Memories of Nanisivik: “I still miss it; I can’t say that enough. I’m still homesick.”

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Nancy Amarualik lived at Nanisivik for 14 to 15 years, working in the mill and community kitchens and the daycare. She left a few months before the mine closed down.

For about 14,15 years we lived at Nanisivik. I was just a young mother with three kids: one from my stomach and the other two adopted. We were in Hall Beach. My boyfriend at the time, he’d been working there for a year already when we got our ticket to move to Nanisivik. I think that was 1987, and we lived there ‘til closing time. Sometimes I’m still homesick.

I thought it was going to be like Arctic Bay; like Inuit communities, but when my boyfriend drove me to our house, I thought, Oh my goodness! It was beautiful. Quiet, not many people, and it had everything except dishes. All they said was “Welcome to Nanisivik” or “Welcome to your new home,” and Newfoundlanders would drop off some dishes or something to cook with. They just donated it, eh?

It was a really nice house. Like a dome—it looked like an igloo but light blue or yellow. Made out of wood, and we had a long upstairs, three bedrooms and two washrooms. It was awesome. My aunt and her husband even came to live with us there for years and years.

My boyfriend drove loaders and worked as a grinder, and pretty soon I hired a nanny and started working in the mill kitchen. I had to go way, way down from the town, into the hill but not underground. You could still see out the window. So I worked in the kitchen for about two years and then when my boss left, I went to the big dome kitchen, where the families all ate. Big, big kitchen.

For the mothers, we worked eight or nine hours a day, and the fathers worked more like 12 hours. Sometimes they would go on night shift, every two to four weeks, but we ladies were more like daytime workers. After the kitchen, I moved to the daycare and that was awesome. Not very many kids, but we had quite a few Newfies, and they always pushed their kids to learn more Inuktitut. And they were learning from their Inuit employees too.

There was one Newfie, even, who ran a video store out of his house. He was a miner, but he had so many movies; his walls were filled with movies, and we used to rent VHS and then DVDs from him. He wanted his son to learn Inuktitut, so he spent a lot of time with the Inuit, running that video room.

Ah, I loved the Newfies. Really nice people. Friendly, and I don’t think I really noticed many French people at all. The least I saw were Inuit people. Mostly from Arctic Bay and not many from Hall Beach.

With the Newfies and Inuit, everything was smooth and working well. We had really nice parties with lots of songs. But when these two French guys showed up, that’s when we started having more parties. And when that happened, things started getting kind of…scribbly. How would I put it? It was like things started to scribble out. But avoiding them, things still went smoothly and it was still a nice place to live. Quiet, and you could always go to Arctic Bay, look at the Inuit tents, see them hunting, see how they lived.

And my kids were growing better in Nanisivik; they were learning English and French. In some ways that was not really good because when we went back to Hall Beach for holidays, their grandmother didn’t really understand them. So we were taking more holidays in order to keep our language for them. And flights were free for kids under ten, so that worked out really well. I didn’t want my kids to lose their own language, so I was taking more holidays to bring them south.

I was on holiday in Hall Beach when they told us the mine was closing down. They said in two or three months time, the Inuit will go home first and then five of the bosses would be the last people to leave. And that’s when I stopped answering the phone. I told my boyfriend, “I don’t want to hear about it because you left me here in Hall Beach.” I was so mad at him for not letting me stay there at closing time. Because it was a better place for my two boys. They were growing there. There were getting A pluses here and there and they had better friends. Hurt me so much, I think it took me two years to get over, and sometimes I still miss it. But there was no other choice.

At closing time, they said, “you can take everything. It’s all yours.” And my son still has all the stuff he had in Nanisivik. I took my pictures and still have a Thermos that says Nanisivik Mines on it. And I took two pieces of zinc, two rocks. I love them so much I won’t even let my youngest boy play with them.

After we got back to Hall Beach, my boyfriend changed right away. Coming back and forth, he was always okay, but when the mine closed down, he changed pretty much instantly and that’s why I had to get away from him. Because he thought he was never going to find another job like that, eh? He used to be a funny, laughing guy, but he turned into a really quiet person. And I didn’t like that, so it got worse. I got really pissed off at him and we had more anger between us. I told myself, I won’t stop talking. I wouldn’t stop saying, “I’m homesick, I’m homesick, I just want to go back home to Nanisivik.” Because that was my home for so many years.

Eventually, he found a new job doing DEW Line site work. But still, he got more and more aggressive and I moved to Iqaluit. Didn’t last long in Hall Beach, maybe a year or less. I went to the women’s shelter and stayed there for a little less than a year. I stayed in Iqaluit for three years before moving to Igloolik. That was four years ago.

I have a new son now, but the girl I adopted with my ex-boyfriend—her name is Salomie—I don’t know her very much, but I know her as Princess Salomie. She’s maybe 12 years old now, 14? I even forgot her age.

This Mary River thing, I’m in love with it. Just hearing about it through the radio and at the meetings, I really want them to make it. When they open it, it will be awesome. And the people who will work there, I think, Lucky people! Because meeting new friends, having a new job—I find it beautiful. The people who work there will get to take a break from the same place where they’re standing right now. Staying on one place for years and years, if you’re on welfare? That’s not good.

At Nanisivik, I found everything to be more friendly. More contact with more people. More smiles. Only once in a very blue moon did I meet a grumpy person.

I go the meetings about the Mary River project, but I don’t know where to send my resumé. I don’t know who’s going to be the contact person to take the resumés and all that. They keep moving it around and that’s why it’s really confusing. Who do you take your resume to?

That’s pretty much everything I have to say. Except I still miss it; I can’t say that enough. I’m still homesick.”


Q&A with Igloolik mayor Nick Arnatsiaq

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BW: You’ve been mayor of Igloolik since January. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

My real profession is interpreter-translator—I had a private business as an interpreter-translator in Iqaluit—but I’ve been many things. I was executive assistant for the Baffin Region Council, I worked in Ottawa as an assistant editor for an Inuktitut magazine and as an interpreter for ITC, also when I lived down south. In Igloolik, I was economic development officer, president of the Co-op and was vice-deputy mayor some years ago. And I’ve been Baffinland’s community liaison officer here for five years now.

BW: And what are your responsibilities as a Baffinland liaison officer?

To keep the community informed, but right now nothing is really going on. Baffinland is still going through the process of environmental review, there are the final hearings, and so right now it’s pretty quiet. My other responsibilities are to work with the economic development officers and Qikiqtaaluk Logistics to get people hired. Right now, Baffinland is in partnership with Qikiqtaaluk Logistics, and QL’s responsibility is on the employment side of the mine. They hire people for the mine. So for anyone who wants to work at the mine, right now, I submit their application. Give it to me and I’ll send it off to the appropriate place, which is QL, and they decide who is going to work.

BW: So that means if there are job opportunities for pre-construction on the Mary River site, Baffinland puts up a notice in the community saying “we need this many workers, show up at this time,” and you screen the applications?

Okay. That’s not happening. That’s the thing, Baffinland liaison officers have been talking about that. Like QL is a hiring entity for the mine, but they don’t put out what jobs are needed at the mine. They decide in Iqaluit who’s going to do work and we don’t see the job opportunities being shared at the mine.

BW: How many Iglulimmiut are working at the mine right now?

I have two people working right now.

BW: And how many people work at the mine overall?

I cannot tell you that because I don’t know. But Baffinland is still in the environmental study stage, therefore they don’t hire that many people. They’ll hire maybe a driller or two drillers, for samples, or archaeological study assistants, marine study assistants. But hopefully by next year, we’ll be running out of manpower because once the construction starts, it’s going to be very busy.

BW: What other opportunities will be available for Iglulimmiut who don’t work directly in the mine, as a result of Mary River?

Well, for example, someone could start a Laundromat here right now, Right now, the mines are sending their laundry to Montreal or Iqaluit. You know, things like that. We have to start thinking, there’s a mine coming. Let’s get something started here that it could use—like the Laundromat or catering, things like that. Mind you, we are pretty prepared in some ways. We have trades people in town who are qualified, we have heavy equipment operators that are certified, and our economic development officer is currently working on getting more training for, I think, ten additional heavy equipment operators. The difficulty is, business…. What we need to do more is go to the radio station and encourage people to start something. You don’t necessarily have to work over there to benefit. But this community has to wake up and really think about starting a business.

BW: What did you notice were some of the biggest challenges to that as an economic development officer here?

The difficulty I had back then—and even today I think it’s happening, even today—people would come with enthusiasm to start a business. So that brought my spirits up, you know? You start helping them and you’ll make the plan with them, and tell them, “here’s what you need to do for your business.” And they don’t bother showing up after that. That was challenging and also disappointing. That they seem enthusiastic at first, but when the real work starts, they just don’t show up.

BW: Why do you think that is?

With all due respect, this community, like any other community, is a community where people are so used to having things done for them that it’s almost like they’re waiting for someone else to do it for them. That’s discouraging! It’s getting very frustrating for me. Maybe I’m being negative here, but that’s the way I see the community right now. Waiting for somebody else to do something for them. When in fact, they should be going forward on their own to benefit from the mine when it’s in operation.

BW: Has Baffinland started training workers in the community?

Okay, I’m going to put on my mayor’s hat here. My idea is that, instead of saying “gimme gimme” to Baffinland, we should start saying, “here’s what we have in this community: we have heavy equipment operators, we have drillers—let them know what we have. I promise you, they will be hired during the construction season. I don’t want Igloolik to become like a “gimme gimme” community. I want Igloolik to be able to offer. Use what we already have in our community, and they decide.

BW: Ask not what Baffinland can do for you but what you can do for Baffinland…

Yeah. Yes…. Yes.

BW: What responsibilities do you think Baffinland has to the community?

One of their responsibilities will be to hire people. And there was a suggestion made by the hunters here. They’re thinking about starting a fishery. There was a suggestion made that they should be given a certain amount of money to acquire a ship big enough for commercial fishing. Another concern has been housing. The way it is right now, if there are two people working in a household, they are both charged, I think, 70% of their income. And that barely results in actual take-home pay, because all of their money is going to the Nunavut Housing Corporation. One particular person I know is a qualified mechanic—heavy equipment operator. When he worked for the hamlet, his rent shot way up and he couldn’t afford it anymore. He had to resign from his job. So we suggested maybe Baffinland could consider building houses here to be used by their workers. Eventually they will become the homeowners—live in the houses, like rent-to-own, more or less. So there was talk of Baffinland building houses for its employees. Those are the two main items that I have heard about in terms of what are people getting in return?

BW: When will the communities know what’s in the IIBA?

I don’t know. Like that’s the thing. I don’t know.

BW: Is that frustrating?

No, no…. Maybe just to an extent, It would be great to know, but the rules are, not while it’s being negotiated.

BW: Just trust?

We wait patiently in trust for the negotiators.

BW: Everybody in the hamlet who voted for you, they knew that you worked for Baffinland. Do you think that says anything about what the community wants for its future?

Well, the way I see it is this: you have to be able to separate yourself sometimes from Baffinland and concentrate on the hamlet. And there are also times, like during the daytime, when I keep myself separated from the hamlet and work for Baffinland. In my positions, as a CLO for Baffinland and as mayor, I have an…if I can use the word, ideal position. The way I look at it, Baffinland needs Igloolik for employment and—same thing—Igloolik needs Baffinland for employment. That sort of puts me in the middle, as a mayor, wanting the people of this community to be able to acquire jobs, to be able to work and become independent, you know, rather than relying on welfare. They need jobs.

So their needs fall right into Baffinland’s. Their needs will be fulfilled by Baffinland by way of employment and other business possibilities. And in turn, Baffinland will need workers.  They will need Igloolik for people to work in the Mary River project. Some people would disagree, but I see myself to be in a unique situation. So I don’t see a problem with that, working for Baffinland and being a mayor, because I see them as intertwined, you know.

I’m able to put on my hamlet hat when I need to, totally avoiding Baffinland, and also, on the majority of days, wear my Baffinland hat. However, as a mayor, if any discussions about Baffinland are going to be discussed at the council, I have the common sense to declare a conflict and totally stay away.

BW: How does that work, when there’s a hamlet meeting and you have to declare a conflict?

Well I prefer not to be there altogether. If it’s going to be about the company that I work for, then if I stay, I might end up interfering. I might take their side. So basically, if they’re going to be talking about Baffinland, I feel most comfortable totally taking myself away from that meeting. Declare a conflict.

If Baffinland people are here to meet with the council, my job will be to welcome the Baffinland delegates, and then, right then and there, I declare a conflict and sit with the Baffinland people. Those are the rules.

BW: Does that mean that Igloolik doesn’t have a mayor when the council is discussing Baffinland?

It’s an awkward situation to be in. Again, I would have to declare a conflict. But that doesn’t worry me, because I have confidence in the council to represent the community. So. That’s the name of the game.

BW: Have you been contacted by any other mining companies recently?

Yes, we have been in contact with Roche Bay mining in Hall Beach. We also have been contacted by West Melville Metals. They are in the process of doing sampling.

BW: And you think those projects will be good for the community as well?

Well, looking at Igloolik, with a population at 2,400 and increasing, there’s a pitiful economic development industry in this community. There’s nothing! At least three quarters of the people here are unemployed because there’s no economic base. I supported the Stornoway diamond project because it would create much-needed employment. And as a mayor, again, I’m fully supporting Mary River for the benefit of this community.

You know, the thing here is that—and it’s really troubling to me—there is no economic base. Nothing! And people depend on income support and welfare. Young people, relying on income support, welfare. And I’m sure many of them don’t want to be on welfare, but the thing is, they are trapped. There is no employment. The Mary River project will create long-term employment for the people here; for our children. It’s a chance for people to get off welfare and get working, you know, get their pride back.

There’s no economic base in this community, and it’s been going on for so long, it’s almost beginning to become an accepted fact. That’s troubling. Our young people who graduated last year, they are applying for work through QL, but because there is no employment yet, they go on welfare. I know we have young people, willing-to-work people out there and they are trapped because they’re on welfare and there’s no employment. That’s troubling, and right now, our hands are tied.

Baffinland is the most studied proposed project. Five years of study. It’s the first mine in Nunavut that’s ever gone through such a study. It’s almost ridiculous, but that’s the name of the game, that’s the Land Claims Agreement. It’s the first proposed mine that’s gone through five years of study, so environmental study, sea mammal study, community consultations, you know, this is the most studied proposed mine in Nunavut, ever. It’s ready.

Q&A with Zacharias Kunuk

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BW: Can you describe the Digital Indigenous Democracy project?

DID project. What is it? First of all, it was the BEACEN [Baffin Environmental Assessment Community Education Network]. BEACEN was a project we were doing with Carleton University and the hamlet of Igloolik. We lost our funding for that so we applied for funding for DID through the Canadian Media Fund and we got approved. Our original plan was, we were going to connect the seven communities, the impacted communities, Kimmirut, Cape Dorset, Hall Beach, Igloolik, Clyde River, Pond and Arctic Bay through the internet TV system so we were communicating together. Right now we’re not communicating community to community, we’re all separate, doing our own thing.

BW: So how is DID different from BEACEN?

We moved in the direction of radio. We have this radio program where everybody comments on what is happening. Because everybody was quiet. Government of Nunavut is quiet, NTI is quiet, QIA is…quiet, but working through the Mary River project committees. And I joined the Igloolik committee but no one was really talking to the people. So we knew there was something going on. The IIBA [Inuit Impacts and Benefit Agreement] is being negotiated but it’s so secret that we don’t know what’s being negotiated.

And then Norman [Cohn] spearheaded the DID project, got the human rights lawyer [Lloyd Lipsett] and Norman asked me, “What do you want to do?” I want to film the area, I want to film the wildlife, I want to film the port site, Ikpikitturjuaq, which everybody is talking about. Then I came up with a documentary and put a new title on it, My Father’s Land. Just take people out, take them back to the land where they used to live and talk about what they did, what was going on there. So it’s all connected. We’re trying to let people talk; talk about what they think because mining is all around us.

BW: When you say QIA is quiet, NTI is quiet, what do you mean? What are they not talking about?

What’s in it for us? How do people benefit? How do they benefit? How can you tell when you don’t know? How can you tell? It’s good for QIA and NTI, because Mary River is Inuit owned land, right down to the core. So NTI, they’ll get all the money, QIA will get tons of money…. What about the people? Because it’s so secret, the IIBA, you don’t know.

BW: You’re a member of QIA. Do you know anything about the IIBA?

Only the timeline.

BW: Only certain members of the QIA know what’s being negotiated in the IIBA?

Only certain members know. I only know the timeline.

BW: How do you want the mine to be negotiated?

It’s not for me to say.

It’s for the Elders to say. If they say they want it, we have to listen. If they don’t want it, we have to stop it. And right now they want it. Right now they want it because they hear all these sales on the radio; people need money, and this is one way they can get money. But you know, you’re going to have to be educated, trained to work in this mine.

BW: Can you tell me about your project, My Father’s Land?

My Father’s Land. Attatama Nunanga.

I want to videotape wildlife, landscape, plant life, just basically this beautiful land and all these animals on it, on the sea, on the land. Film it now and film it ten years later. Same land. See what’s different. Because Elders keep saying these animals are undisturbed, they’re happy. We’ll film them now when they’re undisturbed. And let’s film them when they’re disturbed.

BW: Do you remember when you first heard about the Mary River Project?

Mary River project. I heard about it a long time ago from a friend of mine who’s long gone, Lucien Okalenuk. He used to work there when they were just prospecting in the 60s, then it went quiet for so many years, now it’s emerging again and this time we’re looking at the biggest iron ore mine in the world.

I didn’t really know what it was then. I knew people were going there every spring to get soapstone, because there’s a soapstone quarry there. They hauled rocks back to the community and we carved it. Mary River is a central place going to Pond Inlet—Mittimatalik—people pass through there because this is flat land where we are, and up by Mary River, that’s where the hills and mountains start.

I grew up there in the Qammaktalik area. We had our sod house, just my family alone, me and my brothers growing up, caribou migrating in the spring time up to the grass in the fall. We hunted caribou, seals in that area, a lot of fish, and then I left it. When I was nine years old. In the past, the mining companies, they would just come and do what they wanted. Now, after the Land Claims, they have certain rules they had to follow, and this is the first one in our area.

BW: How did you feel about it, when you heard about it?

At first I wasn’t concerned, but when I knew it was coming, I was concerned about the icebreakers’ ballast water, because I knew what happened to the Great Lakes. I was afraid that it’s going to happen here.

Then, because everything is new, people were concerned about the caribou migrations. We asked, what if they’re migrating and a couple of caribou get railroaded? What happens to the carcasses? And in the environmental impact assessment, I saw that if there were road kill, they would give it to Inuit. Oh my god! was going through my head, oh my god! I know that people don’t eat road kill. And here they were going to give it to us so we could cook it.

That’s insulting.

BW: Did your ancestors know that there was metal there?

Probably. Probably they knew. Probably they picked it up, picked up the rock, but it’s Inuit culture, we’re not a mining culture. Probably they used it for caching caribou, I don’t know.

BW: Baffinland took you to the Mary River site. Can you describe what you saw?

I went to that place as a council member. Every year, Baffinland would fly us to Mary River to Ikpikitturjuaq, and they would fly us around where the railroad’s going to be with helicopters.

Basically, we were visiting. We’re visiting the site, we’re walking around the building, their recreation room, their kitchen, their office rooms. We’re walking where people are living, all these portables side by side. There’s people we know in there. We go in and they’re killing time, just playing cards, and everybody’s busy or maybe they have to look busy because we’re there, that goes through my head.

And then we jump on these trucks and we go up to Mary River and we go to the top of the mountain and walk around. We pick up some rocks to take home and drive back down the mountain, back to the site. Then we take a look at the rock quarry they’re drilling, taking samples. We look at those and they tell us what it is, and then we jump into three helicopters—there are 12 of us, from Hall Beach and Igloolik. We jump on three helicopters and we go right down to Steensby, following the proposed railroad route.

BW: Did you see any animals down there?

Nah. Probably scared away. They’re drilling all along the rail route plan. Drilling here and drilling there and drilling. And this is the first time for us, learning about pre-construction, what it means…they’re already working. And then we’re flying back over where they want to make the winter road.

BW: And out of every ten workers you saw there, how many were Inuit?

Maybe one. One or two.

BW: What do you want people to know about Baffin Island that they don’t know already?

Aami—I don’t know. In the springtime, at this time of the year, when the birds are on the land, they’re laying eggs and they’ll go to these little islands. People would come back with these boxes full of eggs. All kinds of eggs. Tern eggs, eider duck eggs, geese eggs—there’s two types of eider ducks—old squaw eggs, seagull eggs, all kinds of eggs, different sizes. Boxes full of eggs, and we had eggs all we wanted. I don’t know. I don’t know about the future.

BW: What do you want to accomplish with the DID project?

More concerns, just talk about more concerns.

BW: How can the way this mine is negotiated affect future mining in Nunavut?

Because this is going to be the model. This is going to be the model for other mines. If they want to have a mine at Roche Bay, they have to go through this system. All these review boards and environment assessments, they have to go through that. Even Baffinland, they’re only on deposit one. If they want to go to deposit two, they have to go through the IIBA again.

We have to get this model right on everything: shipping, mining…I mean not right but close to right. So our negotiators will have the experience down the road if they start to talk to the other mines that want to open. This is not the first. The first one was Nanisivik, and then the Polaris mine. And now, after the Land Claims, we’re heavily involved. And this one is different because it’s so giant. The biggest iron ore mine in the world. They want it. They can take it; it’s the middle of Baffin Island.


Inuit are not in it for the money, but Qallunaat are in it for the money. How do you balance that?

Conservation officer Theo Ikkummaq, cumulative impacts on three days of Nipivut Nunatinnii

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Formal interveners in the final hearings for the Mary River project submit their statements to NIRB today. To solicit last-minute community input, Nipivut Nunatinnii ran three call-in radio shows Tuesday through Thursday, hosted by intervener Zacharias Kunuk, Igloolik conservation officer Theo Ikkummaq and marine mammal biologist Dr. Randall Reeves. Kunuk talked about his career-long struggle to salvage his ancestors’ history on Baffin Island, Reeves explained how recent increases in ship traffic have disrupted the migration routes of Alaskan right whales and Ikkummaq reported the on ecosystem shifts he’s noticed over thirty years living and working in Steensby Inlet.

Disparate topics, but all three guests emphasized the same point: the cumulative impacts determined in Baffinland’s final environmental impact assessment have not taken into account the massive environmental and socioeconomic changes the North continues to adapt to and experience, and none of the regional, territorial and federal review agencies have mentioned pre-existing environmental stressors in their discussions of cumulative impacts either.

All three shows are available on IsumaTV’s Digital Indigenous Democracy site, but an edited transcript of Ikkummaq’s comments is below. His description of the changes—both natural and anthropogenic—that Steensby Inlet has undergone in the past 40 years, is vivid and beautiful.

I moved to Steensby in the summer of 1972 with my brother; he wanted to find a place to settle down. We set up our camp near where the [fuel] barrels are located now, on the right side of Steensby Inlet. There were many species of birds, like swans and Canada geese, and there were seals and bearded seals as well, but the bigger game, like the bowhead and the walrus were not as plentiful. We saw no polar bears.

We moved our dogs south with us, travelling to the place where we would live. We set up our tents there and when the fall came we made a qungmuk (sod house). It was 25 wide and 30 feet long. It had a bed, a stone floor and was completely made of sod; a real, traditional sod house.

When we were setting up our camp, we set up our nets on the shore and there were so many fish that even the dogs had plenty to eat. We got to know all the rivers and lakes in the area and almost all of them had fish in them. There are 12 lakes with sea wren char, but each lake has different species. One lake had two species: one had white meat and the other had red meat. And all of the rivers had migrating fish.

We later travelled inland, toward where they’re going to be setting up the railroad, and what I saw was astonishing. We had planned to go fishing but I noticed some migrating routes that the caribou used. There wasn’t just one main route, but many different ones; there were a number of them. And there was this pass—a caribou pass—where animals were travelling, and you could just watch them from morning ‘til night, and they would migrate, continuously migrating not as separate herds, one by one, but continuously migrating. I had to move aside and let them pass because they weren’t going to budge from their route. My brother and I tried to count them but we lost track at 3,700. And that was about 37 minutes.

That was my first recollection of that area, but I later learned that this was a yearly activity with the caribou. They would start the migration in July—always slowly at first, but then they would move in huge numbers. If the ice formed late in the fall, the caribou would be stuck in one area until the ice formed and then they would move on again. When you watched them, it seemed like the land was moving because there were so many caribou migrating at the same time. There were moving to Steensby. And when you looked at them with binoculars, you could see that their eyes were closed and they were just following each other. At Steensby, they stopped migrating until the mosquitos came in July.

When we later moved to Ikpiq, the same thing happened. There were a lot of caribou and you could actually see the inuksuit that Inuit built to hunt caribou and you could see the places where the qayaqs would be placed. You could see the traditional activities that had taken place still there. That’s how it was: an old traditional hunting area, the activities still visible on the land.

Geese, loons, sandhill cranes, they all nested on the Baffin Island mainland. There were not as many smaller birds and no shore birds like we have in the Igloolik area. There were some eider colonies further down in Steensby; thousands of eider ducks laying eggs. Never on Baffin Island but on the little islands around Baffin.

As for the seafloor creatures, we never really had much of those, but we knew what we had because we looked at the stomach contents of a bearded seal and found it was feeding on the likes of shrimps, starfish, codfish—seals aren’t really choosy, I guess, so they don’t get into escargot or clams.

So that’s when my brother and I moved into that area. People thought that my brother set up the camp but it was actually me. He took me out and taught me. That’s when I grew up, became a man, I guess. I learned through that experience. Because I had to learn how to hunt and get my language back. And it would be good for the youth to go through what I went through too.

With the ship traffic happening now, we’re finding that squid and octopuses are moving in. They were never there before. Puff fish are showing up when they were never there before. And puff fish doesn’t have a predator at all; it just eats and eats.

Multi-year ice used to go all he way to Steensby. It went all the way to Cape Dorset. It was an annual thing. There are nutrients in the multi-year ice, which feed the invertebrates, which allow for the larger animals to be healthy.  My fear is that all of that will stop when the ice stops forming in Steensby Inlet.

Steensby has a lot of landfast ice. It starts at the end of Steensby and goes, sometimes, all the way to Rowley Island. Land-fast ice is where life starts in the North. That’s where the invertebrates live, and those feed the larger animals. So life actually starts with land-fast ice.

We can see the changes with the land animals better, but the animals are changing faster in the water than on the land.

Makivik Corporation and the Nunavik Marine Region Impact Review Board will also intervene in the final hearings in Iqaluit, July 16-20, Igloolik, July 23-25 and Pond Inlet July 26-28.

“Where they’re building the railway and where the port will be, there’s hunting going on there”

120604 irngaut close-up

David Irngaut can’t say how long he’s been president of Igloolik Hunters and Trappers, but he remembers the first caribou he shot at the Mary River site at 11 years old. “I was with my uncle,” he says, “and when we finished butchering it, he said, ‘let’s eat the bone marrow.’ He told me to find two rocks to smash the bone.” The first rocks he found were iron ore.

According to archeologist Robert McGhee in Last Imaginary Place, ancestors of modern Inuit settled at the Mary River site while migrating in search of iron ore. They made weapons and tools with it, and traded it with Greenland on the east and Asia on the west.

More recently, says Irngaut, the Mary River site has served as a meeting place for hunters from Igloolik, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Clyde River.

“Every summer I go there,” he says, “and during the winter, where they’re going to build the railway and where the port will be, there’s hunting going on there. It’s a general hunting area for caribou, for clothing.”

“For the past two years,” he adds, “I’ve been noticing less ring seal and less bearded seal in that area. Baffinland has been testing sonar to sound the depth of the water, and sea mammals are hearing it big time. I use sealskins a lot for ropes and food, and I’ve been noticing it’s been harder to hunt seals.”

Asked whether the mining activity will decrease the haul of more than 350 Iglulimmiut who currently earn their main income hunting and trapping, he says, “Most likely. When the ships are going through Steensby Inlet and Foxe Basin almost every day, it’s going to affect the migration routes of the fish.”

“With caribou,” he adds, “they migrate. They’ll just jump over the tracks and keep going. But sea mammals will move away from the sound and find another home.”

Nevertheless, Irngaut says, “I don’t mind the mining. It’s going to create more job opportunities for the community.” And even though many animals will move away, there will be increased opportunities for those hunters who can find them. With more people in the community making more money, he thinks the grocery stores will raise their prices and with that, the demand for country food will also increase. “So hunters may also have more opportunities to sell and make money.”

“Before, when I was hunting more actively,” says Irngaut, “I would not have been interested in being on a hunting board. “But when things slowed down, I got more into board meetings. I’ve been a board member, a vice president and now I’m president.”

Recently, he and the board have been working on an alternate shipping route in case high concentrations of animals block the existing route. A Baffinland representative will attend their presentation on request.

“When I was asked to join the board, I said yes because when I was growing up, Inuit were never informed or consulted on projects. If somebody wanted to start a mining project, they would just start a mining project. No meetings or hearings. That’s why I wanted to be a board member. I wanted to be heard.”

“I’m upset about those who are opposed to the mine. I want the mine to go ahead so people have money”

120527 Augustine 1

From Augustine Taqqaugaq’s new porch, you can see all of Igloolik laid out in a rough chronological order along the shore by date of development from south to north. Taqqaugaq lives in the newest, most northerly house. Looking out over the water, a two-toned canvas; a straight white line demarcates the boundary between the blinding white of the snow from the dull white of the sky. Taqqaugaq moved into government housing only this year after 14 years in a power-less shack on Igloolik point, a camp outside of town.

“I’m upset about those who are opposed to the mine,” he says. “I never had money, so that’s important. I want the mine to go ahead so people have money. For me, I’ll never work at the mine—I have no education—but probably through royalties I will see some money.

Of Taqqaugaq’s 13 children, three sons have already received training in the South to work in the mine. “They are just waiting for the mining to start,” he says.

He used to worry about the mine, but information sessions with Baffinland have allayed some of his fears. “I know for a fact the animals won’t disappear. If we don’t tamper with them, nothing will happen.”

“I used to live and work at Iqaluit and at the Fox DEW stations [in Hall Beach]. Machines were running all the time, and animals would be eating all around them. They can get used to these things.”

He also lived at Steensby Inlet for 16 years, right where Baffinland proposes to built the port. “I know the area really well,” he says. “I know there are a lot of shallow areas, and I’m worried about accidents. The ships may be grounded.”

“When I was up there, the current was very strong, and at very low tide, sometimes you’ll run into shallow areas. Because of that, we tried to move the port to another location. But Baffinland won’t move it.”

“But they say they’ll clean up the site when they’re finished. And I know there was a small ship sounding the shipping route, probably looking at the depth of the water. But I wonder if they really know what they’re looking at.”

Taqqaugaq knows what’s on the bottom of Steensby’s ocean floor: “Stuff that the walruses eat, stuff that the seals eat. I’m only worried the food will become contaminated and the animals will move away.”

Because of the area’s biodiversity, “the walruses there are much bigger than the walruses in the Foxe Basin Area.” He adds, “There are small islands all around the port side and in the fall, and there are many walruses on the land. Even in the summertime, there are walruses. The walrus eats mussels and that’s where the mussels are.”

The impact of the regular shipping on the Baffin walruses is a recurring concern, and some Iglulimmiut have pointed out that walruses are such heavy sleepers they might not notice they’re in the path of an oncoming ship until it’s too late.

But Taqqaugaq is skeptical.  “I’m not worried they’ll get run over,” he says. “Even when walruses are in a deep sleep, they know what’s coming. They can still hear and they can feel it.”

“They’ll just move to the west side of the Inlet. When the shipping starts, they’ll just move away.”

“I know for a fact,” he goes on, “even if the Mary River project was stopped, there will be other mines. There is a big [iron ore] deposit in Roche Bay. It’s going to continue. But it’s not like the old days where miners could do what they pleased on this land. Now they are slowing the review process down and I don’t like that. In some ways it’s good, but in other ways it’s just stubbornness.”

“The mine had already started before they started talking about it. So what do you do? The decision has already been made.”

120518 Mary Ammaq 3

A floor-to-ceiling wall of pelts guards the entrance to the Igloolik Elders’ centre. The air is thick and sour with a mix of curing fish and seal meat, fox fur and a caribou skin stretched out on a wooden frame in front of the hall coat closet. Where the shoes normally go, there’s a slick, hairy chunk of what looks like wolf skin rolled up in the corner and a line of blood leading to it. In the fridge, where the milk normally goes, a little white ptarmigan lies on the shelf with a broken neck and its feathers still attached.

Many of the Elders who live here learned how to hunt and prepare these animals, as well as the walrus and polar bear, on Baffin Island—not Igloolik—on camps near the site where Baffinland plans to construct the Steensby port. In the May 3 technical meetings before NIRB, the mining company remained determined to built the port at Steensby, despite continued community concerns that shipping and rail routes leading to the port run through major walrus and caribou habitats and calving grounds.

“I travelled a lot in that area,” says Mary Ammaq, who sits on her couch with a pot of freshly boiled sealskin on her left and two jelly-pink slabs of meat from inside it on a piece of cardboard to her right. “And sometimes I went over there by dog team.”

“I remember it was summertime and we caught a polar bear. This land is beautiful.”

“There were seals, bearded seals, caribou abounded—there were more caribou back then—and some walruses too.”

I had read that when pre-construction began on the mine, caribou counts in Arctic Bay had declined to the point where residents were now getting caribou meat and pelts shipped from Arviat, to the south. I ask whether she thinks Mary River had anything to do with the decline of caribou for Iglulimmiut.

She shakes her head. “In the dog team days, and even in Skidoo days, in a day we could catch a caribou. Now it’s harder and harder. The old people used to say that the animals move. They shift to one place to another, following their food. They’re not disappearing, just going back and forth. They’re just going back and forth.”

She’s more concerned that, despite the fact that she’s been to nearly every community consultation concerning Mary River, her input will come too late.

“You go to the meetings and you know they have already been working and informing the Inuit later. I see television ads for Baffinland showing the mining of iron ore and I can see people from this town there.”

“The mine had already started before they started talking about it. So what do you do? It’s always like that. We get informed after the decision has already been made.”

She continues: “I remember in the spring, when I was young—before I had any kids—we used to walk inland with the dogs carrying the gear. We would walk the land looking for caribou. I remember one spring, when we were walking back, there was snow falling on the ground. The dogs took off after a polar bear. It took us a while to catch up, and when we did, my husband told me to shoot it. So I shot it.”

“The next day we had to return to the camp where the rest of the Inuit were.” It was a long way, “so we used the polar bear hide as a sled. We put our things inside, tied it up and used it as a sled. That’s how we did it…. We were able people; very independent.”

Lipsett leaves Nunavut in a wake of uncertainty

Lloyd Lipsett and councillor Simon Qamanirq during Lipsett's community consultations in Igloolik

After a week-long consultation visit with communities, councils and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in Iqaluit and Igloolik last week, human rights lawyer Lloyd Lipsett left Nunavut today with many unanswered questions.

The two-day, call-in radio show Lipsett hosted on IsumaTV’s recently launched online radio channel provided perhaps the clearest spectrum of Inuit concerns surrounding the environmental and social effects of the project. Iglulimmiut spoke mostly, as well as members of the six other communities that the mine will most affect, but calls and emails also came in from as far away as Keewatin, Kivalliq and Ottawa.

Strikingly few held adamant stances on the project. Overwhelmingly, there were questions about possible a) environmental and b) social effects, c) Inuit historical experiences with mining and d) Baffinland’s consultation process. To leave these questions unanswered will only exacerbate what Lipsett called, in response to one caller, “a question of trust if the mine goes ahead.”

Environmental impacts:

Many callers’ environmental concerns centred around two of Baffinland’s most controversial plans: the port at Steensby Inlet and the 149-km, two-tunnel, 24 bridge and 300 culvert railway linking it to the mine. “There’s going to be a lot of dust in the area,” said one caller, worried that the high winds around Mary River area might carry dust from the loading area over the water and kill the area’s fish. “A lot of fish would die and they would be seen on top of the water. And a lot of birds would be in the area eating the dead fish.”

For other callers, the fact that the shipping route bisects a major walrus calving ground was “a huge concern.” One man asked, “If a ship sank, how is it going to be cleaned? What’s going to happen?”

According to Lipsett, “emergency plans were a subject of quite a bit of concern at last week’s [NIRB] hearings.”

Country food:

And environmental disruption puts an already fragile ecosystem of Inuit country food at risk. One caller asked:

“Will we be able to use the land as we have always done, like it used to be? We go out to the land for summer breaks and we never know where animals have eaten. Different animals in the food chain—like the ptarmigan—I worry in the future where these animals are eating. Will it harm us? I don’t know that. Future generations, I don’t believe, will all be working in the mines, but the land will be gone.”

And for traditional communities such as Igloolik, access to country food is also part of the local economy. One caller pointed out that Rankin Inlet contracts Igloolik fishermen to supply seasonal arctic char. “So it’s not just our community that gets its fish supply from that area.”

Lipsett summarized many callers’ sentiments as: “If the project follows the rules and protects animals and the environment, people will be more accepting of it. Naturally, there are concerns about things happening in the future that we can’t predict 100 percent today—animals, the environment. But if there are other mines, we need to examine: what will be the cumulative effects?”

Social impacts:

“People will have to be educated to do heavy equipment and other jobs. There will be Qallunaat from the South. As usual there will be more Qallunaat in the mines than Inuit, who will, as usual, take the lower jobs…. Will there be training in the communities? That’s my question. What will you need to be trained for? We hear over the news that the land that has been touched by mines has been so disrupted that local people have been touched with poverty because of the negative legacies of the mines. Will that happen to us?”

Baffinland promises jobs and training programs to Inuit, but it’s not yet clear what the success rate of those training programs might be and whether Inuit are being primped only for entry level labour jobs with little possibility for advancement.

Despite Lipsett’s assertion that “the opportunities are there and the company has made commitments about it,” some Inuit remained dubious:

“Our high school is not fit to provide the training needed and actually our high school is not a high school at all,” said one man. “When I talk I vomit what I have to say, it all comes out tumbling.”

Others worried that miners working on Baffinland’s proposed two-week, fly-in, fly-out work schedule might aggravate already fraught family tensions with Nunavummiut and might encourage substance abuse. One woman suggested Baffinland offer a money management course.

“Wages will have the opportunity to have positive impacts,” Lipsett answered, “but if they’re used recklessly, those opportunities will be squandered.

Historical Experiences:

“I used to work in [the mine at] Nanisivik…. When the ice formed and the train was moving, you could see black soot for a far distance and the strong winds carried dust from the iron out to the ocean or surrounding area and the fish died in the area, I believe this is a big concern. People have seen with their eyes but haven’t voiced it yet. Qallunaat rely on written documentation and don’t observe with their eyes. Inuit hunters rely on activity instead. I’m not trying to say this is a bad project, I’m just trying to talk about what I’ve seen.”

“It’s true,” said Lipsett. “I’ve looked at too many documents and I wear glasses because I’ve looked at too many documents.” He added, “projects have had bad effects on the environment and people. But to be fair, companies have gotten better and the rules have gotten better.” He hopes an independent human rights review, in addition to environmental and social impact reviews, can help set higher standards in Nunavut mining in general for the future, regardless of what happens at Baffinland.


But few Nunavummiut are ready to decide yes or no on the Mary River project. They simply have questions. And many are concerned that in the community consultations, Baffinland is sidestepping the potentially bad effects and overemphasizing the apparent good. As one man pointed out:

“It appears that only the positive impacts of the mine are being told and out in the open. But Baffinland is lying. They’re not really voicing the negative impacts…. When we propose something, we want it set up properly instead of saying we want it next year. It is a long process and it requires brainstorming. As hunters, we have used that area for generations. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea but it must be done in a responsible manner.”

According to another: “We often hear that Baffinland is good because it’s going to be supplying jobs. But Inuit are just trying to make this done properly and not rush. We don’t like to make mistakes because we rushed…. We need jobs and money and employment and it’s getting more difficult to have access to money, and it will become even more difficult for future generations. But it concerns me the way Inuit are treated when we try to voice our concerns.”

But Lipsett urged, “Inuit do have power and some of that comes from the Land Claims Agreement. Under the Land Claims Agreement, you have rights and organizations to protect those rights…. Through those representative organizations, you can express your concerns.”

But worries that the company has not taken Inuit concerns as seriously as it could may lead to an erosion of trust, even before approval. “Once these consultations are done will they abide by the rules set up by the consultations and forums in the community?” One woman wondered.

Another asked, “What would happen if something went wrong? Would we just say not enough monitoring was done? Qallunaat monitor a lot, but Qallunaat only believe what is written on paper. When they hear our views, it goes in one ear and out the other just because it is not documented. If the environment were to be disrupted, there’d be no turning back.”

And finally, “the jobs don’t stay forever and the land will be gone. Our land. You will take our land and when it’s gone you will leave.”

Lipsett will return in July with a preliminary report on the possible human rights impacts of Baffinland’s iron-ore mine at Mary River.


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