Okalik Eegeesiak, President of QIA Speech at NIRB Final Hearings (Iqaluit) – Proposed Mary River Project|
To the members of the Board and the staff of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, I thank-you for making this event possible. To all registered intervenors, I thank-you for your participation in the NIRB process. To all other participated and observers, I thank you for your attendance at these sessions.
I am Okalik Eegeesiak, President of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association which represents Inuit interests in the Qikiqtani Region.
Inuit have long known about the unique area called Nuluuyaat. The mountain of ore which stands tallest in the surrounding region has been used by Inuit as a key point of reference. Nuluuyaat also represents another form of landmark for Inuit. Nuluuyaat is a point of transition for Inuit which is characterized by actively applying key provisions in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreements, for which there is no precedence in this region.
The Mary River Project, should it be developed, will transform the Baffin Region, not just Nuluuyaat. Our collective responsibility is to do everything we can to ensure that the Project impacts are minimized and benefits to Inuit and the region are maximized.
As land owners and stewards of our natural resources, QIA has a very particular set of responsibilities in relation to environmental assessment. We take this responsibility very, very seriously and have invested an enormous amount of effort and made significant financial investment into ensuring active community engagement in this environmental review, developing and operating community review committees, contracting professional technical services, designing conditions appropriate for a project of this magnitude, and in building a working relationship with the Company.
As a result, I am very confident in stating that we have produced very solid submissions at all stages of the review. We have solicited and incorporated Inuit opinions, concerns and information as evidenced by the 100s of pages of Project Review Committee meeting minutes which are available to all parties. Additionally, we created a new department just for the purpose of managing and coordinating the environmental review and IIBA and Land Lease processes for this and other projects which may happen.
As the Institution of Public Government tasked with reviewing this project, QIA encourages NIRB to consult the extensive public record, particularly as it relates to seeking resolution of issues raised before NIRB. The comments shared before NIRB at these hearings should also be understood as a culmination of effort, as opposed to an extensive list of yet unresolved issues. Therefore, QIA strongly encourages NIRB to review the full public record in coming to determinations on the proposed project.
Understanding the depth and detail of submissions to date for Final Hearings QIA has assembled a team who have committed themselves to representing the interests of their communities. I therefore encourage NIRB to take great care and give great weight to understanding the relative importance of what these members raise and how they are seeking resolution to their concerns. As an Inuit Organization these are the voices that QIA supports. These are the people who will be drawn upon make the proposed project successful. These are the voices of those most potentially impacted.
I have said before and I will say it again here – we are not against industrial development. In fact we fully understand that such development is a necessary part of our future. This is central to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and is central to the role of QIA. However, we do not consider industrial development as an automatic solution to the very real problems that exist in our communities. If done with a conscious commitment to “make it right” a project such as Mary River, it can be part of the solution. That said, if improper steps are taken, or if “the right solutions” don’t fit within the project goals or timelines then this project also has the potential to only make things worse.
Therefore we insist on development that is environmentally sound, respects our culture, provides real and sustained benefits and adopts a management philosophy that is receptive and flexible to operational adjustments when required. That is why we have placed so much emphasis on monitoring and adaptive management in our submissions to NIRB. QIA looks forward to working with NIRB, the proponent and other parties to make monitoring and adaptive management a cornerstone for the success of this project should it proceed.
It is also important for me to make reference here to the IIBA and Land Lease negotiations that have been occurring simultaneously with our work on the environmental review. We view the items as the key tools for us to acquire benefits and manage relationships with respect to Project.
QIA believes that healthy communities continuously improve their physical and social environments including the resources and skills that people need to live and prosper. In order to take up the opportunities associated with economic development and to manage the wealth it can create we need a healthier, more educated population confident in their language and traditions. The IIBA will help us achieve this.
This IIBA is being crafted to complement our approach and recommendations for Terms and Conditions to the Project Certificate, particularly in the areas of monitoring and project management. Because it is an agreement between the Company and Inuit, it is important that whatever we achieve in the IIBA is “in addition” to what the review process concludes and will assist all other parties with monitoring and management responsibilities.
We are poised on the brink of a very big decision – as I said earlier – one that will transform the region and our lives. We must work together to carefully consider the results of all the hard work done to bring us to this Final Hearing. We are now at a point of decision and we must make the right decisions.