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Baffinland says protesters demand recognition as 'designated Inuit organization' and seek royalties

Existing tote road from Mary River mine site to Milne Inletphoto: Baffinland
Vehicle traffic on the tote road at the Mary River iron mine, 160 km south of Pond Inlet, has been disrupted by blockades. photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines

The individuals who have set up a blockade at the Mary River iron mine want to be recognized as a designated Inuit organization entitled to royalties under the Nunavut Agreement, according to Baffinland Iron Mines.

"Baffinland hears these requests, but has no right or ability to grant them," the company stated in a news release on Monday, as the demonstration that has hindered mining operations stretched into its fourth day.

Qikiqtaaluk Unagnangani Katujjiqatigiit (QUK), a recently formed not-for-profit North Baffin Inuit organization hopes to use money flowing from the mine to form a separate economic development arm in the future.

"It's pretty bad that we've been trying to fight this, but we haven't been getting any representation for a long time," said Neeko Inuarak, executive director of Qikiqtaaluk Unagnangani Katujjiqatigiit.

Inuarak refused to provided further comment to Nunavut News on Monday.

Baffinland made clear the impact of the blockade in its news release.

"There are more than 700 men and women currently at the Mary River Project site in Nunavut who are impacted by the protesters' blockading of the airstrip and tote road," the company stated. The airstrip is consequently closed to all regularly scheduled air traffic and food and supply flights to the mine have been suspended.

"Baffinland personnel have had numerous meetings with organizers, both at the blockades and in Pond Inlet, imploring the protesters to relocated off the airstrip and allow runway maintenance to take place and flights to resume. So far these discussions have not yielded any progress," the news release by Baffinland adds.

On Sunday, Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq posted on social media that her office has reached out to the minister of Natural Resources to "attempt to mediate the situation at Mary River."

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation is seeking to double its annual mining output at Mary River to 12 million tonnes from six million tonnes.

The protests at Mary River started on Feb. 5 as two weeks of environmental hearings with regards to the expansion were wrapping up.

While those who are taking part in the blockades and protests at the Mary River site are themselves hunters, they do not represent the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, according to the chair.

"The Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization is not protesting, nor is in charge of the protests going on... They do fall under (MHTO), but they are not board members, nor are they employees, and we're not taking part in any protest. I just want to make this clear to everyone" said Eric Ootoovak, chair of MHTO.

He added that the confusion with regards to who the protesters represent may stem from press releases by Baffinland.

"I think it has to do something with the Baffinland's news releases saying 'hunters' or 'hunting party,' if I'm correct," said Ootoovak.

The regulatory hearings for mine expansion didn't end on a positive note, he added.

"We didn't even finished asking questions, we just ran out of time," he said.