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NUNAVUT MINING: Celestino Uyarak strives to bridge the gap between Baffinland and Iglulikmiut

Former Iglulik mayor Celestino Uyarak is accustomed to bringing parties together and finding resolutions.
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The Mary River iron mine is about 240 km from Iglulik. Celestino Uyarak has visited the site multiple times. He has taken a job with Baffinland where he’s responsible to provide people with answers about the mining operation. Photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines

Former Iglulik mayor Celestino Uyarak is accustomed to bringing parties together and finding resolutions.

He figured he could put those skills to work as a knowledge holder and community relations guide with Baffinland Iron Mines, a role he took on last October.

“I thought I could get feedback to help out the relationship between the community and the mine,” he said, adding that he has experience interacting with community working groups, mining representatives and the hunters and trappers organization, among others.

He also wants to engage youth in learning about employment options within the industry.

“The community has more opportunity in the future for our young people,” he said.

Overall, he said his impression is that most Iglulik residents are supportive of the Mary River iron mine, but he acknowledged that some of them have concerns about protecting the land and the water.

He hopes a community committee can be formed with delegates from the municipality, the hunters and trappers and other organizations to address issues surrounding mining activities.

“It’s very important to have working groups in each community,” he said.

Uyarak said he doesn’t mind being called upon at any time by those who have questions about the mining operation. If he doesn’t know the answer immediately, he’ll endeavour to find out and get back to people.

“I think I’m very comfortable doing that,” he said.

Udlu Hanson, Baffinland’s vice-president of community and strategic development, called Uyarak an important voice in the community.

“He is very approachable which allows him to connect easily with his fellow community peers. He is also well known and well respected in his community for his long history of public service as mayor and assistant senior administration officer,” said Hanson. “He is still very active in the community. He is also well known for his generosity, his volunteerism and his commendable need to give back. Most recently, Celestino has been involved in a wellness programs supporting men in Iglulik.”

Uyarak is one of several Baffinland employees serving in a knowledge holder and community relations guide position. He and his colleagues in Pond Inlet, Sanirajak and Arctic Bay hold weekly video conferences to give each other advice. Clyde River also has a similar position.

“The communication between us is good,” he said.

Baffinland stated that the positions are designed to enhance communications and increase transparency.

“The Inuit knowledge holders are grounded in Inuit ways, customs, traditions, and ceremonies. They will share their knowledge with Baffinland teams, to ensure the company provides tailored, relevant and culturally appropriate services in their communities,” Baffinland says of the job description. “They will also contribute to the review and development of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) documentation and will support a continuous integration of IQ in our operations and interactions.

“The community relations guides are skilled in hunting and harvesting, and have a deep understanding of local wildlife, in addition to having knowledge and perspective on the socio-economic state of their community. They will provide advice to Baffinland leaders to enhance effective community relations, liaising directly with residents of their community to discuss any concerns, and responding to questions about Baffinland’s operations. In concert with Inuit knowledge holders, they will pass on what Elders have shared with them over the years, in relation to a variety of environmental and wildlife topics, as well as people, careers and training activities.”

When he decided to accept the job with Baffinland, Uyarak was aware that he might be labelled a “sellout” to industry by some people in Iglulik. He said he’s faced criticism in other roles in the past.

“I’m quite used to that. Before I took this role, when I was with the management with the hamlet, I had the same thing. Also working for search and rescue, I had the same response. Also as the mayor, and now with Baffinland. But I still have to move forward.”