Nunavut miners hear Inuit businesses face “impossible logistical challenges”
"You'd think the Inuit business community would be thriving"
There’s lots of mining activity going on in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region — but Charlie Lyall of Taloyoak sees big problems for local and regional Inuit businesses.
“You’d think the Inuit business community would be thriving,” Lyall said in his pithy presentation April 16 to the Nunavut Mining Symposium on the business potential of mining in Nunavut.
Inuit businesses should be thriving, however, money just goes sloshing out of the territory to the South, said Lyall, a former president and CEO of the Kitikmeot Corp., now involved in many joint-venture businesses, including Matrix, which provides a variety of services mining and mineral exploration companies.
Lyall had lots of criticism to throw around during his talk — including some at the administrators of the Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuti, or NNI — the policy that sets out how the Government of Nunavut should comply with Article 24 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in giving preferential treatment to Inuit- and Nunavut-owned businesses when awarding procurement contracts.
Lyall said he’d like to see the end of paperwork that businesses must file annually with the NNI to prove their Inuit status.
“There’s got to be a simpler way,” he said.
Inuit businesses in the smaller communities, like his home town of Taloyoak, population 850, already face “impossible logistical changes,” which include poor telecommunications.
“We still use fax machines,” he said. “Believe it or not, it’s out of necessity.”
And there’s the winter weather, which can keep people at home for days while their telephones ring and business messages pile up in their offices.
Sometimes supplies needed for projects don’t make it in, either.
“If materials don’t make it in on the ship, the project becomes a multi-year campaign” — and one with skyrocketing costs and low profit, Lyall said.
At the same time, Nunavut businesses are supposed to compete with business with international links and good access to services, which don’t require a $2,000 airline ticket to get out of town.
In Nunavut, you can pay five times more for an envelope than a stamp — and that’s if you can find an envelope, Lyall added.
Yet mining and other activities in Nunavut must benefit Nunavummiut because “our future depends on it.”
Even Nunavut’s largest community, Iqaluit, population 7,250, faces its challenges, said its economic development officer, Joamie Eegeesiak, during the same session.
Despite the city’s 400 businesses, a lack of housing, services and the high cost of shipping and materials make it hard for businesses to survive, she said.
The Nunavut Mining Symposium wraps up April 16 with an evening gala and awards ceremony.