IQALUIT, Nunavut — Lawyers for Inuit hunters who blocked an airstrip and road at an iron ore mine in Nunavut say they will end their protest for now.
The blockade started a week ago after seven hunters travelled two days and over 150 kilometres by snowmobile to get to the Mary River mine site on Baffin Island. Several others joined them later.
The 12 hunters, who call themselves the Nuluujat Land Guardians, were protesting a proposal by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., to double its output of iron ore and build a 110-kilometre railway.
The company said Monday that the blockade had forced it to halt operations.
On Wednesday, a Nunavut judge ordered the hunters to clear the airstrip so mine workers stuck at the site could fly home. Lawyers for the hunters argued the order was unnecessary as they were willing to work with Baffinland to allow employees to fly out.
The protest ended Wednesday night after the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the regional Inuit organization that represents Inuit in the Baffin Island region, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Nunavut land-claim body, offered the hunters a face-to-face meeting. The hunters accepted.
Baffinland is in the middle of environmental hearings on its proposal to double the mine’s output of iron ore from six million to 12 million tonnes and build a 110-kilometre railway from the mine to the ocean for shipping. The railway would be the only one in Nunavut and the most northern one in Canada.
Some hunters and community members in the North Baffin region have said they are worried the company is moving too fast and not properly considering the effects an expansion would have on wildlife, including narwhal and caribou.
“Inuit do not seek confrontation and only take action when there is no other option to have their voices heard,” said a news release from the group of hunters.
In a news release Thursday, Baffinland said the hunters had left the mine site and operations at the mine had resumed.
“This includes employee and contractor transfers, the resumption of food and supply flights, search-and-rescue flights, and other North Baffin air traffic support services provided using the Mary River airstrip,” the release said.
The hunters planned to stay at a nearby cabin until at least Friday, then make the journey back to Pond Inlet, where they are to meet with local leaders.
The hunters said although they have left the mine site, their work is not over.
“The Guardians are committed to continuing action on the land unless they can see progress in proposed meetings. They are personally committed to protecting and preserving Inuit rights and relationships,” Mary Naqitarvik, a spokeswoman for the hunters, said in a release.
Baffinland has filed an injunction application against the hunters, which is to be heard at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit on Saturday. The company has not said whether it will proceed with its request. Lawyers representing the hunters said the hearing is still scheduled to go ahead.