Opponents of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed Mary River mine expansion turned their fire on government representatives during Tuesday’s Nunavut Impact Review Board’s public hearing, questioning their commitment to Inuit opinions.
Baffinland, which is seeking approval to double the mine’s annual production to 12 million tonnes, construct a 110-km railway between Milne Inlet and the Mary River mine, and add a dock to the port, was off the hook for more questions than usual.
Peter Ivalu, chairperson of the Igloolik Working Group — which brings together a range of representatives from the community — questioned the Department of Fisheries and Oceans about its integration of Inuit qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge, into its studies.
Gabriel Bernard-Lacaille, a senior biologist with the federal department, responded, “Inuit qaujimajatuqangit was not necessarily considered explicitly by the department in discussions about monitoring programs with Baffinland.”
“Our department [is expert] in providing western science-based advice,” he said, adding that the department believes Inuit qaujimajatuqangit will be consulted throughout the review board process and relayed to the federal minister of northern affairs, who is responsible for approving or rejecting Baffinland’s expansion plan.
Ivalu then went on to ask the federal Department of Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs what decision it will make if the board recommends against the proposal.
“How do you propose to proceed if impacted communities do not support Phase 2?” Ivalu asked.
“How will the relations between the federal government and Inuit be reconciled if the impacted community do not support it, but the minister goes ahead?” Ivalu said, citing a previous decision by a former northern affairs minister to make a decision contrary to the NIRB’s recommendation.
Spencer Dewar, director of resource management for the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, said the government has no expectation about what the board’s recommendation will be, but when the recommendation is given, Inuit opinions will be considered.
“Therefore we deeply encourage Inuit to share their concerns,” Dewar said.
Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization chairperson Eric Ootoovak asked other hamlets and hunters and trappers organizations if the federal government provided them with enough funding for “adequate participation.”
Merlyn Recinos, the mayor of Igloolik, said the hamlet applied for more than $450,000 for funding to help pay for co-ordinating group meetings for communities in north Baffin Island, and received about three quarters of that amount.
In his capacity as a technical advisor for the North Baffin group, which is a group representing Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Igloolik, Arctic Bay and Sanirajak, Recinos said they “received one-third of what was asked.”
The review board’s hearing on Baffinland will continue until April 21. It’s an extension of a hearing that began in January and resumed Monday.
The first four days will be spent finishing the hearing’s technical sessions, which is when critics ask questions about unresolved issues they have. The following five days will be used for a community roundtable, where members from each affected community can ask Baffinland and other meeting participants questions and voice their concerns.
After the Nunavut Impact Review Board completes its hearing, it will pass its recommendation on to Dan Vandal, the federal minister of northern affairs, who will approve or reject the project.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News