Writing for the Dominion, Warren Bernauer explores the issues surrounding Nunavut's pro-uranium stance and the grassroots effort to let the people, not the government, decide the future of uranium mining at Baker Lake.BAKER LAKE—A conflict over a uranium mine in the far north, four decades in the making, has pitted members of a small Inuit community against their territorial government and a French company.
Inuit in the community of Baker Lake, located west of Hudson Bay in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, have raised a hue over what they call a faulty, biased process and the Government of Nunavut's uncritical support for uranium mining.
John*, an Inuk from Baker Lake who spoke with The Dominion, said the Nunavut Government’s support for uranium mining was biased.
“The new government policy with regards to uranium, I think that’s biased,” he said. “Them knowing their own people don’t really want uranium mining and the impact it would have on the people. We’ve heard for years now the environmental impact it’s going to have in our community.”
He later commented, “I think there should be a ban on uranium mining...no uranium mining in Nunavut, period.”
Bill*, also an Inuk from Baker Lake, said that he was unsure whether or not the new policy truly reflects the opinions of Nunavummiut (“the people of Nunavut”).
“I think they should have held a [public] vote on the issue.”
Outrage over the government’s new policy has been expressed by Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit (Makita), (“The People of Nunavut Can Rise Up”), the region’s only environmental NGO, which called the process to develop the policy “biased” and “flawed.” High on the list of Makita’s complaints is the fact that the government relied on consultants with close ties to the uranium mining industry to develop its uranium policy.
In an e-mail to The Dominion, Makita member Jack Hicks took issue with the government policy’s assertion that uranium from Nunavut would only be used for “peaceful and environmentally responsible purposes.”
“We know where and how uranium from Nunavut could end up in nuclear weapons. Almost everyone I've ever spoken with—including people who are in favour of opening the territory to uranium mining—knows perfectly well that the [Government of Nunavut] and [Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc.] have zero control over how uranium will be used if it leaves the territory.”
“And given that the world has not found a way to safely store the highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, despite having spent countless billions of dollars trying, the idea that even non-military use of nuclear energy can be called 'environmentally responsible' is absurd,” Hicks said.
“What is tragically fascinating is that in a single generation the Inuit leadership has shifted from holding principled anti-nuclear positions (for example the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s 1983 Resolution on a Nuclear Free Zone in the Arctic) to repeating the 'peaceful and environmentally responsible' lies of the politicians of the dominant society.”
*Due to the controversial nature of AREVA’s proposal, many people spoke under the condition of anonymity. In these cases, pseudonyms have been used.
Warren Bernauer is a graduate student at York University.