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Editorial: Time to get on the same page

Despite efforts of various groups to have concerns heard and work together, disharmony abounds on Baffinland’s potential expansion to the Mary River iron mine

The Issue: Baffinland phase two
We Say: Communication lacking

With the final Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) hearing on Baffinland's proposed increase in production at the Mary River mine being held this Monday, Jan. 25, the time has come to get on the same page with what impacted communities need from the mining industry.

The Hamlet of Pond Inlet released its conditions in a Dec. 29 letter signed by Mayor Joshua Arreak. Included are stipulations such as incrementally increasing production from six to 12 million tonnes of ore per year to limit damage to environment and wildlife, as well as a firm commitment to increase Inuit hiring, which has never reached the 25 per cent employment target and has actually fallen over recent years.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) announced Jan. 18 that it would be seeking additional feedback from the affected communities before reaching a final conclusion pertaining to Baffinland Iron Mines' proposed phase two expansion.
This is good, since fingers have been pointed in many directions, with numerous voices from community organizations, local government and residents claiming to have gone unheard, or alleging that negotiations have been carried on behind their backs.

In June 2020, the QIA signed the Inuit Certainty Agreement, which sets lofty goals of increased royalties, payouts and community supports to the tune of more than $100 million in additional payments – all assuming the Mary River mine phase two expansion proceeds.

Things like building child-care centres in Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Clyde River, Iglulik and Sanirajak – which could cost up to $15 million to build – and subsidizing the cost of care at $19 per day per child would be a sound investment in those communities.

The agreement also lists a one-time $1.3-million payment to the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization in Pond Inlet for "changes in the hunting experience" since Mary River mining activity got underway and a $400,000 payment for failing to meet "Inuit content" goals to date, such as purchasing from communities, subcontracting or training.

It's a lot of money, and sounds good on paper, but also reads like trying to make up for promises already broken during the first phase of the mine's life.

QIA President P.J. Akeeagok admitted that his organization and Baffinland have weathered "a lack of historical trust," but he expressed hope that the parties are reaching to a new understanding.

While it's commendable that the QIA was doing further consultations with the communities, those consultations were squeezed into the last couple of weeks before the regulatory meetings resumed, even though there were months of waiting. It left a wealth of issues to be ironed out at the 11th hour.

Add to this a new association – the Qikiqtaaluk Uangnangani Katujjiqatigiit – a not-for-profit group meant to represent North Baffin interests and planning to establish a regional economic development corporation. The lines of communication have become even further blurred.

Iglulik Mayor Merlyn Recinos said, "We have been united with the five communities for the (Mary River) project as we understood that ... the only way for us to move forward was to find unity."

Unity may never have been more important than at this moment.