December 12, 2006 – President Pita Aatami expressed disappointment in Minister of Environment Rona Ambrose not appearing in Nunavik December 1 for the signing of the Torngait National Parks Agreement and during the signing of the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement (NILCA) with Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Jim Prentice, and Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik.
The Minister of Environment was to have participated in the signing ceremony, as the NILCA is an agreement concerning land and resources. The Nunavik Inuit would have introduced her to the Nunavik territory, which is part of the Canadian North covering a region of over 500,000 square kilometers, and is littered with abandoned and orphan mining exploration sites.
According to Kativik Regional Government’s (KRG) progress report this year on the survey of abandoned mining sites it has been conducting since 2003, there are 275 contaminated mining exploration sites that require serious attention as they pose a health risk to the Inuit of Nunavik. Contamination on these sites consist of barrels containing hydrocarbon fluids that could leak into the surrounding environment, if leaking has not already occurred, contaminating the environment and possibly nearby lakes and streams. All such barrels are corroding and are at a high risk of leakage. There are other materials such as batteries, buildings, and heavy equipment left by former owners of these exploration sites. These sites potentially pose serious risk to the health and security of the Inuit in Nunavik.
Of the validated 275 sites, 18 are considered high priority, needing immediate and urgent remediation, while 27 are intermediate, and 45 considered at minor level. Makivik, jointly with KRG, has made efforts since the 1990s to clean up some of the major sites, including a site clean-up in July 2005 at Blue Lake near Schefferville, where further work must be done. Additionally, Makivik supported the clean-up efforts made by Cruise North Expeditions, a joint venture company, in which 21 voluntary passengers particpated in the removal of hazardous materials and barrels at two sites near Aupaluk in September 2005 and 2006. More work remains to be done as well.
“Minister Rona Ambrose would have benefitted from coming here, she would have seen just what it is like here, and how seriously we take our environment. Our reliance on the environment makes it one of priorities.” said Pita Aatami.
Mr. Aatami had counted on this opportunity to familiarize Environment Canada with the problem abandoned mining exploration sites and to make officials of the Government of Canada aware of Nunavik environment issues.