Some Nunavut residents wonder where the mining company’s money went

IQALUIT — A company that runs Nunavut’s largest mining operation says it has given tens of millions of dollars in contracts to Inuit businesses in the hamlet of Sanirajak, but some residents say they don’t know where the money went. One Oct.

IQALUIT — A company that runs Nunavut’s largest mining operation says it has given tens of millions of dollars in contracts to Inuit businesses in the hamlet of Sanirajak, but some residents say they don’t know where the money went.

An Oct. 18, 2021, memo from Baffinland Iron Mines, which operates the Mary River iron ore mine near Pond Inlet, summarizes community engagement with neighbors.

A section of the memo highlights direct benefits to Sanirajak, a facility of about 850 people, including $42.9 million awarded to Inuit businesses since 2018.

Baffinland told The Canadian Press in a statement that it could not provide details of the money, including the names of its contractors to Sanirajak, because its business contracts are confidential.

He said the $42.9 million represents the value of contracts awarded to Inuit companies that carried out work at his Mary River and Milne Inlet sites, with most of the costs being labor, materials , equipment or facilities.

“The contractor’s profit is only part of the $42.9 million figure,” he said.

Baffinland added that it defines an Inuit business in an agreement with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the group that represents Inuit in the Baffin region and acts as the owner of the mining company.

The agreement stipulates that an Inuit company must carry out the majority of its activities in the Nunavut area and be registered with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land claims organization that represents the Inuit of Nunavut and maintains a register of all Inuit businesses in the territory.

The Canadian Press posed questions to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association but received no response.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. said it classifies Inuit businesses as an organization in which 51% of the voting shares are owned by Inuit, an Inuit-controlled co-operative or an Inuit sole proprietorship.

The registry lists three Inuit businesses in Sanirajak: Pilitak Enterprises Ltd., a construction company; the Sanirajak Cooperative; and Pirursiak Arctic Tours.

Annie-Claude Gélinas, director of Pilitak, said in an email that the company had never done business with Baffinland.

Joyce Arnardjuak, director of Pirursiak, said she had not done business with the mining company either.

Nick Snider, the co-op’s general manager, said in an interview that the co-op helps ferry employees to Baffinland planes and has spent $60,000 on community food baskets distributed by Baffinland.

But that doesn’t come close to the nearly $43 million.

“There’s no such large amount of money going through us,” Snider said.

The mining company pays money quarterly to the cooperative based on the number of community employees working for the mine, he said.

“It was about $16,000 or something per quarter,” he said.

Snider said Baffinland contributes a lot to the community and is Sanirajak’s biggest employer. About 70 people work at the mine.

Dora Anguilianuk, one of three Inuit shareholders in Pilitak Enterprises, said she could not report any deals made with Baffinland.

“I have no idea, because I’ve never had business in Baffinland,” she said.

Anguilianuk said she was responsible for supervising Inuit staff.

“When there are projects going on… I mostly take care of the girls in the kitchen, the cleaners,” she said.

She said she could not say how much she received from Pilitak as a shareholder, but she received the money once a year.

Shareholders have annual meetings to discuss upcoming projects, she said.

“We basically discuss the projects that took place that year and the things that will be worked on in the communities.”

Anguilianuk said the company struggled to recruit and retain Inuit staff.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to find people here,” she says.

Joelie Kaenerk, who represents Sanirajak in the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, praised Baffinland for its commitment to the community.

“Over the past few years, I believe Baffinland has done very well with their community information tours,” he said.

But he added that he hadn’t seen millions of dollars from Baffinland flowing into the community.

“I haven’t seen that $42 million myself,” said Kaenerk, who added that he planned to raise the issue in the Legislative Assembly.

The mining company has proposed to expand its operations by doubling production and building a railway to the sea. This proposal is currently before the Nunavut Impact Review Board and a decision is expected in May.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 29, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press


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