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Baffinland and hunters and trappers still at odds over Inuit traditional knowledge, wildlife monitoring

After years of consultations and correspondence, Baffinland Iron Mines and the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization (MHTO) in Pond Inlet are still unable to comes to terms on Inuit traditional knowledge and monitoring of wildlife.

The latest evidence of the gulf between the two parties came via a Sept. 30 letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board from MHTO Chair Eric Ootoovak.

Baffinland Iron Mines says it will run a dedicated seal monitoring program in response to concerns expressed by the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization. The mining company and the Pond Inlet hunters and trappers still have some pronounced differences of opinion to overcome.
Photo courtesy of Levi Kalluk

Although Baffinland has made hundreds of commitments – many of them refined to meet demands from governments and Inuit organizations – to further its Mary River mine phase two expansion plans, Ootoovak made it clear that the MHTO is not satisfied with Baffinland’s proposed measures in regards to tracking wildlife and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.

“Our final written submission… requested that Baffinland undertake significantly more monitoring of marine wildlife and ecosystem, and that that work include and integrate Inuit in all aspects. We have also requested separately that Baffinland conduct additional monitoring on char and begin monitoring of seal,” Ootoovak wrote, also expressing concern over impacts on caribou. “Further, and of greatest importance to the MHTO, the MEWG (Marine Environment Working Group) does not facilitate the collection or contribution of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. This work must be done with and among Inuit, using knowledgeable facilitators and taking time to discuss and ensure understanding… We need to have certainty that Baffinland will acknowledge Inuit concerns and knowledge in its development of indicators and thresholds… and our concerns that Baffinland has not adequately considered Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and local knowledge.”

Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland’s vice-president of sustainable development, stated that Baffinland will continue to meet with the MHTO to discuss the mining company’s commitments.

The Marine Environment Working Group is not the “primary mechanism relied on by Baffinland for collecting IQ,” she said.

She noted that Baffinland’s 2019 marine monitoring programs comprised more than 50 per cent Inuit staff. The Inuit Certainty Agreement, signed with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association earlier this year, obligates Baffinland to increase Inuit participation in monitoring programs as well as project operations, decision-making and oversight, she stated.

Lord-Hoyle added that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit workshops have been held since 2006 and as recently as earlier this year.

“In addition, we have been meeting with communities and Inuit since 2015 on phase two, and Baffinland values all input that it has received from elders, youth, hunters and trappers organizations, and communities, and it has helped us improve and change our project plan,” she stated.

The mining company runs one of the largest marine monitoring programs in Canada and the company will incorporate a dedicated seal monitoring program, she said, adding that char are already studied by Baffinland and by the MHTO through funding provided by Baffinland.

“The phase two project will provide sustainable and long-term social and economic benefits to Inuit without compromising the integrity of the ecosystem or the right of future generations to the sustainable use of renewable and non-renewable resources,” Lord-Hoyle said.

Farther north in Arctic Bay, the hamlet council maintains its conditional support for the Mary River mine phase two expansion. An Oct. 3 letter to NIRB from Coun. Frank May states that little opposition has been expressed by community members, so long as Baffinland operates in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

“Up to this point, Baffinland Iron Mines have shown themselves to be supportive of our community and we can expect this attitude to continue into the future,” May’s letter reads, citing a November 2019 motion passed by council and signed by Mayor Moses Oyukuluk that backs phase two. “We have issues (in Arctic Bay) created by past traumas, housing shortages, infrastructure needs and transportation bottlenecks which must be addressed, and we hope that both the mine and QIA will use the financial resources created by the phase two expansion to help our community address these issues.”

NIRB will produce a pre-hearing conference report within 30 days to guide the next steps in the Baffinland phase two expansion review.