A company that runs the largest mining operation in Nunavut says it has given tens of millions of dollars in contracts to Inuit firms in the hamlet of Sanirajak, but some residents say they don't know where that money has gone.
An Oct. 18, 2021, memo from Baffinland Iron Mines, which runs the Mary River iron ore mine near Pond Inlet, summarizes community engagement with its neighbours.
A section of the memo highlights direct benefits to Sanirajak, a community of about 850 people, including $42.9 million awarded to Inuit firms there since 2018.
Baffinland told The Canadian Press in a statement that it could not provide details on the money, including the names of its contractors in Sanirajak, because its commercial contracts are confidential.
It did say the $42.9 million represents the value of contracts awarded to Inuit firms that did work at its Mary River and Milne Inlet sites, with most of the costs being labour, materials, equipment or facilities.
"Contractor profit is only a portion of the $42.9M figure," it said.
Baffinland added that it defines an Inuit firm in an agreement with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the group that represents Inuit in the Baffin region and acts as the mining company's landlord.
The agreement states an Inuit firm must carry out the majority of its business in the Nunavut Settlement Area and be enrolled with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land-claims body that represents Nunavut Inuit and keeps a registry of all Inuit firms in the territory.
The Canadian Press put questions to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association but did not receive a response.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. said it classifies Inuit firms as organizations that either have 51 per cent of voting shares owned by Inuit, a co-operative controlled by Inuit, or a sole Inuk proprietorship.
Local businesses perplexed
The registry lists three Inuit firms in Sanirajak: Pilitak Enterprises Ltd., a construction company; the Sanirajak Co-op; and Pirursiak Arctic Tours.
Annie-Claude Gelinas, Pilitak's director, said in an email that the company has never done business with Baffinland.
Joyce Arnardjuak, manager of Pirursiak, said it hasn't done any business with the mining company either.
Nick Snider, the Co-op's general manager, said in an interview that the Co-op helps with shuttling employees to Baffinland's planes and has spent $60,000 on community food hampers distributed by Baffinland.
But that doesn't come close to the nearly $43 million.
"There's no sum that large coming through us," Snider said.
The mining company gives money quarterly to the Co-op based on how many employees from the community work for the mine, he said.
"That was around $16,000 or something like that per quarter," he said.
Snider said Baffinland does contribute a lot to the community and is the biggest employer in Sanirajak. About 70 people work at the mine.
Dora Anguilianuk, one of three Inuit shareholders in Pilitak Enterprises, said she could not point to any business done with Baffinland.
"I have no idea, because I've never dealt with anything to do with Baffinland," she said.
Anguilianuk said she's responsible for supervising Inuit staff.
"When there's projects going on I mostly look after the girls in the kitchen, the cleaners," she said.
She said she couldn't say how much she receives from Pilitak as a shareholder, but that she receives the money once a year.
Shareholders have annual meetings to discuss upcoming projects, she said.
"We basically discuss the projects that were held that year and things that will be worked on in the communities."
Anguilianuk said the company has had a hard time recruiting and retaining Inuit staff.
"Sometimes it's really hard to find people here," she said.
Joelie Kaernerk, who represents Sanirajak in Nunavut's legislative assembly, praised Baffinland for engaging with the community.
"Over the past years, I do believe Baffinland is doing very well with its community information tours," he said.
But he added he has not seen millions of dollars from Baffinland come into the community.
"I have not seen this $42 million myself," said Kaernerk, who added that he planned to raise the issue in the legislative assembly.
The mining company has proposed to expand its operations by doubling its output and building a railway to the sea. That proposal is currently before the Nunavut Impact Review Board and a decision is expected in May.