‘Inuit culture and traditions are not for sale’: Why the government should not approve Baffinland expansion

By Enookie Inuarak, board member for the Mittimatalik HTO 

I’m a hunter from Pond Inlet, Nunavut. My father is also a hunter and I grew up helping him, harvesting subsistence food. The hunters in our community are providers — they share their catch by going through radio or Facebook, asking if people want country food.

Called the “Jewel of the North,” our Baffin Island community is home to around 1,600 Inuit and a favourite spot for tourism. It’s mountainous, very scenic, and just a beautiful place. There used to be an abundance of wildlife — but that’s been changing since Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore mine opened in 2015.

Inuit man and son out on the land in winter
Enookie Inuarak, pictured in Pond Inlet with his son, Oangna. © Enookie Inuarak

Now they’re looking to expand again. Public hearings on their proposal to double output and build a dedicated railway ended in January, and the Nunavut Impact Review Board is sending its recommendation to the federal government in mid-May.

Before it began, we knew there would be impacts, we knew wildlife would start acting differently. We never really thought about losing our culture. But if the expansion is approved, the differences we’ve seen in the past few years will increase, and I’m now afraid for the younger generation.

I have a son — Oangna, he’s turning 11 soon — and a few years ago, I was really excited to start teaching him how to hunt narwhals and other marine mammals like seal. I wanted to teach him what I have been taught. It’s a healthy way of living to be out on the land — it’s good for your mental health and it’s the healthiest food. And when youth in the Arctic go camping and hunting more, they get into less trouble. They’re more alive.

Inuktitut and English stop sign in Pond Inlet, Nunavut
Stop sign in Pond Inlet, Nunavut © Joshua Ostroff

In the past, before the Mary River project really started, there were thousands and thousands of narwhals. You could go to sleep hearing them breathing in the distance. Last summer, we went to the hunting areas where the narwhals usually are, but we were out two weeks and didn’t see any. There was nothing popping, just birds here and there.

It’s almost always like that nowadays. It’s impacting us to the point where I’m not able to teach my son what has been passed down to me.

It affects us, mentally and physically, to have to stop eating the food what we’re used to eating.

In the summertime, we usually cache meat to make what we call igunaq, aged meat, that we save for the winter. But all summer, there weren’t any whales around Pond Inlet.

Nobody cached any meat this past summer.

Wildlife should be in harmony with the environment. It’s quiet out there. If there’s constant noise from the trains, the caribou will move away. There’s so much decline in the population already — as much as 99 per cent — that it’s going to take a while for them to bounce back. A railway built that close to a caribou calving ground will have a long-term impact.


The proposal to double the output from the mine — and the threat to close it, which feels to me like a way to try and bully us into approving what they want— has also created division among people who want to work there and people who are seeing the impacts on the land, wildlife, and the ocean.

Narwhal A pod of male narwhal (Monodon monoceros) in Nunavut, Canada
© Paul Nicklen_National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada

It can be done better, more responsibly, without having to rush the project so much. The current production—six million tonnes a year — is the biggest development in Nunavut. To double that, and add the railway, isn’t responsible.

Baffinland has been going to each individual community and talking about benefits, but we — Pond Inlet — will be the one that will see major impacts if this proposal moves ahead. When they talk about benefits, it feels like they are trying to buy us.

Our culture and traditions are not for sale. To lose my hunting rights or be unable to teach my children how to hunt, how to make food, how to make clothes — those impacts are unacceptable.

These decisions should not be just about money. In the name of the project, are we going to lose our way of life that has been taught for countless generations? If my son loses the knowledge that has been passed down, how is he going to pass it on to his children and their children? How are they even going to know what they lost?

It will be like total colonization.

Originally published in The Hill Times on April 28, 2022