…. We want to be organized. We want to have the same rights as other employees working at the mine site. We want to participate in the review process and we want to know our rights.”

QIA and the government of Nunavut said they supported Kunuk’s and Lipsett’s.There were no questions or comments from Baffinland, which Lipsett took positively. “It could be strategic, on their part, or they could be on-board,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in Pond Inlet.”

The government of Nunavut, QIA, NTI and AANDC also gave summary presentations of their Iqaluit comments. In light of Mayor Madeleine Redfern’s speech in Friday’s hearings, QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak pressed the government of Nunavut to create an overarching strategy for improving access to health care, social services, housing and nutrition before many of the 19 exploration projects currently in progress in the Baffin region approach the review process, or become mines.

IsumaTV is broadcasting full coverage of the hearings in Igloolik from July 23-35.




Makivik had time to engage in Mary River review, says Baffinland: final hearings day 4

120718 Bergner Gilbert

In its final hearing presentation yesterday, Makivik said it believes Baffinland’s 330m-long, double-hulled icebreaking ships could easily veer more than 30km from the proposed shipping lane and enter the south Hudson Strait—Nunavik waters—doing serious damage to the area’s indigenous marine life.

And even if tides, ice conditions, currents or avoidance of other vessels or whale pods didn’t sway Baffinland’s ships, Makivik harvests the same narwhal, beluga, bowhead and polar populations as Nunavummiut of South Baffin Island; where Nunavut is affected, Nunavik will be affected, and the Inuit of Northern Quebec believe their total allowable harvests will suffer without compensation if Makivik is left out of the Mary River review process.

Makivik has requested a separate review of the FEIS before its own Nunavik Marine Region Impact Review Board (NMRIRB), and is still waiting to hear back from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on whether or not he recommends a separate review. At that point, the NMRIRB would have 45 days to review Baffinland’s FEIS and determine whether a separate assessment is warranted.

But Baffinland presented evidence yesterday that Makivik was not left out of the process at all. After Makivik presented a list of concerns and recommendations that resemble a simplified version of DFO’s technical presentation (thresholds of 10% for detection of marine mammal population change are too high; the inadequacy of on-board ship monitors; Baffinland has underestimated the probability of marine mammal ship strikes; the isolated, Arctic underwater environment is naïve to anticipated noise pollution, sea ice destruction and the potential for oil spills, etc.), Baffinland’s legal counsel Keith Bergner cross-examined Makivik representatives Adamie Aluku and Gregor Gilbert on nearly four years of communication between the Nunavik corporation, Baffinland and NIRB staff.

After Makivik wrote initial letter to NIRB in April 2009, stating it had concerns with the Mary River project’s transboundary effects on the Nunavik Marine Region, it followed up with neither NIRB staff nor Baffinland, though Bergner produced a letter from NIRB to Makivik dated eight days after being contacted. It read, “We are very committed to ensuring full participation in the NIRB process by the residents of the Nunavik region and are open to suggestions from Makivik as to how best to facilitate this.” But Makivik never responded to that letter, Baffinland’s repeated phone calls throughout the summer of 2009 or a letter dated August 2009.

“I do understand that our correspondence was inadequate,” said Aluku, “but we have new leadership within our corporation. We have had successful meetings with the Nunavut Impact Review Board, we have had recent meetings this year in 2012 with Baffinland in our head office in Montreal, we have made a lot of headway since 2009, and have a better understanding of the project.”

Still, said Bergner, Baffinland’s proposed shipping route does not, and was never planned, to travel through the Nunavik Marine Region. In fact, Raglan, a Northern Quebec nickel mine whose royalties are administered by Makivik, avoids the southern part of the Hudson Strait because of heavy ice conditions in the southern portion. But even if Baffinland’s icebreakers never enter Nunavik waters, Aluku argued that any impact on Nunavimmiut harvesting is an impact on their culture and for that, they need to be compensated. That’s why AANDC chief federal negotiator Robin Aitken sent a letter the NIRB chair in 2009, mentioning that Makivik’s participation might be an issue to consider.

But asked to describe what sorts of impacts he expected the Mary River project’s transboundary effects might have on the Nunavik Inuit, Aluku answered, “We have immense knowledge from our Elders, the Inuit of Nunavik. There are others with knowledge that I can’t speak now to your question. For the Inuit to be heard, we must go back to the communities.”

Nevertheless, QIA said it supported Makivik’s concerns. “What’s good for Nunavik is good for Nunavik Inuit,” said QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak. “Banding together will only make us stronger…. We look forward to working together and I hope we can work out issues way before getting the federal minister involved.”

NMRIRB also gave a short presentation introducing its mandate and the last intervenor, Lloyd Lipsett on behalf of Zacharias Kunuk, deferred his presentation until the hearings in Igloolik.

Community roundtables began yesterday and continue today, supplemented with summary presentations from Baffinland and short presentations from the Mary River project committees.

Correction: an earlier version of this post stated that QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak supported Makivik’s request for a separate review of the Mary River project under the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement. She supports Makivik’s concerns, but not necessarily a separate review under NILCA.

Mary River hearing day 3: QIA pushes for marine, terrestrial, socioeconomic working groups

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Mostly North Baffin Inuit from Igloolik, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay and Clyde River remained at Iqaluit’s Cadet Hall last night to hear the end of government intervenors’ technical presentations on the Mary River project, nearly ten hours behind schedule.

Submissions by the government of Nunavut department of Environment, Environment Canada (EC) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) examined the project’s effects on caribou, polar bears, migratory birds, fish and marine mammals. “Lack of baseline data” in intervenors’ presentations became as frequent a phrase as “adaptive management” in the environmental sections of Baffinland’s talks.

In its cross-examinations, Baffinland criticized intervenors’ analysis of the sparse available data and questioned the conclusion that unknown effects on the North Baffin and Foxe Basin ecosystems necessarily translate into harmful effects. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to conduct more studies and monitoring on those ecosystems, but where Baffinland won’t be responsible for conducting those studies, who will?


Peter Hale, manager of wildlife research, presented the Nunavut Department of Environment’s conclusions on the North Baffin caribou herd; namely, that a 21—and possibly 100—year mining operation in the declining population’s calving grounds could not only significantly impact the herd, but “could adversely impact the viability of the population.” Given that there is no long-term scientific data on caribou patterns of migration or abundance near the mine site, and that Baffinland can’t be expected to conduct studies on migratory animals outside of that site, Hale relied on his own survey data to conclude that the herd is unpredictable but definitely declining and that Baffinland should post surveillance along the railway route to track and monitor crossing caribou.

Baffinland’s legal counsel suggested that the government of Nunavut might have been more certain about the North Baffin caribou had they made better use of Inuit Qaujimajatiqangiq: “the Inuit know a great deal about the caribou, “ said Baffinland. “And surely you accept the validity and importance if IQ.” Inuit Elders say that caribou populations surge and decline according to a 60-70-year cycle, but no one knows how their habits or distribution might change in the meantime.

For the near future, QIA tried to secure a ten-year commitment from the government of Nunavut to participate in its proposed terrestrial and marine environment working groups monitoring the environmental effects of the mine. Lands director Stephen Williamson Bathory said the combined effects of harvesting pressure, climate change and Mary River, and the broad range of the North Baffin caribou herd make it a territorial issue. Hale wouldn’t commit, but said he would participate as long as human and financial resources allow.


Hale also said Baffinlad downplayed Mary River’s effects on polar bears in its FEIS. Given that up to six icebreaking vessels could be using the Foxe Basin shipping route at the same time, polar bear movement and habitats are likely to be affected, and according to Environment Canada, Baffinland underestimated the extent of . Hale recommended that Baffinland report all polar bear sightings along the shipping route. As for long term studies on changes in polar bear behaviour, Hale said that should be up to QIA’s proposed marine environment working group.


Though Environment Canada expressed concerns in general with the lack of ecological baseline data, such as seafloor organisms in order to determine ballast water’s effect on the underwater ecosystem, it conducted specific studies tracking the distribution of migratory birds in the Hudson Strait and determined they might be attracted ship’s lighting, and therefore be at a greater risk for ship strikes. The agency suggested Baffinland equip its ships with bird diverters and monitor direct and indirect impacts of shipping.

On cross-examination, Baffinland pointed out it supported that research, has agreed to air quality monitoring at Steensby, and is supporting further Environment Canada bird studies already.


The department of Fisheries and Oceans criticized many of Baffinland’s conclusions in the FEIS, including a) its unprecedented choice of shipping route, b) its assertion that the 17.1 million cubic meters of ballast water emptied into Steensby Inlet every year will not affect the seafloor organisms, c) its choice of thresholds DFO considered too high, d) that interactions of icebreakers with marine mammals will not produce any negative impacts, e) that ship tracks through pack ice will not significantly affect the movement of marine mammals, f) that ship noise will not permanently affect marine animals, g) that ship strikes are unlikely and h) that major fuel spills are unlikely.

DFO concentrated heavily on the studies it conducted on the likelihood of ship strikes while the ship travels through marine mammal communities in the Hudson Strait and Foxe Basin, as well as the effect of shipping noise on mammal hearing. It said if Baffinland doesn’t reduce its shipping speeds in both the ice-covered and open-water season, shipping activities will likely kill approximately 14 belugas, 40 narwhals and five bowheads every year.

Baffinland countered that it has already developed five new monitoring plans that DFO did not acknowledge in its presentation; DFO said the plans need more development. Then Baffinland legal counsel Brad Archer questioned DFO representative Derrick Moggy on some of the studies that the agency conducted to arrive at the numbers of struck whales annually. Baffinland says the model is not scientifically recognized—was taken from the internet—and that it assumes that animals don’t move out of the path of an approaching ship. “I’m going to suggest to you that the likelikhood of these numbers you arrived at of whales being struck, by a formula taken from the internet, doesn’t allow animals to move and doesn’t account for speed,” said Archer. “I think it’s not fair to the whales to assume that they don’t move when a ship strikes, don’t you?” DFO resercher Jack Lawson defended the model, saying “the fellow who created the model is quite reputable,” and that the point of modeling ship strikes using any method was to show that the possibility of marine mammal ship strikes is definitely not zero, and probably not insignificant. “Our bottom line has always been that there remains the possibility of a vessel strike.

DFO maintained that ship monitoring methods needed to be improved, vessel speeds lowered and better baseline data compiled to assess how a massive icebreaker schedule that triples ship traffic in previously undisturbed waters will affect the animals there.

When QIA asked how DFO sees the marine environment working group operating most effectively, Moggy said clear goals and timelines need to be established. Like the GN and Environment Canada, he declined to agree to a ten-year commitment.


In addition to the marine and terrestrial environment working groups, the government of Nunavut recommended that Baffinland develop a monitoring plan to

conduct surveys in the affected communities and determine how the Mary River project affects housing, in- and outmigration, domestic issues, crime and substance abuse—all of which were separately discussed in the GN’s technical presentation. Pressed for progress updates on the Qikiqtaaluk Socioeconomic Monitoring Committee—which will be necessary before a project certificate can be issued, and which will include QIA, the GN and AANDC—the GN said only cryptically, “With respect to this question and the recommendations, the part about the monitoring framework in the project certificate, this is one section that the government of Nunavut is looking to revise.”

“Any clarity that the government of Nunavut can provide,” said NIRB chair Ryan Barry, “about how it would envision Q-SEMC with project specific monitoring committees and potential project certificates would be helpful for NIRB as well.”

On a coffee break, a man from Pond Inlet grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. “I’m so ashamed of my government,” he said.

Transport Canada also presented on new international standards on ballast water treatment that Baffinland will follow, the Canadian Coast Guard talked about its limited capacity to respond to accidents in the open water and ice-covered seasons, and Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian Transportation Agency gave final technical presentations as well.

Today, community roundtable sessions start and intervenors Makivik Corporation, the Nunavik Marine Region Impact Review Board and Zacharias Kunuk will deliver their technical presentations.

QIA requests more studies, monitoring and discussion in Igloolik on fuel storage at Steensby

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In contrast to NTI’s nine-minute contribution to final hearings on the Mary River project (NIRB allotted 20 minutes for its presentation), QIA took a thorough, critical and aggressive stance in its hearing presentation on a number of issues, such as socioeconomics, impacts on land and marine mammals, ballast water, the port at Steensby Inlet, Inuit participation in community-based monitoring, the need for efficient and committed joint Baffinland-QIA working groups, ore production rate and archaeological resources.

QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak introduced herself by name and E-number and gave a short history of Nuluyat (the Mary River site) in Inuktitut, which she said means “mountain of ore” and has served as a navigational aid to Inuit, directing them from the flatlands of the South Baffin region towards the mountains and glaciers of the North—“a point of transition for Inuit.” At some point NIRB chair Elizabeth Copland asked Eegeesiak to shorten her speech in the interests of the belated agenda, but she refused. “Baffinland had its time,” she said. “I’ll finish my speech.

Eegeesiak pointed out the enormous effort and expense to carry out years of community consultations on the project—correcting an apparent misconception that Baffinland actively funds the seven Mary River project committees in potentially impacted communities—and reiterated NTI’s assurance to Baffinland that “we are not against mining. We don’t want to see us go back…. This is central to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and QIA, but we don’t see industrial development as an automatic solution to the very real problems that exist in our communities.” She then handed the microphone to QIA director of lands Stephen Williamson Bathory, who stressed QIA’s concern that Baffinland include Inuit in all aspects of project monitoring, both physical—literally watching elements of the project—and through serious, committed joint working groups on the marine and terrestrial ecosystems and socioeconomics.

While QIA maintained its stance that the Steensby port site may be the Baffinland’s most viable option, it objected strongly to the overwintering of fuel there in a vessel locked in ice: “It goes against the desires of the Inuit,” said Bathory, asking Baffinland to conduct a standalone meeting during in Igloolik on the subject during the final hearings.

Though Baffinland conducted a June 18 risk assessment workshop with Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, DFO and Environment Canada on overwintering a fuel vessel at Steensby, QIA recommended additional community consultations and a reassessment that includes winter condition fuel spreading patterns and the impacts of fuel if it doesn’t quickly evaporate, as Baffinland expects it to.

In its question period, Baffinland’s legal counsel Brad Archer objected that overwintering of fuel storage is closely regulated under the Canada Shipping Act, and that the legally required risk assessment has all been done by Baffinland. “I just want to confirm with you that you’re not asking NIRB to begin to regulate this area,” Archer said. “This is an area already regulated under the Canada Shipping Act…. I just want to make sure you’re not asking NIRB to step in and create its own regulations.” Bathory responded that QIA would still like to see continuous posted security at the port to monitor the fuel storage vessel throughout the winter.

QIA also had strong recommendations for Baffinland regarding ballast water; namely, it asked the company to conduct a more thorough risk analysis of ballast water discharge, instead of Baffinland’s current plan, which is to wait for Transport Canada to issue guidelines for its ballast water treatment system in early 2013.

Archer challenged QIA on this point too, saying, “We should trust our government’s guidelines. For ballast water, I’m wondering if we can trust Transport Canada’s regulations, because that’s the only regulation we really need, isn’t it?” Bathory responded by saying QIA had hoped the selection of treatment techniques might be the subject of a marine environment working group discussion, given that ballast water standards don’t yet exist.

Baffinland also contested many of QIA’s claims, in its slide presentations, that the company made certain commitments, such as video surveillance on the railway. Bathory apologized and amended the wording.

The government of Nunavut also questioned the commitments requested of it, pointing to QIA’s statement that “all partners in monitoring must commit the human and financial resources necessary to sustain [socioeconomic benefit] efforts over the life of the project.” Since the GN would become a partner in monitoring under the IIBA, and the IIBA will specifically address Inuit training, the GN was concerned that QIA sees it as a source of funding for mine-related training and cultural education. Bathory confirmed that QIA would not look to the GN for funding in this area, but perhaps to the communities for funding.

In addition to its presentation, QIA also submitted its list of draft project certificate recommendations, should the project go ahead.

AANDC and the Nunavut Land Planning Commission also presented yesterday. AANDC will oversee reclamation procedures upon closure of the Mary River site, and the Land Planning Commission will conduct an internal review of Baffinland’s proposed rail route to determine whether to approve an amendment to the Baffin Region Land Use Plan.

Intervenor presentations from the 10 remaining intervenors are expected to finish by the end of today’s session.

Mary River’s final hearings: Iqaluit, day 1

120716 final hearing day 1

After over ten hours of presentations and discussions, the first day of Mary River’s final hearings closed at 9:30pm, two items behind schedule, with the intimation of many yet unanswered questions to come.

Baffinland president Tom Paddon opened the hearing with a speech, in Inuktitut and English, on the significant, long-term investment that a mine requires, for both the mining company and the impacted communities: “The largest expense, for a mine, takes place earliest on; these are our investment years, and Inuit have a significant investment to make as well. The development of a portion of Inuit land and the changes that will mean for traditional life must be considered carefully.”

But he added, “We are confident that we have had more than enough time to make a decision on the project.”

Paddon said that Inuit traditional knowledge made a significant contribution to the planning of the project, and then flew to Mary River for the rest of the day, handing responsibilities over to his over 20-person team of consultants—“a every expensive room”—to demonstrate the results of that research, supplemented with over six years of Inuit consultation, primary and secondary studies, collaboration with government agencies and regulatory requirements.

“The project may appear unprecedented,” said Erik Madsen, Baffinland’s vice-president of sustainable management, “but you will see that all of the elements of the project have been done before.” Perhaps in response to several government agencies’ concerns in their final submissions to NIRB that Baffinland’s baseline studies were insufficient, Madsen reiterated, “We are confident that we have adequate data for an impact assessment.”

Baffinland pointed out that it has responded to each of the intervenor’s concerns already in writing in a document uploaded to the NIRB ftp site last week.

After a brief overview of the project, the company discussed mostly environmental concerns over three presentations, summarized below:


One key issue identified by NIRB was the possibility of alternatives to the rail route, which Baffinland plans to run southeast of the Mary River site, veer around several lakes and rivers draining into Steensby Inlet and back west to the port site. Two locomotives will make a total of six round trips daily, travelling at average speeds of 30-40 km per hour—about one train every two hours.

Baffinland pointed out that QIA hired an independent consultant to examine the position of the railway and Steensby port site, only to conclude that Baffinland’s choices were indeed the most economically technically feasible choices, despite the fact that the Baffin Land Use Plan will have to be amended to allow to railway to pass through Inuit-owned land. QIA later corrected Baffinland, saying they did no economic studies on alternatives to the port site or railway, but confirmed the results of their feasibility studies.

Baffinland also said airborne dust will not be a significant concern because iron ore dust is much heavier than average rock dust and will fall to the ground almost immediately after flying from the tops of the moving train cars. As for dust emissions landing on the ground and coating ground vegetation, Baffinland plans to monitor dust emissions from rail cars early on in its operations, and said it would extend monitoring down the rail line if the train releases more dust than expected.

In response to NTI’s concerns about emergency plans for train derailment, Baffinland’s director of sustainability Oliver Curran said, “Because it is an enclosed railway with inspectors and heavy equipment stationed at both ends, we can respond to derailments quickly. We have a good emergency response plan.”


Curran began Baffinland’s second presentation with a general endorsement of shipping: “It’s the most environmentally favourable method of materials transport there is; in Nunavut, a large proportion of community supply comes depends on shipping; it’s strictly regulated and, compared to other methods of transport, it’s environmentally responsible.”

And the only environmentally and technically responsible choice of shipping port, he said, is Steensby. “Shipping experience, scientific technology, traditional knowledge…a $12 million detailed charting of a six mile swath of Steensby Inlet confirmed the navigability of the proposed route.”  Baffinland, he said, examined routes west of Milne Inlet to the north, but the east Baffin shear zone—a row of ridges up to 20 m high—precluded them. They plotted a route to Iqaluit but it was too long to make environmental or economic sense. They tried Nuvuit, southeast of Steensby Inlet—and a popular proposed alternative—but the route was longer, would require two additional years of construction, and the port would be much too shallow. By contrast, Steensby met all the technical, environmental and social requirements,“makes an ideal deepwater port,” and has the backing of QIA’s independent consultant. None of the participants had any questions regarding the choice of the Steensby port site.

But Baffinland pointed out it had taken community concerns into consideration in plotting the shipping route itself; the original preferred route, far west of Rowley Island, was moved east to avoid important walrus harvesting grounds along the northeast Melville Peninsula, between Hall Beach and Igloolik.

Baffinland maintained that year-round shipping has no adverse effects on walrus and other marine mammals “where monitoring is efficient and committed,” but said it can adapt its operations, if need be, by reducing shipping speed, altering its route or periodically suspending shipping. When NIRB executive director Ryan Barry asked for clarification on what degree of impacts would trigger suspension of shipping and how long that suspension would last, Baffinland said it would have to make up for the loss in productivity by adding more ships during the open water season, increasing ore transport.

Ballast water, another contentious topic throughout the review process, will be sampled and monitored regularly, as well as filtered to extract potentially invasive, microscopic species. Baffinland will study bottom-feeding animals for baseline studies later this year.

Marine mammals discussions focused largely on the effects of shipping on marine mammals, including noise pollution and ship strikes. Baffinland’s marine mammal consultant Rolph Davis said that, in most cases, underwater noise will have a negligible impact on marine mammals. Unless they’re socializing or distracted, they will most likely get out of the way of ship strikes long before they happen. As for noise pollution affecting the hearing of seals or whales, “they would have to swim beside a ship for a very long time to experience hearing damage from the noise.” Ships generally emit low-frequency sounds, said Davis, and marine mammals hear best at high frequencies.

Davis concluded his presentation with a somewhat depressing comparative study of marine mammal populations’ ability to bounce back from resource extraction operations, to levels close, or equivalent, to their previous abundances.

During question period, QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak pointed out that many of Davis’ studies cited research carried out decades earlier on different species than those that will be impacted by the Mary River project. Davis responded by saying Baffinland is planning more studies on marine mammals abundance, distribution, and reactions to ship traffic and underwater noise, involving hydrophones and unmanned aerial vehicles in the early stages of the project.

Barry challenged Baffinland’s claim that, even though the project, as a whole, may be unprecedented, all of its operational elements have been done before: asked whether Baffinland had compared its shipping impacts with a vessel of similar size instead of the much smaller MV Arctic, Baffinland said, “None in ice-infested waters, there is nothing in the world of that size.”


After a short presentation on Baffinland’s plans to replace Mary River’s indigenous vegetation after the mine’s closure (it will work on experimental plots on disturbed areas to determine re-vegetation success throughout the project), discussions turned to the most contentious issue of the night: potential impacts on the enigmatic North Baffin caribou herd.

Most of Baffinland’s information comes from traditional knowledge on historical caribou populations and migration patterns, since there are almost no systematic western scientific data available. Baffinland consultant Mike Setterington also flew along the proposed rail route for three full days, logging thousands of kilometers, and walked the route twice, searching for caribou tracks. Though the current population is sparse—Setterington estimates it to be in the hundreds—in abundant periods, there were thousands—maybe even tens of thousands—travelling through Mary River in the 1980s. Baffinland has plotted its caribou crossings to align with old tracks left over from decades before, but no one knows what the herd will look like when it eventually does return in full force to the area, or how sensitive it will be to railway disturbance when it does.

Based on evidence from the Meadowbank gold mine in Baker Lake, the Ekati and Diavik diamond mines outside of Yellowknife, caribou are tremendously adaptable and simply avoid areas of high traffic. That said, given the low population of caribou in the North Baffin herd, Baffinland promised to investigate any caribou strikes and suspend railway transport in the meantime. For now, Baffinland is relying on the ghostly trails of a herd that no one knows for sure what has happened to. NIRB chair Elizabeth Copland asked some unanswerable questions: “Has there always been a low population? Where is the caribou now?” Before looking at her watch, saving the answer for the community roundtable discussions and closing the night.

Inuit-owned contracts: Q&A with Simon Merkosak, Pond Inlet entrepreneur

120715 truck drives into the mountains

Simon Merkosak is an independent contractor based in Pond Inlet. Over the past few years, he’s formed upwards of ten national and international joint ventures with southern companies, in anticipation of contracting opportunities with construction on the Mary River project.

BW: How long have you been preparing for the Mary River project, business-wise?

I’ve been on it for a couple of years now. I started setting up joint venture companies a couple of years ago.

BW: How much does a company have to be owned by Inuit to be Inuit-owned?

For Auyuittuq, we created a company that is owned by Inuit shareholders and also by a southern company that does aviation. So Aiyuittuq is 60% Inuit-owned and 40% owned by Great Slave Helicopters. So that’s the model we’re using for our joint venture companies. They’ll be majority owned Inuit companies with shareholders from different communities.

BW: So you run Merkosak Construction, Auyuittuq Aviation and are president of Qulliq Energy Corporation. Can you tell me about the other companies you run? 

There are too many. Over ten. But I’m involved with aviation, medical—that’s air ambulance, medevac, and we have a doctor available for those flights as well—and we have construction—some of it specializing in housing, steel, road construction, building dams, roads, stuff like that. And security. They’re going to need security services, so we’ve set up a company for that as well.

BW: Will Merkosak Construction be doing any contract work at the mine site?

Merkosak Construction I started in 1998, and basically, this company is in Pond Inlet only. I don’t’ move out of Pond. In the past few years, housing construction at the lowest—ever—wasn’t worth my time to go after contracts. And other southern companies with joint ventures—supposedly Inuit companies—we couldn’t

compete with them. And me being a very small construction company, I didn’t have the resources, financially, to go after the bigger ones. So housing is not good right now.

BW: But with your joint ventures, you can take on the big projects?

Yes. Any big, huge contracts, we can go after. At least we want to be given the chance to get on them. I know once approval is given to the mine, everybody’s going to be going after them. And being an Inuit company—all my companies are Inuit companies under NTI regulations.

If this mine goes ahead then Inuit need to benefit from that. And from my perspective, that should provide employment for the communities that are close to Mary River. I think the mine will contract out a lot of work and we’re trying to get some of it. If we can get only a little bit of it, then it’s going to be huge.

I was looking at the Baker Lake gold mine operation, and there’s one particular company that just looks after the big tires, that’s basically it. Whenever they change a tire, they charge it to the company. So there are a lot of opportunities.

BW: How did you get into contracting work?

Over the years, we’ve been a 100% Inuit company; we’ve mostly hired local people. And that was part of the reason why I started my own company. Southern companies would come up here and bring in their own workers, where local people were hardly ever hired and if they were, they were just given menial jobs. So I got into that, and I trained workers and most times, my employees—local employees—were 90% Inuit.

BW: And what sort of challenges did you face getting people trained, coming to work every day and staying at the job?

I think the biggest problem was getting guys to show up. Because most of them weren’t used to nine to five or nine to nine. 12 hour shifts. It’s understandable. They have their families here that they had to look after. And they were involved with the local community organizations, other things that they’re doing, different commitments, whereas southern workers, when they come up here, they’ve got nothing going on. They’re here to work, and they work over 12 hours a day. They can do that. Locally, it’s darn hard to do that because you have other commitments to the community.

BW: And how are you in a position then, as a contractor, who’s dealt with all this before, to train workers to work at the mine, as opposed to a southern company who doesn’t have this experience?

I can be very effective and give them my experienced knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to Inuit employment.

With Qulliq Energy Corporation, we have a training program—a mentorship program—and I think that’s the best way of doing it. Not leaving the workers, just telling them, this is what you’re going to do and leave them. That doesn’t work. You

have to be there and lead them; mentor them; guide them. That seems to work best. And once they get used to the routine of work, what’s to be expected, then they can go to a higher level of education and move on upstairs. I’ve been very effective in Qulliq Energy Corporation, with the training and mentorship program that we have.

Some people—workers—they don’t want to get into management, and that’s okay. But there are people who want to get into senior management levels and when that happens, we should have all the training programs and opportunities available for them.

Southern bosses, they don’t live up here year round, but we do. We go hunting with the workers and we know the environment. I think we live their lives, and when they talk we understand what they’re talking about. I think that’s key to understanding the social issues, social problems: that the workers know that they’re being understood.

BW: How have you noticed that long-term employment has changed your Inuit workers?

Well, for me, there’s one drawback to that. When I train people in construction, when they get some skill, they get picked up by the housing association and government. It’s good for them but not for me. I have to go back to square one and start training again. So that’s good, but it was the only drawback that I saw in terms of trying to train people. Eventually, most of the employable people in construction, once they’re more trained and more people trained and better and better and easier for me to hire people.

BW: Where will you train your employees when you start getting contracts at the mine site?

For drivers, at the mine site, where they have the facilities. Other stuff, go somewhere else, to other communities or down south.

BW: And how much time does a contractor need to bid for the contracts, to be prepared to start work on a job?

Well, the bulk of the equipment that will be needed for construction will have to be taken by supply ship. So, just suppose Mary River is given go-ahead approval now. I have to wait another year before we can get the supplies and equipment up there to start the construction. The logistics side of it is just horrendous. You have to plan about a year ahead of time.

I’ll give you an example with my construction company, Merkosak Construction. Alone, I’m out of it; I can’t bid for contracts because I’m too small. Because the mining company is huge. They won’t even look at me if I’m too small. That’s why I went into these joint ventures with southern companies. I already have a fleet of equipment and financial backing. And as a small company, I can’t get that.

BW: I saw that in the IIBA, QIA is trying to get big contracts broken up into small contracts so that smaller companies can bid for contracts with other small companies. Even then, are you too small?

It’s doable, but again, the biggest issues that we have up here being a small business is the financing. Are the banks going to look at us and give us loans and guarantees and whatever? I don’t think so. Historically, they haven’t even looked at us. It’s not worth their time. They want to make money.

BW: So that clause is not going to help you.

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Trying to get business from the ground up, to get mining contracts, mining companies are not interested in that. Once they get going, they want to get things right here right now. They want to get things done right now. Here. Today. Get it done. They’re not going to hold anyone’s hand to try to help them get going. They don’t have time for that.

BW: And when you go into joint ventures with national and international companies, is it up to you to make sure that the majority of the employees are Inuit?

If there are any requirements involved, we read them. These companies—these joint companies—are now turnkey operations. Once we get a contract, we’ll get going right away. There’s no set-up involved, besides logistical matters.

And, well, I don’t know what’s in the IIBA. Nobody knows. That’s one of the problems that we have in trying to decide whether we’re going to support the company or not—what kind of benefits are being negotiated? We’re being kept in the dark. Without knowing what the target’s going to be and what they’re going after, how can I answer that question?

BW: So if you get involved with a joint venture and it’s a turnkey operation, do you have time to train Inuit employees?

Initially—going back to the statement I made earlier—when they start building, or even when they’re in operation, the mining company is going to say, I want this done right now, and if you can’t do it, we’ll find somebody else.

Initially, because this is a new thing for us, people will not be trained from the small outlying communities, in the mining sector, so that’s going to take time. I have to go through the training process and hire them. We’re not going to meet whatever the Inuit content requirement is. Nobody’s going to meet that initially, but that will be our target and then we can start getting into the training and mentorship programs and everything that I was talking about earlier.

Once we get going, we’re not going to comply with that. Physically, it’s impossible. We can’t just pick these people off the road and hire them as drivers. It takes time to train them.

BW: Some people say the iron ore is going to be in the ground 10 years from now. It would be better to have ten more years to get the communities more prepared to benefit from the mine. What do you think when people say the communities need more time for training and education?

I say no. We don’t need more time, we need it now. And if we don’t have it now, if we request another ten years to go through the training programs, the mining company’s going to disappear. They don’t have time for that. They’re going to go overseas where there’s another huge ore desposit, and where the quality of the iron ore is comparable to Mary River. That’s where they’re going to go.

If there’s any kind of delay involved, it’s not going to happen.

BW: Are you worried that it’s not going to happen?

Yes, I’m very worried it’s not gong to happen. If it doesn’t happen for people, where are they going to get the jobs? The next closest potential mine is just north of Iqaluit. And are we going to go through the same process again, delaying, delaying, delaying? Well, we can’t keep delaying, delaying, delaying everything.  We need the jobs here. Right now.

Right now, in our communities, where can we work? Housing, hamlet, regional government office, Co-op, Hudson’s Bay Company. There are limited jobs available. Our population keeps growing. There are kids graduating: over ten every year, and what are they going to do?

BW: Do you have your eyes on any more future deposits?

The diamond mine north of Iqaluit and Roche Bay, those are the two on our radar right now. Other mining companies could open up. By that time, we should be established and running. Hopefully.

I’m watching all of them. For the Baffin region, these joint venture companies we’re creating, they’re are geared toward all those. It’s not just Mary River, it’s for other potential mines that could open.

BW: How will the Mary River project affect Pond Inlet if it goes ahead?

It will have a positive effect. We had a retail store here—a sporting goods store–renting a space in the Co-op, and the Co-op needed the space back because they were doing renovations and expanding, so we just closed the space instead of looking for another space. There were no other spaces.

I think the majority of people, if they start working, are going to have more disposable income. And they require food, supplies, snow machines, ATVs, and that will create a need for services for these people who will have more disposable income. And that creates more opportunity at the community level.

BW:  What will this community look like in 20 years if the mine doesn’t go ahead?

Nothing…. Nothing.

BW: What would you do, business-wise, in that case?

Try to rocks into gold.

There’s nothing. And, as Nunavut, talking Nunavut-wide, we need to get these private businesses, like mining and other sectors up and running, and get the economy going. Historically, government doesn’t to that. Can’t do that. Economy is driven by private companies, private businesses, everything. So we need to get that going if we’re going to get Nunavut healthy economically. Government’s not going to do it. They never have and they never will.

BW: And what about people who are worried about the loss of Inuit culture with a wage-based economy?

It’s already happening, and it will be up to the people if they want to be Inuit. The definition of being an Inuk, over the years, has changed. When I was a kid, growing up here, being an Inuk was totally different from what being an Inuk is here today.

So. The definition of Inuk changes as technology progresses up north. And the definition of Inuk might be using country food as our food and living the culture. The Inuit culture. If they want to be Inuit, they’re going to have to pay more attention to being Inuit.

Identity. One of the reasons why there’s a lot of health and social issues—and I experience them too—is the loss of identity. Who am I? Once you have that question mentally, it affects you. You don’t know who you are. You don’t know where you belong.

And the influx of people coming up here, if we really want to be Inuit, we’ll try darn hard to be Inuit.

I think the young people are not realizing that we are Inuit. We have our own way of thinking. We have our own culture. We have our own way of raising kids. We need to get that back. That’s the driving force. Years and years ago, we sustained ourselves with nothing. We didn’t get any health care—nothing—and we’re still here today. We need to remember that. We’re not that weak.

Pond Inletmiut at the mine site, then and now

120715 Moses Kyak old

Moses Kyak worked as a labourer, driver and heavy equipment operator, building the tote road between Milne Inlet and Mary River between summer 1962 and fall 1964. He still lives in Pond Inlet, where he is a retired pastor and a hunter.

The first time I went to Nuluyak [the Mary River site], the little plane came in and wanted me to work over there—at Mary River. The Hudson’s Bay manager told me they wanted me to go to the site with them to do construction work. So the next day I went. Our job was to get ready for the workers to come in before they got there. We put up tents and everything. There were two of us who went the first year: one from Igloolik—Kitseelah, and he’s not alive anymore—and me.

After that, a plane brought more people in who wanted to work—qallunaat. The first year, we walked all summer, every day up at five or six in the morning, checking the level of the ground to make the tote road.

I developed muscles that summer. I never had that before—a lot of muscles, but I got very big working there.

We came back in the fall. I wanted to come back because I was going to school at the army base, as a heavy equipment operator. So for seven months, eight months, I trained to be a heavy equipment operator there. After that—after I graduated—I was home for one weekend before they flew me back to Mary River to work on their machines.

As soon as we got there, they told us there were two machines that wouldn’t start. They were stuck somewhere on the tote road between Milne Inlet and Mary River. No one knew what to do.

For the first one, I brought over my tools, fixed it up, good to go. But the other one had more trouble starting. The fuel line was frozen.

I remembered that in the Sea Lift, they brought fuel and wood—everything they needed for the work all season. And I remembered seeing that they brought salt in that, to warm up the roads. So I put it in the fuel line, to melt it. I poured salt in there, warmed it up, then changed the filter. It was good to go.

After that, I started working as a driver. Through wind, snow, you couldn’t see anything. The other guys followed me. I followed my headlights and the snow track. There was no road, just snow tracks from the other trucks. So I didn’t look anywhere else for three, four hours. Just the snow road. I watched it. The track.

It was rough country too, all mountains. We only stopped to fuel up. And then keep going to Mary River.

When we got to the end of the road, we built it through the mountains. And making the road was very, very dangerous. We worked between two mountains, making the road through the crack. I had to go right in there. I never had an accident, but I tipped over many, many times. I almost fell down that mountain. But they wanted me to work. I don’t drive that road today. I don’t think they use it anymore today.

Each summer, we built maybe 30, 40 miles. Just enough for one machine to get through, and no trucks, only heavy equipment, building machines.

We worked 12 hours a day, one dollar an hour. Even for overtime. While working with qallunaat—with the white man—he’s working day shift and I’m working night shift. There were two of them, and the older one was a good man, but the younger one, every time he got stuck, he just sat down, drank his tea and smoked a cigarette. Called me over. I made wood tracks for the machine and pulled it out of the snow, and he just sits and pulls out his cigarette and waits for me to take him out. And then he went to sleep. But the older one, he was a good man.

We didn’t do much hunting, there was so much working. There was lots of food there but we didn’t touch it. Sometimes we’d get fish from the little lakes around the mountains with little fish in them. They’d bring lots of food in, but we didn’t eat it. I liked it very much, but I couldn’t eat it every day. I have to hunt food, catch food, country food, you know?

In the fall, after all the qallunaat workers left, we stayed at the site to clean everything up. Everybody’s out, but we’re there working, storing the machines, locking everything up. Cleaning up the garbage and burning it.

Altogether, I worked there for three years—62, 63, 64. And after that, they wanted me back. But I worked here then, and I was making double the pay, so I stayed here. It was a good experience, but I made more money here.

After a couple of years, after 1975, I decided to go to Bible school. The minister said, “You can’t do it. All the books are in English. You won’t be able to understand.” But he didn’t speak Inuktitut. From Scotland. And I told him, “If you can do it, I can do it too.” So since then, I work in the church.


Louise Innualuk worked at the Mary River pre-construction site from summer 2008 to fall 2011. She now works in Pond Inlet’s Nattinak Visitor’s Centre.

I never even heard about the Mary River project until my friends told me there were jobs there. I started as a cleaner in 2008, then got promoted in 2010, to assistant cook. I brought my resumé to the Qikiqtaaluk Logistics office—back then it was in the Co-op—and then I got a call at home, saying if I wanted a job, the plane was leaving in a few hours. I was maybe three years out of high school.

It was two weeks at a time—two weeks here, two weeks there, between, I think, August and October. And it was really crowded the first year; about 400 people were working at the campsite. Maybe a little less than half Inuit, and a lot of people from Pond Inlet. Mostly though, the Inuit were from Iqaluit.

The first year, we cleaned everything: the weather haven—which is a building, made out of tent and it has some wings on it. There’s a kitchen, a dining room, an office, exercise room, recreation room, five or six wings, three or four washrooms, the old kitchen and a fire station.

It was very loud with all those people there, and especially during lunchtime. I’d never been in rooms with that many people before. I was afraid to go anywhere at first without my friends, and we spoke Inuktitut with each other.

In 2009, it was much quieter. There were only 60 people working at the site, so as a cleaner, there were only two of us. But everything still had to be done in 12 hours, so they were long days, and no overtime pay if we went over. If I didn’t finish in 12 hours, I still only got paid for 12 hours.

When I started working as assistant cook though, things were more rushed. I liked it because I learned to cook, and every now and then—especially when VIPs came—there would be some country food on the table, either frozen or raw, and sometimes, there would be smoked fish and muktaaq [narwhal meat] on the salad table. Probably it came from hunters or was brought in by the workers. 

At the mine site, though, there was no hunting or fishing allowed. Before I went here, I heard there used to be fishing there sometimes, but that stopped.

Slowly, the number of people working there went back up in 2010 and 2011. Last year, there were a little over 100 workers at the Mary River site.

I liked the socializing, though. It helped me with my shyness. From when I first got there to last year, people have noticed that I’m a lot less shy now. When I got there, I hung my head low a lot. Around the end, though, I was standing up tall, instead of holding my head down.

My confidence has changed. When I was in high school, I never dreamed of giving a guided tour to anyone. But every Sunday last month, at the Nattinak Centre, I gave a tour to about 11 to 15 people.

The only thing I didn’t like about working there was that the head cooks were always asking if we knew anybody who would like to work, instead of going through QL to contact the people who had applied. I really, really hated that, because I don’t know too many people who work hard. I would have to go through the phone book to see who has children and who doesn’t, because not too many people who have children want to work. So that was difficult.

When I came back [to Pond Inlet] in 2011, I got a job as a substitute teacher at the high school, and that lead to my job here. They contacted me and asked me if I wanted a job, so I applied.

Maybe someday, if I need the cash, I’ll go back to Mary River. It pays better, but I like my job here more than Mary River. Still, the first paycheck I had from Mary River was the most money I ever had in one paycheck in all my life. The first year I made $22 an hour, then $19, and by the end I was making $30 an hour.

Thanks to Phillipa Ootoowak at the Pond Inlet Archives for photos and information about Mary River and Milne Inlet construction from the 1960s.

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

120715 Malachi Arreak

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. 

Pond Inlet: a hamlet in waiting

120712 Pond Inlet sign

About 400 km northwest of Igloolik, straight past the Mary River project site, lies Pond Inlet, the mine’s most or second most potentially impacted community, depending on who’s talking. Though Baffinland’s proposed railway runs south to Foxe Basin (near Igloolik), and shipping to Milne Inlet (near Pond) will only carry seasonal loads of construction equipment, supplies and building materials, Milne and the waterways surrounding it serve as calving grounds for one of the world’s largest narwhal populations. As well, the potential impacts of Mary River’s shipping on Milne Inlet, combined with recent spikes in North Baffin cruise traffic, submarine testing and oil exploration in nearby Eclipse Sound and the possible opening of the Northwest Passage, make Pond Inletmiut (people from Pond) acutely aware of the value—and cost—of exploiting their land.

Economically, historically and geographically, Pond Inlet and Igloolik could hardly be more opposite. Like many Nunavut communities, they are scrambled, pre-fabricated doppelgangers of each other: each has the same shipping-container Co-op, the same locked and looming blue GN building on the edge of town, the same expanding strip of plastic row houses—only differently arrayed. Where the town of Igloolik is flat, relatively resource-less and surrounded with hallucinatory miles of useless, dust-producing rock, the objective value of Pond—“the Jewel of the North”—is instantly, overwhelmingly apparent. Surrounded on three sides by Sirmilik National Park, in summer its lush, near vertical hills are sprinkled with flowers and studded with whorled boulders in pink, blue, black and white. ATV tracks carve out bright brown paths at impossible angles. At the height of summer, shots fire in the bay in front of town all afternoon, while kids jig for char in the next beach over. “Welcome to paradise,” two people tell me on my first day in town.

Locals say this land has gold, diamonds, copper, iron ore and soapstone, to name a few mineral resources, and Inuit have known about—and protected—them for generations. Pond Inletmiut make up the most northerly remaining population of Inuit in Canada who are indigenous to their surrounding land. According to Inuit history, the Tununiq—the clan Pond Inletmiut came from—drove out the Vikings over 1,000 years ago; they outlasted the Tunniit; in the 19th century they survived the influx of European explorers while other nearby clans were slaughtered, and after 1922, the town site itself was formed when area Inuit rallied against an abusive trader and one Inuk, Nuqatlak, was convicted of murder. The RCMP established a precinct in town to hold Nuqatlak’s trial, sentence him to ten years in a Manitoba jail and use the opportunity to establish and populate a permanent settlement.

Perhaps as one result, Pond Inletmiut have a reputation for being tough—when Inuit from northern Quebec struggled to adapt to the High Arctic after being relocated there in the 1950s, local hunters from Pond were sent to Grise Fiord and Resolute to teach them survival tips. Life in Pond remains tough—there have been four suicides in the community in the past four months—but historically, Pond has never lost a fair fight.

The spoils of those battles, though, have been a long time coming, and Pond, at first impression, is a hamlet in waiting. During the negotiations for the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Pond secured land parcels as far as 3,000 km away, including the Mary River site and at least two present and proposed national parks. Despite that, Sirmilik, the national park created in 2001, has an abysmal attendance rate—between 25 and 50 visitors per year on average—the Nattinak Visitors Centre, created in anticipation of Sirmilik’s tourist explosion, is mostly empty except for locals who come to use the adjoining library’s internet connection, and most days, the airport’s polished glass display cases, packed with local carvings, remain unlit.

The Mary River project could change that—and in fact, was accounted for in the NLCA in order to change that, and the entire local economy. In some ways, residents of Pond have seen some of those changes already, others are concerned that the changes may happen too fast, and still others are banking on many of the changes to come.

Over the next few days, leading up to next week’s final hearings in Iqaluit, I’ll be posting Pond perspectives on the Mary River project, it’s possible impacts and unanswered questions.


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