The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

    FALL 2004

WINTER 2005

PAGE 6

OUTFIT 118 & 119

 

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Quebec's Inuit want a government apology and financial compensation for a mass slaughter of sled dogs that they claim plunged their remote communities into decades of dependency.

More than 500 dogsled teams occupied 15 communities in northern Quebec when the population totalled 2,500 in 1965. About 10,000 Inuit now reside north of the 55th parallel in a vast territory known as Nunavik.

 Without access to the sled dogs, hunters were unable to trap and provide income for their families. It created a level of dependency and physical inaction that prompted many to drink heavily and simply wait for monthly welfare cheques. Government officials viewed stray dogs as a health threat because of rabies. Some of the animals were also blamed for attacks on people, including a child who died.

The Inuit say the dogs were far from dangerous and actually helped save the lives of hunters by guiding them home in severe snowstorms, rescuing them when they fell through ice and protecting them from wild animals. Snow machines replaced the animals. Although they brought speed to the tundra, the costly devices couldn't replace the hunting prowess the dogs had provided.

The slaughter of Inuit dogs, known as Qimmiit, has long been a sore spot for community members. In 2000, Makivik and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association lodged official complaints with both levels of government and sought public inquiries.

A new 54-minute film called the “Echo of the Last Howl,” on the killing of sled dogs open in Kuujjuaq in January. The film was produced by Makivik Corporation, which hosted the premiere of the film. Earlier, Makivik submitted a brief called the “The Slaughtering of Nunavik Qimmiit” to the federal and provincial governments..

“It seems they just wanted to wipe out the Inuit by getting rid of their livelihood,” says one elder, one of some 100 people interviewed for the documentary.

The recollections are mixed with old photographs and re-creations of sledding that once dominated the open plains of snow and ice.

Compliant Inuit are seen shepherding their dogs to a bay where police shot the animals. Mounds of the dead huskies were later burned.

Dogsledding has experienced a resurgence among the Inuit since 1999. About 30 teams participate in recreational races. Few still engage in hunting.

The Government of Nunavut confirmed what hunters in Nunavut have long been waiting for: an increase, by 115 across the territory, of annual polar bear quotas for the next 14 years.

“It’s a good news story, and it will benefit our people,” said Olayuk Akesuk, Nunavut’s minister of environment. “It’s not about economics, but putting more polar bear meat on your table.”

The number of polar bears that can be legally harvested every year in Nunavut is now 518. These increases mean the total allowable harvest for Nunavut is close to what it was between 1992 to 1996, when about 500 polar bears were killed a year. The increase compensates for the loss of the polar bear hunt from the McClintock Channel, cut from 32 to zero in 2001 after an aerial survey determined the polar bear population had taken a nosedive.

The numbers are also higher this year because Inuit knowledge is being used as a basis for the new management plans. For years, hunters have said polar bear numbers are up in several Nunavut populations. More nuisance bears have been spotted in or near communities.

The management plans and quota numbers are outlined in memoranda of understanding, or MOUs. They recommend a total allowable harvest per community based on the current scientific numbers for the first seven years after a population survey is done, and Inuit knowledge for the following seven years. According to the text of the MOUs, all parties will meet at least once every seven years “to review and update information and set direction for the continuing management of polar bears.”

A solid MOU package is important because Nunavut, unlike Nunavik or Greenland, has a U.S.-approved sport polar bear hunt. Under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, bearskins and trophies may only be imported from areas of Canada that have healthy bear populations and a sustainable hunt — and can prove it to the U.S. authorities’ satisfaction.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency awarded $55,588 to six groups to participate in the federal panel review of  the Eastmain 1-A and Rupert diversion project. The funds will help the groups prepare for participation in the public  consultation on the conformity of the impact statement. During this phase,  the public will be invited to review the content of the impact statement and determine if the information presented is complete and conforms to the  directives issued for its preparation. Details on this written consultation will be transmitted once the impact statement has been made public in both  official languages. The proponents, Hydro-Québec and its subsidiary, the Société d'énergie de la Baie James, plan to submit their impact statement in the early 2005.

The recipients of participant funding are: Révérence Rupert, the Municipality of Sanikiluaq, Sierra Club of Canada, the Crees of the Waskaganish First Nation, the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association and the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association. The Eastmain-1-A and Rupert diversion project is located in northwestern  Quebec, east of James Bay. The project includes:

the diversion of some of the waters (up to 800 m3/s) from the  Rupert River watershed into the Eastmain River watershed;

–  the construction of a powerplant (up to 770 MV) on the Eastmain 1 reservoir;

– the addition of structures at the La Sarcelle site, at the outlet of the Opinaca reservoir.

To achieve this, the project calls for the construction of four dams, 51 dikes, two diversion bays flooding an area of 395 km2, 12,000 m of diversion channels or tunnels and two permanent access roads.

The Kivalliq region’s Meadowbank gold mine project entered a new stage recently when Cumberland Resources Ltd. of Vancouver declared that their draft environmental impact statement, or “EIS,” is now in the hands of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

For residents of Baker Lake and other Kivalliq communities, it means they will get a chance to attend public hearings, ask questions and get more information about how the mine might affect the environment. The Meadowbank River drains into the lower Back River and is a regular route for those canoeing from the Back to the Thelon system.

Cumberland Resources is now at least two years behind the aggressive schedule they set for themselves in 2003. At that time, they predicted the Meadowbank mine would get all its permits by April 2004, enter construction by March 2005, and produce gold bars by December 2006. But they’re still predicting that when it does start up, the mine will last for 12 to 14 years, and produce at least three million ounces of gold.

The company plans to extract ore from three open pits, which will overlap with areas now covered by small lakes. To gain access to the ore that sits beneath those lakes, Cumberland will build dikes, remove the fish, and drain the lakes.

They’ll likely use a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil to blast ore out of the three open pits. That easy-to-mix combination is often used by terrorists, such as the car bomb that Timothy McVey used in the Oklahoma City bombing, so the company will have to use special handling and storage methods for its ammonium nitrate stockpiles.

The biggest open pit, called “Portage,” would form a huge, oval-shaped gash in the earth: about two kilometres long, 200 to 400 metres wide, and 175 metres deep. Nearby, a smaller, rounder pit called “Goose Island” would be about 150 metres in diameter and 150 metres deep.

The third open pit, called “Vault,” is projected to be 900 metres long, 600 metres wide and 185 metres deep, and would sit about 5 km north of the other two. An on-site mill and processing plant will crush ore into small pieces so that pure gold can be extracted from it, and then melted into gold bars. Cumberland will ship the gold to market on Boeing 737 aircraft that will land and take off from an on-site jet airstrip.

To help extract every last ounce of gold, Cumberland will treat some of the ore with cyanide, a deadly poison. The company says it will take steps to ensure that none of the cyanide escapes into the ecosystem.

To supply the mine, the company will use a barge landing facility and storage area several miles east of Baker Lake. The storage area would hold fuel tanks and other supplies, which would be transported along a haulage road.

After getting comments from various stakeholders, including territorial and federal government agencies, the company will be expected to produce a final EIS. After that document is produced, the board will be able to schedule public hearings, possibly as early as the fall, Briscoe said.

The company has yet to complete an Inuit impact and benefits agreement with the Kivalliq Inuit Association, and the mine may not go ahead until they sign one.

The Meadowbank gold mine project already appears to enjoy wide support among residents of Baker Lake, where the unemployment rate stands at around 26 per cent. At a public information session held there in 2003, a member of the community’s hamlet council urged residents to “forget about the fish and support the project for the jobs,” according to minutes of the meeting produced by Cumberland Resources.

To construct the mine, they’ll need about 350 workers. To operate it, they’ll need about 250. But only a quarter to a third of those workers are likely to be Inuit from Baker Lake and the Kivalliq region.

 

 Fall 2004/Winter 2005        Outfit 118 & 119 

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