Mary River project owner bankrolls Olympic trip for three Inuit org reps
“[We] may use the trip to promote what Inuit are negotiating for"
Okalik Eegeesiak, the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, along with two representatives from the Qikiqtaaluk Corp. is getting a free ride to the summer Olympic Games in London, paid for by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s majority owners, the steel-making giant Arcelor Mittal.
Arcelor Mittal, the proponents of the Mary River iron-mine project, invited the QIA to attend the Olympics this past May, the same month QIA came out with its official stance supporting the Mary River project.
Baffinland, a private company under the control of Arcelor Mittal and a private investment firm, Iron Ore Holdings LP, wants to transport about 18 million tonnes or more of iron ore from Mary River to Steensby Inlet for markets in Europe and Asia over a period of least 37 years — and some predict up to 100 years.
Eegeesiak said the invitation from Arcelor Mittal, a corporate sponsor of the Mary River project, has not changed QIA’s opinion on it.
Accompanying Eegeesiak will be Levi Barnabas of Arctic Bay, the chair of Qikiqtaaluk Corp., and Harry Flaherty, president of QC.
“One of the things that we have worked on since May is to get insights for other members of QIA and our executives as well as representatives from other impacted communities, so that’s why Levi is going,” Eegeesiak said.
Eegeesiak didn’t want to comment on whether the trip could be seen as a conflict of interest during a period when negotiations on an Inuit impact and benefit agreement are still taking place between the QIA and Baffinland.
“[We] may use the trip to promote what Inuit are negotiating for,” said Eegeesiak, who added that more informal meetings will be held with the executives of the company in London.
Reached before her planned trip on August 2, Eegeesiak said she’s going to tell them that “Inuit support the project” and hopes the company will “agree to the majority of the agreement we would like.”
The discussions would also strengthen ties between the majority shareholders of Baffinland and the QIA, Eegeesiak said.
“This is an opportunity for QIA to promote and possibly be a bit educated by Mittal executives and others working with them,” she said.
Although Eegeesiak said she feels it is appropriate to go on the trip, which will run from August 4 to August 10, she also said she understands why some people may be upset at her decision.
“Yes I can understand why. Given they might not be informed, because, like I said, the board supports the project,” Eegeesiak said.
The trip comes a week after the Nunavut Impact Review Board held public hearings in Nunavut concerning the environmental and socio-economic impacts of project.
“This is post-NIRB. They have already had their hearings, so it is now in their hands to make any recommendation they want to the minister. And then the minister will decide either way whether the project will go ahead,” she said.
“If [the project] goes ahead then it’s going to be a long-term relationship with Baffinland and Mittal. So I think this is one of the positive steps that QIA is taking.
Eegeesiak said she plans to attend some Olympic events where she will cheer on her fellow Canadians.