Nuluujaat Land Guardians set up blockade of Mary River Mine in Nunavut to protest proposed expansion
A solidarity rally in Pond Inlet, Nunavut in support of the Inuit hunters blocking the Mary River Mine’s airstrip and service road. Photo by Enooki Inuarak.
A group of Inuit hunters are using snowmobiles and wooden sleds to blockade the airstrip and service road to the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation owned Mary River open pit iron ore mine on North Baffin Island, Nunavut.
The blockade began around 10 pm on Thursday February 4 and by Saturday February 6 there were 10 men participating with more expected to join with supplies.
They are from the communities of Pond Inlet, Igloolik and Arctic Bay.
The Oakville, Ontario-based company that owns the mine wants to double its annual mining output there to 12 million tonnes a year. It says the expansion would have a lifespan of about 30 years. It would also involve building a 110-kilometre railway from the mine to Milne Port and increasing shipping in Milne Inlet.
Those at the blockade say the mine expansion will harm local wildlife including caribou and narwhal, two key sources of food for impacted communities.
There are concerns that railway construction will damage seal hunting grounds and that caribou would not be able to cross the train tracks. There are also concerns that the narwhal in Milne Inlet would be impacted by the port expansion and increased shipping associated with the bigger mine.
There are already concerns that the iron ore dust from the current blasting at the mine has polluted waters used for drinking and cooking.
One of the hunters at the blockade told a reporter by satellite phone that there had been an agreement with Baffinland to have access to their facilities and internet but that they have been cut off from those services.
Baffinland says it respects the right to protest, but that the blockade means the food, supply and crew change flights for the 700 workers at the mine have been suspended. On Tuesday February 9 the company indicated that it would seek a court injunction the following morning against the blockade.
Pond Inlet RCMP have said they are aware of the blockade and that they are monitoring the situation and are in contact with the hunters.
The final hearings of the Nunavut Impact Review Board on the mine expansion have just concluded, but additional hearings have now been scheduled to take place sometime in March in Iqaluit. Once the hearings have ended the review board has 45 days to make recommendations to federal Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal who will either approve or reject the mine expansion.
UPDATE: On February 10, a Nunavut judge issued an interim order requiring the Inuit to allow workers at the mine to fly out. The lawyer for the Inuit says the injunction is not necessary because they have not stopped workers from leaving. The order is in place until the court hearing resumes on Saturday February 13.
UPDATE: On February 11, APTN reported: “Court documents identify seven people as being on the site, and according to a press release from their lawyer –Iqaluit based Lori Idlout- they have named themselves the Nuluujaat Land Guardians. Nuluujaat is the Inuktitut name for the Mary River area.”