Inuit in Pond Inlet are afraid to show support for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., says a former hamlet councillor. (Photo by David Venn)David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 05:29 May 25, 2022

By David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There are Inuit who support Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed mine expansion, but they might not say so out loud, says a former Pond Inlet hamlet councillor.

Joanna Innualuk-Kunnuk said people have always been wary of supporting the mine publicly.

“Most of the people who support phase two won’t say anything,” Innualuk-Kunnuk said in an interview.

“When you’re poor and hungry, you have no say. And the people who are more wealthy have a better say, because they show themselves as a successful person and you’re not.”

On May 13, the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal reject Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River plan to build a 110-kilometre railroad and double its shipping output from six to 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

Vandal’s decision is expected later this summer.

The board’s recommendation concluded a four-year public hearing that heard from community members, Inuit organizations, Baffinland, hamlets and hunters and trappers organizations in communities that may be affected by the expansion.

Baffinland stated throughout the hearing that it may temporarily close down the mine if Vandal doesn’t issue the company a project certificate.

If the proposal is approved, the company expects expansion to bring 127 jobs to the community.

Innualuk-Kunnuk said she wants to see the expansion happen slowly and carefully, so it doesn’t come at the expense of the land and animals.

“I want [the mine] to grow, but I don’t want it to grow so fast that it ruins us and our community and the land and the animals,” Innualuk-Kunnuk said.

She wants young people in the community to be able to get jobs and afford equipment to hunt. She’s proud of the ones who are already working at the mine and can afford snowmobiles.

In April, she had to resign from council and leave Pond Inlet to receive cancer treatment in Ottawa.

“I still need my grandkids and my great-grandkids to have land and hunting and teach them about our ways,” she said.

“[But] in order to keep our traditions alive, we need economic development to grow in our communities so we can buy stuff to take us out on land … so it’s mixed feelings.”

A lack of trust between some Inuit and the company began around December 2012, when Baffinland received a project certificate to ship 18 million tonnes of iron ore through Steensby Inlet and build a 149-kilometre railway connecting that port to the mine, she said.

Just over a month later, the company said it couldn’t afford that project and instead needed to make money by trucking 3.5 million tonnes of iron ore to Milne Inlet.

“We shouldn’t have said yes to the money-making proposal at first,” Innualuk-Kunnuk said.

“The elders and all the people in Pond said, ‘Yes, go ahead, go ahead’ [with the Steensby Inlet plan]. Then [the company] changed and Baffinland kind of tricked us.”

The company said in November it still plans to fulfill that project certificate and eventually have 30 million tonnes of iron ore being shipped per year — 12 million out of Milne Inlet and 18 from Steensby Inlet.

Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman confirmed that is still the plan, but said the company will have to re-evaluate its future if the expansion is not approved by Vandal.

Kaujak Komangapik, an elder, mother and board member of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, said she wants to see Baffinland revert back to its Steensby Inlet proposal, because Milne Inlet shouldn’t be open to mining.

“I don’t want Milne Inlet to be serving ships, because narwhals usually migrate over there,” she said, adding she is happy with the review board’s recommendation because the company is “damaging the land already.”

Baffinland has implemented monitoring systems that are run partially by Inuit for environmental impacts, such as the marine and terrestrial working groups. They identify and then address any effects the mine might have on the environment, Akman said.

In terms of narwhal, the company has produced three consecutive years of aerial surveys the federal government typically does every seven years, and plans to implement a tagging program in 2022, Akman said.

“Our environmental monitoring programs continue to confirm the effects of the project are within what was predicted,” he said. “This does not mean the effects the communities are experiencing are not also happening, but in all cases the project is not driving them.”

Aaron Pitseolak, a hunter and office administrator for the Nunavut government, attributes the lack of narwhals around Milne Inlet to the ship noise and said some of the water near the project is discoloured, translucent and dusty.

“For me, no mining would be good, but they’re not going to go away. It’s best [to] try to work with them and see what can work better always and gear towards that,” Pitseolak said.

Baffinland has moved closer to where some Inuit want to see it, but he believes it can do better, he said.

“Bringing jobs — I’m really happy for that. But at what cost, right?” he said. “The land and animals are going to suffer and, in turn, us.”

Asked if Baffinland agrees there are impacts caused by dust from the mine, Akman said it hasn’t caused any “unanticipated impacts” to air, water, fish, freshwater or vegetation, and that there are other natural causes of dust spread.

“The visibility of dust on snow or in drinking water affects Inuit perceptions regarding the esthetics and quality of the environment,” he said, adding Baffinland will commit to improving its dust management.

The company has proposed to crush ore indoors, spray the tote road with material to contain the dust, and postpone shiploading when there are high winds if phase two is approved, Akman said.

This item reprinted with permission from Nunatsiaq News, Iqaluit, Nunavut