Uranium Territory: Inuit campaign for referendum over mine in far north (The Dominion Article)

by Warren Bernauer
The Dominion (http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4532)
July 23, 2012

While the government of Nunavut has given the go ahead to uranium mining on their territory, they are facing multiple accusations of bias and acting without consulting the population.


BAKER LAKE — A conflict over a uranium mine in the far north, four
decades in the making, has pitted members of a small Inuit community
against their territorial government and a French company.

Inuit in the community of Baker Lake, located west of Hudson Bay in
the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, have raised a hue over what they call
a faulty, biased process and the Government of Nunavut’s uncritical
support for uranium mining.

John*, an Inuk from Baker Lake who spoke with The Dominion, said the
Nunavut Government’s support for uranium mining was biased.

“The new government policy with regards to uranium, I think that’s
biased,” he said. “Them knowing their own people don’t really want
uranium mining and the impact it would have on the people. We’ve heard
for years now the environmental impact it’s going to have in our

He later commented, “I think there should be a ban on uranium
mining… no uranium mining in Nunavut, period.”

Bill*, also an Inuk from Baker Lake, said that he was unsure whether
or not the new policy truly reflects the opinions of Nunavummiut (“the
people of Nunavut”).

“I think they should have held a [public] vote on the issue.”

Outrage over the government’s new policy has been expressed by
Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit (Makita), (“The People of Nunavut Can
Rise Up”), the region’s only environmental NGO, which called the
process to develop the policy “biased” and “flawed.” High on the list
of Makita’s complaints is the fact that the government relied on
consultants with close ties to the uranium mining industry to develop
its uranium policy.

Makita was formed in 2009 by residents of Baker Lake and Iqaluit, out
of frustration over barriers to public participation in
decision-making. Makita’s objectives include promoting public
participation in decisions related to uranium development, promoting
accountability and transparency in the territory’s governing
institutions and promoting public awareness of the impacts of uranium

Makita was the driving force that initiated the Nunavut government’s
development of a new policy. In 2010, the group demanded that Nunavut
hold a public inquiry into uranium mining, citing concerns that “a
uranium industry in Nunavut would pose serious risks to the
environment, to public health and safety and to Inuit traditions and

Instead, the government held a “public forum,” which involved hiring
consultants to undertake research on uranium mining and a series of
public consultation meetings. The outcome was the June 6, 2012 release
of a policy providing conditional support for uranium mining. It
differed little from a policy the government issued in 2007.

At the centre of the uranium debate in Nunavut is a proposed mine by
AREVA Resources Canada Inc, the Canadian subsidiary of the French,
mostly state-owned owned multinational corporation AREVA. Located 80
kilometres west of Baker Lake, the proposed “Kiggavik” project is only
the latest of uranium proposals.

The struggle against uranium mining dates back to the 1970s. At that
time, Inuit in Baker Lake unsuccessfully initiated legal challenges
against uranium exploration near their community. In the late 1980s,
Inuit successfully opposed a proposal by German company
Urangesellschaft to mine the same Kiggavik uranium ore body that AREVA
plans to exploit. In a local plebiscite in 1990, over 90 per cent of
the residents of Baker Lake rejected Urangesellschaft’s proposal.

At the time, all major Inuit organizations opposed Urangesellschaft’s proposal.

The rights to the Kiggavik ore body were eventually acquired by AREVA,
which now wants to develop a mine with four open pits and an
underground component, a milling operation, a winter access road and
potentially an all-season access road. The Nunavut Impact Review Board
is currently conducting an environmental review of the Kiggavik

The community of Baker Lake is divided over AREVA’s proposal, with
Inuit expressing a wide range of perspectives on the matter. Inuit
Elder Margaret Niviatsiaq, a member of AREVA’s community committee and
strong supporter of the Kiggavik mine, said that she supports the
proposal due to hopes that it will provide her grandchildren with
employment. “We have to think of the next generation. Where are they
going to work? How are they going to survive? We have to think about
our children.”

However, some Inuit in the community remain highly critical or
outright opposed to uranium mining.

Janet* expressed serious concerns with AREVA’s proposal. “[I’m
concerned with] how it’s going to affect the environment, the
wildlife,” she said. “Even though they say it’s going to be safe,
accidents happen all over the world and if anything happens here,
especially with our drinking water… I have many concerns.”

She was also suspicious of the industry’s promises of prosperity and
economic development. “I always say, the local people are going to get
crumbs while someone gets the steak.”

Paul*, a hunter from Baker Lake, was worried that the Kiggavik mine
might disturb caribou. “That area where they want to build the mine is
along the migration route of three caribou herds.”

He was also concerned that opening the Kiggavik mine might lead to
other uranium mines opening in the area. “The problem with uranium is
we have so much of it around here. Once they open up one mine, how
many others will follow?”

Lucy*, a young Inuk woman, formerly of Baker Lake, was concerned about
the colonial implications of developing the economy of her home
community by doing business with multi-national mining corporations.

“Relying on mining companies to come in and employ Inuit is still a
reliance on ‘outside help’. It does not empower Inuit to become owners
and producers of their production. It not only reduces Inuit to be
trained just enough to ensure that… a specific sector succeeds in
the north… it [also] keeps Inuit and non-Inuit living in the north
in a state of dependency. It’s backward. It’s not progress.”

Some who were critical of uranium mining also felt that their concerns
and opinions were being suppressed. Janet said that some people in
town are afraid to speak out, because they are “intimidated by other
people” or “worried that they will lose their jobs”.

Paul felt that his views were being suppressed because his influence
was small compared to that of the mining industry. “They [the mining
industry] have all sorts of consultants and lawyers and money,” he
said. “Those of us who are opposed, when you compare it, we basically
have nothing.”

Until recently, there were a number of political barriers to uranium
mining in Nunavut. Following the settlement of the Nunavut Land Claims
Agreement in 1993, several institutions issued policies that either
forbade uranium mining or provided the public with the right to refuse
uranium mining. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (an Inuit organization
that attained mineral rights to the Kiggavik ore body as part of the
Nunavut land claim) initially maintained a policy that forbade mining
for uranium on lands to which it held title. The 2000 Keewatin Region
Land Use Plan contained a section that stated, “Any future proposal to
mine uranium must be approved by the people of the region.”

However, these political barriers were quickly overcome with, some
suggest, no meaningful public participation. In 2007 Nunavut Tunngavik
Incorporated reversed its stance on uranium mining and adopted a
policy that gave conditional support for uranium mining.

The same year, the Government of Nunavut issued a similar policy when
then Baker Lake MLA David Simailak tabled six “guiding principles” on
uranium mining in the Legislative Assembly.

In 2008, the Nunavut Planning Commission ruled that “the people of the
region” approved uranium mining, based on resolutions of support from
various hamlet councils in the Kivalliq.

In a 2010 media release, Makita condemned these policy changes,
arguing that they were made “without involving [Inuit] in the
decision-making process” and “without regard for the democratic
standard set in Baker Lake by a public plebiscite.” Makita further
argued that these policies left the question of uranium mining up to
environmental reviews, which would ultimately result in “bureaucrats
in Nunavut and Ottawa decid[ing] whether or not [uranium mining] is in
[Nunavut’s] public interest.”

Accordingly, Makita demanded that the Government of Nunavut hold a
public inquiry “on whether or not to open Nunavut to uranium mining.”
The group argued that a public inquiry is more “transparent, flexible
and democratic than a regulatory process is,” and that the government
needed to seriously assess whether or not Nunavut’s institutions had
the ability to properly regulate uranium mining.

Petitions demanding a public inquiry, initiated by Makita, were tabled
in the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut in June, 2010.

In August, the government responded by announcing that, instead of a
public inquiry, it would hold a “public forum” on uranium mining to
help the Government of Nunavut develop a more comprehensive uranium

Makita responded with heavy criticism to the decision to hold a public
forum instead of a public inquiry. In a press release, Makita argued
that “the proposed process is window dressing — public meetings
without a mandate for research and reporting, and without clear
standards for transparency or process, will be a waste of time and

During question period in the Legislative Assembly in October, 2010,
Premiere Aariak defended the government’s choice of a public inquiry,
stating that the government “concluded that the public would be fully
consulted with greater participation through a public forum.”

The public forum was held in 2011. Golder Associates — the same
consulting firm hired by AREVA to conduct feasibility studies and
write sections of their impact assessment for the Kiggavik mine — was
hired by the Nunavut government to conduct research into uranium
mining. The outcome of this research was harshly criticized by Mining
Watch Canada, an Ottawa-based NGO that had been invited by Makita to
participate in the consultation meetings held during the public forum.

Jamie Kneen of Mining Watch slammed the Nunavut government’s decision
to have its research conducted by Golder Associates. “Golder should
not be expected to produce a document on its own that could put its
primary clients (the mining industry) in a bad light,” he writes in
the report A Flawed Foundation.

Kneen further charged that the information provided by Golder is
“biased, inaccurate and incomplete,” that it “misrepresent[s] the
nature of environmental regulation and health protection” and that it
“presents assumptions and theories as facts.”

Representatives from the Government of Nunavut were not available for
immediate comment on their choice of Golder Associates to conduct
research for the public forums.

Consultation meetings were held in Baker Lake, Iqaluit and Cambridge
Bay in spring, 2011. Comments were also accepted by internet and
telephone submission. According to a report by Brubacher Development
Strategies Incorporated, local residents from communities throughout
the territory asked many questions and voiced a variety of opinions on
the possibility of uranium mining in Nunavut.

While some residents spoke about the potential employment uranium
mining could bring to Nunavut, others voiced concerns about the
potential impacts of uranium mining on the environment. Major concerns
included the potential for mine roads to impact caribou migrations,
the possibility of contamination of wildlife and water and potential
impacts on human health. Many of these concerns were related to the
possibility that impacts on wildlife might negatively affect Inuit
hunting and fishing. Some indicated that they had moral objections to
mining activity in their territory that might support the creation of
nuclear weapons. Some residents expressed frustration that the
majority of the panel the government commissioned for the consultation
meetings was supportive of uranium mining, which they felt ensured
that discussions during the consultation meetings were also biased.

On June 6, 2012, the Nunavut government released the results of the
consultation meetings and a “new” policy statement on uranium mining.

Aside from some minor changes, the new policy statement is essentially
the same as the original guiding principles issued in 2007, and
indicates support for uranium mining subject to five conditions.
Included in these conditions was an assurance that “uranium mined in
Nunavut shall be used only for peaceful and environmentally
responsible purposes,” that the people of Nunavut “must be the major
beneficiaries” of uranium mining and that uranium mining must have the
support of the people of Nunavut “with particular emphasis on
communities close to uranium development.” The policy also stipulated
that environmental standards must be “assured” and that the health and
safety of workers “shall be protected to national standards.”

Makita criticized both the policy and the process by which it was
developed. In a press release, Makita again criticized the
government’s choice to have Golder Associates help develop the uranium
policy. Chair Sandra Inutiq called the consultation process “clearly
not an ‘objective’ policy review” and “biased from the outset.” She
further argued that “the Nunavut government’s ‘public forums’ were a
way to deflect Makita’s call for a public inquiry,” according to the
June 8 press release. Due to what the organization considers to have
been a “flawed process” with an outcome that supports uranium
development, Makita reiterated its position that Nunavut’s
institutions are “incapable of protecting the public interest in
matters of uranium.”

In an e-mail to The Dominion, Makita member Jack Hicks took issue with
the government policy’s assertion that uranium from Nunavut would only
be used for “peaceful and environmentally responsible purposes.”

“We know where and how uranium from Nunavut could end up in nuclear
weapons. Almost everyone I’ve ever spoken with — including people who
are in favour of opening the territory to uranium mining — knows
perfectly well that the [Government of Nunavut] and [Nunavut
Tunngavik, Inc.] have zero control over how uranium will be used if it
leaves the territory.”

“And given that the world has not found a way to safely store the
highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, despite having
spent countless billions of dollars trying, the idea that even
non-military use of nuclear energy can be called ‘environmentally
responsible’ is absurd,” Hicks said.

“What is tragically fascinating is that in a single generation the
Inuit leadership has shifted from holding principled anti-nuclear
positions (for example the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s 1983
Resolution on a Nuclear Free Zone in the Arctic) to repeating the
‘peaceful and environmentally responsible’ lies of the politicians of
the dominant society.”

With regard to the condition that the uranium industry must have the
support of communities close to uranium development, Hicks felt that
only a plebiscite could be used to determine community support.

“This should take the form of a public vote, such as the one that was
held in Baker Lake in 1990. Nothing less than a free and democratic
vote is acceptable. And if a majority vote in favour of the Kiggavik
proposal, so be it.”

On the question of a plebiscite, Inuit from both sides of the issue
agreed with Hicks.

Margaret Niviatsiaq, who strongly supported the Kiggavik mine, told
The Dominion, “There should be [a] vote… if there’s no vote there
will be a lot of conflict between the community and the mine.”

Janet, who was very critical of AREVA’s proposal but stopped short of
expressing opposition, said that there should be a vote “where people
are not intimidated and they can vote freely.”

“Looking at the history of proposed uranium in Baker Lake, I still
feel that there are a lot of people against it.”

[*Due to the controversial nature of AREVA’s proposal, many people
spoke under the condition of anonymity. In these cases, pseudonyms
have been used. Warren Bernauer is a graduate student at York