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Iron Ore mining in Baffin island, Nunavut territory, Canada


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.

Nunavut is also the world's northernmost permanently inhabited place.  There is a story of defence of local and ethnic identity,  a successful indigenous Land Claim, and there is  also a story of mining in the area, particularly in recent years large scale iron mining by the Baffinland company . There was resistance to uranium mining in Baker Island (Qamani’tuaq) led by the NGO 

Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit (Makita) [5]. 

This is also one of the frontiers of climate change impacts, with the ice cover receding and melting (which hampers land communications). 

Baffin Island in the territory of Nunavut, is the largest island in Canada and the fifth-largest island in the world, wthover 500.000 Baffin Island has subzero temperatures, ice-blocked sea lanes, and a lack of conventional infrastructure. It is a true "commodity frontier", and there are local inhabitants, Inuits. Canadian and international mining companies are attracted by the huge iron ore deposits underneath a frozen landscape (where climate change is making the ice melt sooner very year, and new sea lanes are opening up) .

The  Baffinland  company shipped its first load of iron ore from Mary River via Milne Inlet in August 2015 as part of its “early” phase. Global prices of iron ore plummeted since the NIRB (the environmental regulations supervisory board) first granted the company its Mary River project certificate in 2012. For that reason, and because the iron ore market is a high-volume, low-margin business, the company changed its plans for Mary River considerably a number of times. The original proposal called for a $5-billion railway to be built from the mine south to Steensby Inlet on the Foxe Basin side of Baffin Island — a plan shelved by Baffinland due to its high price tag.

Instead, the company began transporting iron ore along a 100-kilometre tote road between the mine and Milne Inlet, near Eclipse Sound on Baffin’s northeast shore.  This was done with enormous trucks that melted to ice, frightened the caribou, disrupted the hunting  habit of the Inuits. And then in late 2014, Baffinland proposed significant changes to its project certificate, including:

• more than tripling truckloads of iron ore along the road to the Milne Inlet port;

• nearly tripling the output of iron ore from Milne Inlet, from 4.2-million tonnes to 12-million tonnes per year;

• increasing the shipping season from three or four months a year to ten months a year; and,

• building a second dock at Milne Inlet and a nearby tank farm capable of holding 140-million litres of fuel.

The NIRB decided in August 2015 that the proposed changes warranted a full public review, requiring Baffinland to submit a new Environmental Impact Statement. [2]  By 2017 and 2018 Baffinlnd appears to be selling the mine to outside interests.  The Inuit inhabitants through their councils have agreed to get royalties from the mine, there are however many latent conflicts, which have to do also with a trend among the Inuits to self-governance. 

The NIRB (Nunavut Impact Review Board )  decided that the increase in production wished for by Baffin should be denied but Inuit pressure made it relent,  and it together with the goverment said yes to an  increase request from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. of up to 6 million tons per year for 2019. [4]. The pressure from the local Inuit representatives at QIA s is for jobs and royalties. The NIRB had said that Baffinland did not show how it would soften the impact of additional dust along the Milne Inlet tote road and the impact of additional marine shipping out of the Milne Inlet port, [4]. Meanwhile, the review board has just begun to look at a separate and much bigger request from Baffinland, for the construction of a railway between Mary River and Milne Inlet, with a production increase of up to 12 million tonnes a year.[4]. jobs and royalties will make of this area a "company town". Several foreign companies, incuding Arcelor Mittal and possibly Tata, have been trying to acquire the Baffinland assets.


Basic Data

Name of conflict:Iron Ore mining in Baffin island, Nunavut territory, Canada
State or province:Nunavut
Location of conflict:Baffin 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 commodities:Iron 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:4,000,000,000
Affected Population:8 000
Start of the conflict:2012
Relevant government actors:NIRB, Nunavut Impact Review Board
Nunavut goverment
Government of Canada
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:QIA, Qikiqtani Inuit Association

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Inuit hunters
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts of the project

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
Other Environmental impactsCoal dust. Melting of ice roads. Affecting caribou and other animal life.
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical 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
Other socio-economic impactsInuit authorities are being coopted though royalty payments and promises of jobs


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[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)

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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

[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

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

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

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

Other documents

Source:_Beth Brown, Nunatsiaq News, 9 Oct 2018

Baffinland's camp at Milne Inlet.

Other comments:In 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



Source:_Beth Brown, Nunatsiaq News, 9 Oct 2018


Baffinland's camp at Milne Inlet.