Montreal, Canada – Because the mayor of Clyde River, a small Inuit hamlet within the territory of Nunavut in northern Canada, Jerry Natanine had seen native opposition to an iron ore mining venture constructing for years.
So, when a gaggle of Inuit hunters this month arrange a protest blockade on the Mary River mine on Baffin Island, within the Arctic Archipelago, he was not shocked. “They’re not right here to hearken to us in any respect,” Natanine instructed Al Jazeera in a telephone interview, referring to Baffinland Iron Mines Company, which runs the location.
Seven hunters from small Inuit communities within the area blocked an airstrip and a tote street alongside which the iron ore is transported to a delivery port, about 100km (62 miles) away.
The hunters mentioned Baffinland’s plan to develop the Mary River web site, which has been in operation since 2015, might threaten the animals they depend on for survival and which might be intimately tied to their cultural practices.
The corporate desires to double the mine’s output from six to 12 million tonnes per yr as a part of what it calls section two of improvement. It additionally plans to construct a 110km railway connecting the location to a port at Milne Inlet, in addition to a second port dock, from which to ship the fabric that’s largely exported to Europe.
The enlargement continues to be earlier than the Nunavut Affect Evaluate Board (NIRB), which held environmental evaluation hearings in January and February. After extra deliberate classes in April, it is going to give a advice to the Canadian federal authorities on whether or not to approve it.
However within the meantime, Inuit neighborhood members say their considerations haven’t been adequately thought-about all through the method – and their calls to have their voices heard are rising louder. “We’ve a really sturdy unity at this second,” mentioned Natanine. “In the event that they [the hunters] wish to combat additional, they’ve bought help.”
Marie Naqitarvik, a resident of the small Inuit neighborhood of Arctic Bay, is one such supporter. “The ice itself is crimson from the iron ore,” she instructed Al Jazeera concerning the mine’s results. Many Inuit have been pissed off by the board hearings and really feel their considerations are nonetheless being ignored, she mentioned.
“That is the place our ancestors survived, for us to have the ability to be alive. They went via hunger. They needed to journey by canine. The one option to survive was their weight loss program, the animal. That’s why we’re right here,” Naqitarvik mentioned. “The one meals we’ve got [is] from the land.”
The hunters, who dubbed themselves the Nuluujat Land Guardians, agreed to finish their blockade on the Mary River web site on February 10 after they had been promised a gathering with Inuit authorities to debate the venture.
They’re anticipated to fulfill with the Qikiqtani Inuit Affiliation (QIA), which is remitted to guard Inuit rights and pursuits on Baffin Island beneath the Nunavut Settlement, and Nunavut Tunngavik Integrated, which ensures commitments made beneath the Nunavut Settlement are revered. It’s unclear when that assembly will happen.
On the Mary River venture, the QIA manages an Inuit influence and advantages settlement that was renegotiated with Baffinland in 2018.
“Proper now as an organisation, we don’t have a place of whether or not we help or [do] not help section two,” QIA President PJ Akeeagok instructed Al Jazeera in a telephone interview, saying the organisation is listening to Inuit communities earlier than its board will vote on a place.
“It was essential that we hear before everything from Inuit, from the impacted communities. Unanimous no help is what we heard via the Affect Evaluate Board to this point … however as an organisation we’ve got [not] but determined whether or not we help [phase two] or not.”
Baffinland CEO Brian Penney welcomed “the transfer to a constructive dialogue” in an announcement on February 11, whereas Canada’s Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal mentioned he was “inspired” by information that discussions would proceed.
I’m inspired by at present’s information that dialogue continues across the course of and way forward for useful resource improvement in North Baffin.
— Dan Vandal (@stbstvdan) February 11, 2021
However critics say they need the environmental evaluation course of to decelerate so the corporate can re-evaluate the results on Inuit looking and harvesting, in addition to advantages to communities. Natanine mentioned persons are not in opposition to mining per se, which creates jobs, however they wish to be certain their rights are protected.
“Inuit are being requested to hold a lot threat, with little or no profit, or advantages that come within the type of cash, which might’t change our tradition or the wildlife or our harvesting practices,” mentioned Eric Ootoovak, chairperson of Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Group (MHTO) in Pond Inlet, one other Inuit hamlet on Baffin Island.
Ootoovak instructed Al Jazeera in an electronic mail that neighborhood members are particularly frightened as a result of the mine’s delivery route cuts via narwhal, fish and ringed seal habitats. “Inuit right here have used this space for harvesting for generations, and we’d like these animals as a reliable supply of wholesome conventional meals and even revenue,” he mentioned.
Firm defends plan
Baffinland is collectively owned by The Vitality and Minerals Group, a US-based agency, and ArcelorMittal, one of many largest metal producers on this planet.
In an electronic mail to Al Jazeera, Baffinland mentioned primarily based on its proposed influence mitigation and monitoring plans, it’s “assured the mine enlargement can co-exist with wholesome wildlife populations and continued Inuit harvesting”.
In a three-page background report additionally despatched by way of electronic mail, the corporate mentioned the mine supplies much-needed financial advantages and jobs to Inuit. “General, Baffinland’s operations have instantly and not directly contributed over C$1.68bn [$1.32bn] to Inuit companies and communities,” it mentioned.
Unanimous no help is what we heard via the Affect Evaluate Board to this point … however as an organisation we’ve got (not) but determined whether or not we help section two or not
Baffinland additionally pointed to a deal it reached final yr with the QIA that introduces an Inuit-led monitoring programme for the section two enlargement, in addition to financial advantages to 5 Inuit hamlets that may be affected.
However Akeeagok mentioned the latest NIRB hearings – a course of that he mentioned permits “Inuit voices to actually be on the forefront” – made clear Inuit nonetheless have many considerations. “The tempo of the manufacturing improve is one we heard very loudly,” he mentioned.
Stephen Williamson Bathory, a particular adviser to the QIA, mentioned Inuit “have grown pissed off over the section two proposal itself”.
“We proceed to have an open door each to the proponent [Baffinland] and Inuit to work on answering these questions. Sadly, we haven’t seen the proponent transfer in direction of reconciling the excellent points,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
Chris Debicki, vp of coverage improvement and counsel at Oceans North, an environmental non-profit that works in Nunavut, additionally questioned the complete scope of the corporate’s plans for the Mary River mine.
Whereas Baffinland is at the moment looking for approval for section two of improvement, a June 2020 Moody’s Traders report obtained by Al Jazeera reveals Baffinland plans to extend the mine’s output to 18 million tonnes per yr in section three. The report doesn’t specify a timeframe for that subsequent section.
Requested about its section three plan, Baffinland instructed Al Jazeera its proposal “would prohibit ship actions to no more than 176 a yr” from the port at Milne Inlet and it “has no intention of asking for permission to extend shipments via Milne Inlet past this degree”.
The evaluate board is at the moment solely evaluating section two.
“It’s a basic subject of transparency and it’s additionally a basic subject of whether or not or not we’re trying on the correct scope of this venture – and we are saying we’re not,” Debicki instructed Al Jazeera.
“We’re speaking a couple of improvement and improvement choices proper now that can form the course of improvement for generations, in all probability a whole lot of years, so it’s so essential to get this proper.”
In the meantime, Inuit communities say their territories are altering already.
Inuit hunt narwhal – a whale generally referred to as the “unicorn of the ocean” as a result of its lengthy tusk – in the summertime in open water. However they’re tougher to catch and skinnier, and there are fewer of them, mentioned Ootoovak. He additionally fears the Baffin Island caribou herd, which has already declined “due to natural cyclical rhythms“, might be affected by the railway linking Mary River to the Milne Inlet port.
Dropping the animals would imply shedding Inuit heritage and tradition, too. “We gained’t be capable to train our subsequent generations the issues we all know concerning the locations and animals we’ve got relied on for generations. This might be misplaced,” Ootoovak mentioned.
He instructed Al Jazeera he doesn’t imagine the corporate has integrated what is named Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or Inuit conventional information, into its plans. “That is actual, dwelling information, however regardless of the considerations we’ve got raised, the mining firm continues to foretell there might be no ‘important’ impacts on wildlife, or on Inuit harvesting,” he mentioned.
Additional, Natanine mentioned the session course of has not been significant, whereas Ootoovak mentioned the Mary River enlargement has not obtained Inuit communities’ “free, prior and knowledgeable consent” – an idea specified by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada plans to include into regulation.
ArcelorMittal, one in every of Baffinland’s co-owners, is also a member of the “ResponsibleSteel” initiative, which “requires websites to use the idea of free, prior and knowledgeable consent the place they function in proximity to indigenous peoples”.
Requested whether or not it’s assembly its dedication beneath ResponsibleSteel, Baffinland mentioned the allow course of for present and proposed operations is regulated via the NIRB, as per the Nunavut Settlement.
“There’s an apparent disconnect,” mentioned Ootoovak. “Individuals in the neighborhood of Pond Inlet, and lots of different communities, have critical considerations a couple of venture that might function right here for over 100 years, and a mining firm that’s so unwilling to contemplate our points and work with us.”