Hunters’ blockade at Baffinland’s Mary River mine nears a week

The blockade is in protest of a controversial expansion — one about which the hunters say their concerns have been ignored.

By Dustin Patar, Nunatsiaq News - February 9, 2021
Abraham Kublu (left) a former Pond Inlet hamlet councillor and current Iqaluit resident, was joined by roughly 30 or so others to stage a protest in support of the hunters involved in the ongoing blockade of Baffinland’s Mary River Mine. Amongst those also present was Paul Okalik of the World Wildlife Fund, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell and city councillor Simon Nattaq. (Dustin Patar / Nunatsiaq News)

A blockade of the Mary River iron mine entered its fifth day on Monday, as a group of hunters continued its protest of a proposed expansion of the mine. Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., the project’s owner, said the hunters demanded to be recognized as an Inuit association and be paid a portion of the royalties the mine generates.

Although Naymen Inuarak, one of the hunters at the mine site, didn’t use those words specifically, he did say the protest was about being heard and included.

“We would like to see actual negotiations with the most impacted communities and have us involved right away,” said Naymen Inuarak, one of the hunters currently at the Mary River mine site, in an interview via satellite phone.

“We’ve been ignored way too long.”

Late last Thursday, a group of seven hunters from Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet arrived at the mine site and shut down the airstrip and road that leads to Milne Inlet, in protest of the mine’s Phase 2 expansion.

There are more than 700 employees at the Mary River project who are affected by the blockades, according to a Baffinland news release issued Monday.

The closure of the airstrip means that all transfers of employees and contractors and all food and supply flights have been suspended.

For safety reasons, Baffinland says that the majority of its operations at the mine have been suspended.

The mining company also said that other north Baffin air traffic services provided by the Mary River airstrip, such as search and rescue, have been suspended.

Despite numerous meetings with organizers at the blockades and in Pond Inlet to relocate off the airstrip, Baffinland says the discussions have not progressed toward a resolution.

Inuarak says that the hunters’ group would like to continue negotiations but has still not heard back from Qikiqtani Inuit Association or Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

He also says that there was an agreement between the hunters and Baffinland that was supposed to give the protesters access to their facilities and their internet but they’ve been cut off from those services.

“We wanted to ask some questions online and for them to answer,” said Inuarak.“Hopefully the negotiations go better.”

Inuarak also clarified that in the event of an emergency, such as a medevac, the group would temporarily vacate the airstrip.

The hunters blockaded the airstrip and mine last week to protest a proposed expansion of the mine, which was the subject of a Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing that began Jan. 25 and continued through Saturday before adjourning until March. Baffinland says it needs to expand the mine by building a 110-kilometer railroad to Milne Inlet in order to make it financially sustainable.

“Baffinland understands that requests have been made by the organizers to be recognized as a Designated Inuit Organization under the Nunavut Agreement and for a portion of the royalties payable by Baffinland under the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement to be paid directly to them,” said the release.

“Baffinland hears these requests, but has no right or ability to grant them,” the company said.

Inuarak said that Baffinland and the regional organizations should work directly with the most affected communities.