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Inuit group's board says no to proposed expansion of Nunavut iron ore mine

IQALUIT, Nunavut — An organization that represents Inuit in Nunavut's Baffin Island region says it will not back a proposed expansion of an iron ore mine near Pond Inlet.

IQALUIT, Nunavut — An organization that represents Inuit in Nunavut's Baffin Island region says it will not back a proposed expansion of an iron ore mine near Pond Inlet. 

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association's board of directors voted late Friday not to support the proposal. Board members are elected by each community in the region. 

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. wants to double production at its Mary River mine on the northern tip of Baffin Island and build a 110-kilometre railway to carry iron ore from the mine to the ocean.

Qikiqtani's president, P.J. Akeeagok, said one board member abstained, but the decision by the remaining directors was unanimous. 

"The position the board of directors made relied heavily on what Inuit in the communities were saying and the impacts that are being felt," Akeeagok said. 

There are concerns about the potential effects on wildlife, including narwhal and caribou, if there were increased ship traffic or a railway across the tundra.

The association leases the land at Mary River to Baffinland and has a benefit agreement with the mining company and the region's communities. 

"The speed of the process that led us to this point is a big component, but also the potential increases from six million all the way up to 12 million tonnes that's being request by Baffinland really created some concern," Akeeagok said. 

He said the board also raised concerns about a lack of Inuit involvement in the project, including the "limited incorporation of ... Inuit traditional knowledge." 

"Inuit did not participate in the development of the proposal, and key information about the project impacts remains unclear." 

The proposed expansion is under an environmental review and has faced opposition from all Nunavut communities closest to the mine. 

In February, hunters from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay blocked the mine's airstrip and road for a week to protest the proposed expansion. 

The mining company has since won an injunction against the hunters that prevents them from returning to the mine site.

Akeeagok noted the Qikiqtani Inuit Association remains open to resource development in the region and "welcomes proposals from Baffinland that prioritize Inuit involvement from the beginning and which align with an Inuit vision of the future."

In a news release, Baffinland said it notes the board's decision but "is pleased the QIA welcomes proposals to address concerns." 

Baffinland said it is committed to giving environmental oversight of the mine to Inuit and to working with affected communities to address their concerns. 

"Consultation is, and will remain, an important ongoing process throughout the development and operation of Mary River," the release said.

"We will continue our community outreach and seek to meet the QIA and others as soon as practicable to discuss their concerns in order to find a mutually agreeable way forward," said Baffinland CEO Brian Penney. 

The mining company declined a request for an interview.

A final public hearing on the mine's proposed expansion is to take place in Iqaluit in April.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021 


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press