Iron Ore mining in Baffin island, Nunavut territory, Canada

In Baffin island, the Inuit council agree to iron ore extraction (about 6 million tons per year) against the recommendations of the Nunavut Impact Review Board. Meanwhile, building of a railway is in dispute.


Nunavut is the largest in area and the second-least populous of Canada's provinces and territories. It is becoming a "commodity extraction frontier", with uranium and iron ore resources. One of the world's most remote, sparsely settled regions, it has a population of 36,000, mostly Inuit, spread over an area of just over 1,750,000 km2.

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Basic Data
NameIron Ore mining in Baffin island, Nunavut territory, Canada
SiteBaffin island
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Specific CommoditiesIron ore
Project Details and Actors
Project Details"Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation (Baffinland)’s Mary River mine site on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, is one of the most northern mines in the world. Amongst the richest iron ore deposits ever discovered, the Mary River Property consists of nine-plus high-grade iron ore deposits that can be mined, crushed, and screened into marketable products" [1]

The company adds:

"We are currently focused on mining Deposit No. 1. Our final product, lumps and fines, are then shipped through our port facility at Milne Inlet, approximately 100 kilometres from the mine site. Due to the quality of the ore, no processing is required before shipping it to market, reducing overall impact to the environment and keeping production costs low. While the mine became operational in 2015 with the first shipments of iron ore to Europe, the Mary River Operation has been an operation over 55 years in the making.

In July 1962, Mary River’s high-grade iron ore – now known as Deposit No. 1 – was first noted by Murray Watts and Ron Sheardown. The two pilots were conducting an airborne reconnaissance project prospecting across central and northern Baffin Island. In 1986, newly-created Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation acquired the original land claim to develop a mine on the property. Early in the 2000s, we advanced plans to develop the mine. The original plans outlined the development of an 18 million tonne per annum (Mtpa) operation, focused on mining Deposit No. 1. The project also included the development of a railway approximately 150 kilometres south to Steensby Inlet.

In 2013, we decided on a phased-approach to development, incorporating community feedback along the way. We continued to refine our operations to accommodate the challenges of northern mining. On January 13, 2013, we proposed changes to the original project to the Nunavut Impact Review Board. On April 29, 2014, the Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada approved the positive recommendation by the Nunavut Impact Review Board. This gave Baffinland the go-ahead for the Early Revenue Phase (ERP) amendment to the Mary River Project involving the seasonal shipping of 3.5 million tonnes of iron ore from Milne Inlet on the north coast of Baffin Island."

So the actual production is of 3.5 million tons per annum. [1]. In 2018 the company expect to ship 5 milion tons of ores. Meanwhile the construction of the railway is in dispute. Transport to harbour is an issue because the trucks carrying the ore destroy the melting ice of the tote road. The permafrost is melting.

The whole initial project by Baffinland, as seen in 2008, would have cost 4.1 billion USD. (Globe and Mail, 19 Febr. 2008).
Level of Investment (in USD)4,000,000,000
Potential Affected Population8 000
Start Date2012
Relevant government actorsNIRB, Nunavut Impact Review Board

Nunavut goverment

Government of Canada
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersQIA, Qikiqtani Inuit Association
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Inuit hunters
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of alternative proposals
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Mine tailing spills, Other Environmental impacts
OtherCoal dust. Melting of ice roads. Affecting caribou and other animal life.
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
OtherInuit authorities are being coopted though royalty payments and promises of jobs
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The social and environmental effects that large scale iron mining will have are not yet fully known, and the construction of a railway to the harbour (as an alternative to heavy truck traffic) is being debated. Local Inuit opposition has been weak.
Sources and Materials

[5] Scobie, W. & Rodgers, K. (2013). Contestations of resource extraction projects via digital media in two Nunavut communities. Études/Inuit/Studies, 37(2), 83–101. (explains resistance to uranium mining in Baker Lake and to iron ore mining in Baffin Island)
[click to view]

Steering Our Own Ship?” An Assessment of Self-Determination and Self-Governance for Community Development in Nunavut by Roger Ritsema, Jackie Dawson, Miriam Jorgensen, and Brenda Macdougall. The Northern Review, 41 (2015): 157–180
[click to view]


[1] Mary River project, description by the company Baffinland Iron Mines Corp which was created in 1986
[click to view]

[2]Baffinland pitches Mary River-Milne Inlet railway for Nunavut iron mine. Change of plan catches Qikiqtani Inuit Association by surprise. THOMAS ROHNER. Nunatsiaq News. 19 Febr. 2016
[click to view]

[3[ Agreement between QIA Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland Iron Ores Corp, Oct 2018
[click to view]

[4] Inuit org helps Baffinland overturn Nunavut review board’s advice by Jim Bell. 2 Oct. 2018. Nunatsiaq news.
[click to view]

Globe and Mail, 11 Jan 2013, by Pav Jordan. Baffinland Iron Mines sharply scales back Mary River project.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Source:_Beth Brown, Nunatsiaq News, 9 Oct 2018
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Baffinland's camp at Milne Inlet.
[click to view]

Other CommentsIn 2018, partly in response to urgent pleas from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, the federal government has rejected advice from the Nunavut Impact Review and ordered that Baffinland be allowed to increase ore production at the Mary River iron mine from 4.2 million metric tonnes a year to six million metric tonnes a year for 2018 and 2019. Nunatsiaq News, 2 Oct 2018.[4].
Meta Information
Last update12/11/2018