The Canadian Press
Baffin Bay, off the east coast of Baffin Island, is a proposed seismic-testing site. Bouncing dynamite-quality sound waves off the ocean floor to test for oil and gas deposits could kill marine mammals that are a mainstay to the Inuit for both sustenance and livelihood.

A Feast Worth Fighting For: Inuit Appeal Approval of Seismic Testing at Federal Court

Kristin Butler

At lunchtime on April 20, as a symbol of their sustenance that’s at stake and as a show of Inuit values of sharing and community, Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine will pass around whale and seal meat and Arctic Char to protesters rallying on the steps of Canada's Federal Court of Appeal in Toronto.

Hundreds of Inuit supporters are campaigning for the court to reverse the National Energy Board's (NEB) decision to allow a consortium of three companies to conduct a five-year seismic airgun testing program to map the Baffin Island and Davis Strait sea beds for oil and gas reserves. Surveys—which would involve underwater air cannons emitting frequent and incessant blasts 100,000 times louder than those of a jet engine—would commence in these pristine Arctic waters off the east coast of Nunavut, Canada, once the ice melts this summer. The noise would be severely disruptive and potentially fatal to the region's marine animal populations—the main food source of the area's Inuit, as well as their livelihood.

RELATED: 'A Deaf Whale Is a Dead Whale': Sound Blasting for Oil Threatens Marine Life

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But the focus of today's hearing is not about the environmental impact of seismic testing; it is on the NEB's neglect to consult in good faith with the aboriginal peoples of Clyde River and Baffin Island, Nunavut, before approving this oil and gas exploration—a gateway to offshore drilling.

å"When we talk, it's like talking to a brick wall," Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine told Indian Country Today Media Network.

On April 20, three judges will hear submissions by both sides and intervenors concerning the appeal by Mayor Natanine, the Hamlet of Nunavut, and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization to overturn the NEB's approval to begin seismic testing in the absence of adequate Inuit consultation.

"The main argument we are advancing is that the federal government violated the constitutional duty to consult the affected Inuit groups under the Canadian constitution," Nader Hasan, legal counsel on the appeal and partner at Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan, told ICTMN. "Any pretense of consultation was completely illusory."

Immediately after news of the 2011 proposal for seismic testing circulated, the Inuit community came out swinging. Residents of Clyde River and Pond Inlet sent petitions opposing the proposal to the NEB in 2011 and 2013, respectively. In the spring of 2013, Nunavut residents proclaimed their opposition at public NEB hearings. In 2013 and 2014, the Hamlet of Clyde River and the Clyde River Hunters and Trappers Organization passed two joint motions opposing the proposed surveys. And in 2014, all 13 mayors of Baffin Island unanimously passed a motion opposing seismic surveys.

But their cries have gone unheeded. The NEB approved the proposed surveys in June 2014. On July 23, Clyde River staged a protest in response. Warren Bernauer, a York University academic and doctoral candidate who specializes in the politics of energy extraction in Nunavut, and who initiated the creation of the Clyde River Solidarity Network in March 2015, offers a thorough overview of the fight against the NEB’s proposal and approval of seismic testing in the Baffin Bay and Davis Strait in the article “Nunavut Is Still a Colony” in Canadian Dimension magazine.

According to the Clyde River Solidarity Network, an alliance of 40 or more advocacy groups and individuals, the NEB's rubber-stamp approval was "a clear and direct violation of international protections for the human rights of Inuit as Indigenous Peoples, as set out in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international standards." The network, comprised of environmental, labor and Indigenous rights organizations, released its official statement on April 16, calling on the government "to reverse the NEB's decision and ensure that no further permits for petroleum exploration development in Nunavut are granted unless Inuit rights are fully protected, including the right to grant or withhold free, prior and informed consent to such development."


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