QIA unhappy with Mary River Inuit impact-benefit deal’s implementation
“Are we where we hoped to be when we signed the IIBA? We're not.”
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association wants to see progress on implementation of the 2013 Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement that’s supposed to ensure Inuit in Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region benefit from the Mary River mine on north Baffin.
But negotiators from the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. have not been interested — until recently — in implementing the IIBA.
That’s what Stephen Williamson-Bathory, director of major projects for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, told the QIA’s board of directors on Feb. 18 at their meeting in Iqaluit.
“Are we where we hoped to be when we signed the IIBA? We’re not,” Williamson-Bathory said in a presentation to the board.
Among other things, the IIBA calls for co-operation between Baffinland and QIA on various committees, whose members decide on implementation policies — and then make sure there’s a process in place to carry these through.
Yet, until a recent shakeup at Baffinland, which brought in new top management, Williamson-Bathory said little was happening.
“Now Baffinland is committed to developing processes [to implement the IIBA] — we haven’t had that before,” he said.
Olayuk Akesuk, the board member from Cape Dorset, who also works on the IIBA implementation portfolio, told board members that communication has improved recently.
That now means monthly conference calls between the QIA and mining company representatives.
“The commitment from [Baffinland] is much better than before,” Akesuk said.
But the five communities most affected by the mine — Clyde River, Arctic Bay, Hall Beach, Igloolik and Pond Inlet — haven’t taken full advantage of the IIBA yet either, Akesuk said.
For example, the business capacity fund set up to help Inuit entrepreneurs win contracts at the mine, was underused in 2015 with some communities submitting no proposals to access the fund, Akesuk said.
And the lack of interest from residents of those communities in working at the mine has Baffinland and the QIA thinking of opening preferential job possibilities up to other communities, board members heard at the Feb. 18 meeting.
In terms of overall Inuit employment, the mine has yet to live up to its potential.
The proportion of Inuit within the Mary River workforce has actually decreased since the IIBA was signed, Williamson-Bathory told board members.
Beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement work only 17 or 18 per cent of the person-hours worked at the mine, he said.
The goal is to raise that number to 25 per cent by the end of the year.
“Setting the goal alone won’t make it happen… but it’s a starting point,” Williamson-Bathory said.
And although Baffinland committed $1-million for training Inuit in the original agreement, Williamson-Bathory said the company has committed that money for the first time this year.
The Baffin Inuit organization is also renegotiating the agreement with Baffinland in light of the company’s Phase II proposal, pitched in 2014.
That proposal, which includes tripling the amount of iron ore shipped through Milne Inlet, increasing the shipping season to 10 months per year and constructing a railway to Milne Inlet, must first undergo a full review by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
The revised IIBA will specifically target Inuit representation on the mine’s workforce, as well as address the lack of Inuit workers working for contractors hired by Baffinland,.
The IIBA sets out the working relationship between Baffin Inuit and the mining company, which began shipping iron ore to Europe from Milne Inlet near Eclipse Sound in August 2015.
The agreement, signed in December 2013, has already filled QIA’s coffers with millions of dollars.
In 2013-14, for example, QIA, which posted yearly deficits leading up to the agreement, declared an $18.7-million surplus.
But QIA president Pauloosie (PJ) Akeeagok told Nunatsiaq News Feb. 18 that the agreement is about much more than money.
“It’s about the land and the people and making sure Inuit, especially those most affected by the mine, benefit,” Akeeagok said.