Court documents filed by protesters who were blocking access to the Baffinland Mary River iron ore site show a growing relationship between the mine and a group of Inuit looking to influence mining activity on North Baffin Island.
An interim injunction remains in place against protesters while Nunavut Justice Sue Cooper decides on whether to extend it.
In an affidavit filed Feb. 13, lawyers for the Nuluujaaq Land Guardians – the group that occupied Baffinland’s airstrip and access road – included a series of text messages. The messages were between Baffinland CEO Brian Penney, other top Baffinland officials and Neeko Inuarak.
Inuarak is the executive director of the Qikiqtaaluk Uangnangani Katujjiqatigiit (QUK).
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) represent Inuit in the Eastern Arctic, and under the Nunavlut Land Claim, are responsible for Inuit owned land, just like the iron ore deposit Mary River sits on.
The new group QUK says it’s not trying to supplant QIA as the Inuit group responsible for being landlord to Baffinland, but are looking to form their own business arm to get a bigger piece of the benefits from the mine to the communities closest to it.
On Feb. 2, 3 and 4, Inuarak and Penney wrote and texted, discussing those opportunities, and what it would take to get QUK’s support for the proposed expansion of the Mary River project.
Baffinland was pitching a doubling of production and the addition of a railway. That expansion is part of why seven Nuluujaat Land Guardians blocked the mine for a week.
In an affidavit filed in the Nunavut Court of Justice, Inuaraq states, “Those phone calls were about future potential contracts and agreements that Baffinland and QUK could agree to in support for QUK support for the Baffinland Phase 2 at the NIRB hearings.”
According to Inuarak, the offer was substantial.
“Discussions on contracts included offers from Baffinland of a ten-year monitoring program and to build QUK offices rent free for three years, among other ideas. Brian (Penney) engaged in these exchanges but did not agree to these specific proposals,” said Inuarak in the affidavit.
The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) started public hearings on the proposed Mary River expansion on Jan. 25 in Pond Inlet, NU. Due to the large number of members of the public who wanted to weigh in, they extended the hearings until Feb. 6, with another two weeks scheduled later in the spring in Iqaluit.
The first note in Inuarak’s affidavit is dated Feb. 1, and Inuarak is asking for Penney’s help in getting a retraction from a local newspaper, Nunavut News.
“Brian, this is Nko (Neeko). Can you call Nunavut News and tell them to take my ‘quote’ from the article?” Inuarak writes.
In his response, Penney lays out his plan for dealing with press coverage they disagree with.
“I have called several times before for retractions, and never had success. If I call, the message they print will be ‘Baffinland CEO Wants QUK Quote From Neeko Removed.’ That may even be worse.” Penney wrote in reply.
“I can try if you wish, but in my experience that only makes it worse. The best thing to do is to issue our positive comments, assuring the QUK does not represent the protestors, Baffinland has solicited their help to bring this to a peaceful resolution.”
Inuarak agrees, writing back, “All right, sounds good. In that case, don’t contact him, thanks.”
Both QUK and the Nuluujaq Land Guardians maintain they are very separate, and Inuarak’s text to Penney indicates that.
Inuarak wrote, “You will need to work with the hunters, I can’t help you with anything else.” He added “I can’t talk on behalf of hunters, you need to speak to them directly.”
At the same time he was texting Penney for help with the media, Inuarak was in discussions with other Baffinland officials.
In an email he provided the court, he had scheduled a meeting between himself, Baffinland Vice President of Sustainable Development Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland Vice President of Community and Strategic Development Udlu Hanson, and Baffinland Manager of Government Relations and Public Affairs Andrew Moore.
What happened in that meeting is not in court documents, but the day after, Inuarak thanked Baffinland for taking time out of their busy NIRB hearing schedule to meet with QUK, adding, “We are happy to start the process right away also.”
That meeting was on Feb. 1, on Feb. 4, Penney sends Inuarak an email that sketches out some of what Baffinland can provide QUK, and what QUK needs to do to pave the road.
“If you are not already working on it, you need to be a (sic) Inuit company, not a not for profit corporation. We can help you become a Preferred Inuit Company according to the IIBA (Inuit Impact Benefits Agreement) and listed with NTI (Nunavut Tunngavik),” wrote Penney.
Penney goes farther, with the offer of a potential sole sourced contract to QUK, writing, “I believe we have good standing to sole source an agreement with a Pond Inlet company as Pond is critical to the monitoring and expertise IQ (Inuit Qauijimajatuqangit – Inuit Traditional Knowledge) in the area.”
Penney concludes by writing to the QUK executive director, “We will need to follow the rules of the IIBA, or the contract can be dissolved. Our offer sheet will be contingent on you becoming a preferred Inuit Company.”
That note was written by Penney in the afternoon of Feb. 4. That evening is when the Nuluujaat Land Defenders first occupied the Mary River airstrip and access road.
The next day, at 7:38 a.m., on the morning of Feb. 5, Penney writes back – after protestors had taken the site, “Can you call me cell as soon as possible this morning?”
By afternoon, Penney had put a stop to all deal making with QUK.
In a short note to Inuarak he wrote, “Unfortunately, due to recent events, I am unable to continue negotiations in this tense atmosphere. I will be eager to discuss opportunities should the situation change.”
These documents were entered prior to Penney’s scheduled appearance in Nunavut court. Lawyers for the Nuluujaat Land Guardians are scheduled to cross-examine the Baffinland CEO on Feb. 18 and 19.