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QIA, North Baffin leaders to attempt to settle differences over iron mine expansion

North Baffin community leaders and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association will try to iron out major differences later this month in regards to the proposed expansion of Baffinland Iron Mine’s Mary River project.

A Nunavut Impact Review Board technical meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14 to 18 to address aspects of Baffinland Iron Mines’ operations. Following that meeting, leaders from the five impacted North Baffin communities plan to have a discussion with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s president and other members of the executive over a deal the QIA recently signed to support Baffinland’s phase two expansion at the Mary River mine.
Hark Nijjar Photography

The two sides plan to address the friction between them during a meeting set to follow the Nunavut Impact Review Board technical meetings scheduled to take place Sept. 14 to 18 via teleconference.

QIA leadership offered to engage prior to the technical hearings, but the North Baffin community leaders preferred to wait until afterwards, said Pond Inlet Mayor Joshua Arreak, who stands alongside mayors and hunters and trappers chairs from Iglulik, Sanirajak, Arctic Bay and Clyde River.

“We have to be optimistic because, technically, QIA has that authority (to make deals with mining companies) under the land claims agreement, but we have to be optimistic,” Arreak said, adding that he believes that the clout of the North Baffin community leaders should lead to some concessions.

“I’m pretty sure we can make ends meet and start talking again after the technical hearings,” he said.

QIA President P.J. Akeeagok and other members of QIA’s leadership were in meetings with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated last week and therefore weren’t available to answer questions, according to a QIA spokesperson.

In mid-June, the QIA announced the signing of an Inuit Certainty Agreement with Baffinland. The pact is rife with payments and benefits that could easily surpass $100 million over the mine’s life, in addition to commitments pertaining to jobs, training and contracting. It also includes terms for subsidized daycare for mine workers’ children and it would give Inuit greater authority in monitoring developments at the mine and associated impacts on the environment and the Inuit way of life.

However, the leaders of the North Baffin communities made public their opposition to the deal in late August, stating that they had been informing the QIA all along that Baffinland wasn’t adequately addressing impacts of phase two mine expansion and therefore an agreement should not be signed, particularly one obligating the QIA to support the expansion.

“We expect QIA to represent and be reflective of Inuit concerns and those of our communities. Both the content and the process of putting together this (Inuit Certainty Agreement) suggests that it may be difficult for the QIA to adequately represent our concerns and issues,” reads an excerpt of a letter from the North Baffin community leaders to Akeeagok on Aug. 24.

“Through the (Inuit Certainty Agreement), QIA has demonstrated a particular interest in the outcome of the hearing process and has a particular bias that must be balanced by a fair and complete consideration of all issues and concerns.

“Ensuring that this happens is our responsibility as mayors and chairs of the HTOs.”

The letter accuses Akeeagok of having made direct calls to various members of community councils and boards and encourages him instead to direct communications to “the official channels of the hamlets and HTOs and respect our democratic process and the role of elected representatives.”

In a subsequent news release on Aug. 25, the North Baffin community leaders warn of potential harm to narwhal, caribou and other animals from mine expansion, which would involve the construction of a 110-kilometre railway and vastly increased shipping.

Baffinland weighs in

Asked for comment on the dispute between the community leaders and the QIA, Baffinland Iron Mines acknowledged that it deferred to the QIA in communicating with the impacted communities.

“Baffinland has respected this request from the QIA and the company did not engage communities directly on the development of the agreement, as requested,” a Baffinland statement reads. “However, both Baffinland and QIA have been in or hosted multiple meetings over the past number of years where many of the issues brought forward in the negotiation of the (Inuit Certainty Agreement) were raised directly from community representatives in these meetings.

“The (Inuit Certainty Agreement) itself is the culmination of many years of work and discussions.

Baffinland also pointed out that the agreement will provide direct financial benefits to the five affected communities, if the phase two expansion proposal proceeds.

“The details for the transfer of finances is yet to be discussed between the QIA and the communities, but the commitment is firm,” Baffinland stated.

“We have been and will continue to, have conversations to resolve outstanding technical issues with the phase two project proposal. We look forward to these conversations continuing in the weeks ahead.”