DID News


08 May 2012


News alerts, updates, related information, Digital Indigenous Democracy (DID) and My Father's Land. Check here for current news and archived documents. 

See more

Media on this Channel

DID in the News!

On Their Terms: A Digital Project to Give Inuit Say in Developers' Arctic Ambitions

BY Elisabeth Fraser

A new project in Canada’s north is attempting to bridge the digital divide facing Inuit communities. In doing so, it hopes to give them a say as developers move to take advantage of their resource-rich land.

Digital Indigenous Democracy (DID) is an effort to bring the community empowerment of new media technology into remote low-bandwidth indigenous communities in Nunavut, across Canada, and around the world,” says Norman Cohn, an award-winning Canadian filmmaker who is also the project co-director, with partner Zacharias Kunuk, an Inuk filmmaker.

The idea is to provide high-speed Internet access to Inuit living in northern communities, where extremely low bandwidth access makes surfing the net a slow and cumbersome task. “These people, who most need access to these networks, have the worst cost-per-bandwidth in the civilized world,” says Cohn.

Life in the Northern communities where Canada’s Inuit live can be challenging. Traditionally, the Inuit are a hunting society. However, nowadays both global warming and opposition from animal-rights groups are negatively affecting the hunt. There are high levels of poverty, substance abuse, and suicide. There is a housing shortage, and high levels of family violence, as well as chronic health problems like diabetes. The remote and vastly scattered locations of these villages carry distinct challenges as well, including sky-high prices on basic goods. Most places are hard to access from the south, accessible via boat during the summer, or by expensive flights year-round. And, despite federal investment to improve bandwidth access in these communities, the Internet remains very slow.

Just how slow is it? “Most people can remember how the Internet was when they first tried it out five or ten years ago, and how much faster it is now,” explains Cohn. “Use of the Internet we take for granted right now is only possible because our bandwidth has increased by hundreds of thousands of times, and at a low cost. Those speed increases have not impacted northern Inuit communities. Their Internet is among the slowest and most expensive … There is a digital divide, certainly in the Canadian North, as much as in Bangladesh.”

Canada’s Inuit are one of three Canadian Aboriginal groups (the others are the Métis and First Nations). They are somewhat unique amongst Indigenous peoples in North America, because they have negotiated a self-governing agreement with the federal government of Canada. Whereas Canadian and U.S. First-Nations people often live on government reserves and receive government assistance or a special tax status, Inuit are by and large self-sufficient.

Cohn says the project is essential to help Inuit protect their rights in a new age of resource extraction. “The origins of this project are in the evolution of two enormous world developments. The one is the evolution of new media technology and its potential for social networking and political change, which we’ve seen in the Middle East,” Cohn says, referencing the Arab Spring. “And this intersects with the evolution of global warming, which has created an increase in natural resource development in the Canadian Arctic.”

Digital Indigenous Democracy has been financed and tested around a specific giant mining development (the “Mary River Project”) by the Baffinland company.

“If (the development) goes forward in its full capacity, it would be the largest mine ever in Canada,” says Cohn. DID was created in the context of Baffinland’s ongoing environmental review process, which involves consultation with local stakeholders. These talks have produced an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, as required by law under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

“Our project was proposed and financed to test out this technology as a way of improving Inuit communities’ ability to participate in the decision-making process of such an enormous development that will impact these communities forever,” Cohn says. “So, we had a compelling technological concept for equal justice, but we also had a compelling urgent need for that project to take place as soon as possible.”

Started in April 2011 via Canada Media Fund financing, Digital Indigenous Democracy went live one year later, in April 2012. It runs on the ISUMA TV platform, created by Cohn and co. in 2008. The multimedia website features photographs and government information documents, as well as audio and video recordings, in English and in Indigenous languages like Inuktitut.

In addition to putting forward local content, in the form of radio programming, films and documentaries, and community news,DID has played an active part in the local consultations involving the Baffinland project. A series of radio call-in shows allowed locals to ask experts questions about the development, and Baffinland feedback collected via DID has been complied into a report, which will be presented in the next round of public hearings, tentatively scheduled to take place in mid-October.

Lloyd Lipsett is a human rights lawyer who has been participating in the public consultation process surrounding the Baffinland project. He took part in radio call-in shows the DID group organized in Igloolik, Nunavut, to answer questions and inform locals about the Baffinland project, in English and Inuktitut.

“If you want the people to be confident that the mine is benefitting them, they need to have the information to make that judgment. It’s important to recognize that the movement towards transparency in the (extractive industry) is really picking up steam,” says Lipsett, who notes the Canadian government has announced it will pass binding regulations ensuring mining companies have greater disclosure towards various levels of government, something the United States and European Union have already done.

Canadian constitutional law and international law now explicitly confirms Indigenous people have the right to be informed and consulted about any resource development that impacts their lands and their communities. According to Lispett, the new approach towards consultation offered by DID is a benefit to locals and developers alike.

Most human-rights interventions involving extraction projects happen after development has started, when things are perceived to be going badly. “Getting involved in public hearings before the project has taken place; you are taking a proactive approach,” says Lispett. “You’re dealing with all the different stakeholders, including the company itself. To talk to them in a proactive, forward-looking manner, is much more constructive then pointing your finger after, and saying, “You’re doing this wrong, you’re violating this right, or that right…We’re offering you suggestions as to how you can develop this mine in a way that is respectful to people.”

The economic stakes are significant, too."The wealth in the arctic is enormous,” says Cohn. “It’s sort of like the new Congo, but suddenly much more accessible than it ever was before. “The world has changed since King Leopold went into the Congo, but only if technology helps people take advantage of those changes. (DID) is the only way Indigenous people will get a real fair seat at the negotiating table, dividing up what everyone agrees are trillions of dollars.”

Frances Abele is a Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration at Carleton University. She is familiar with the project. She touts the community-building aspect of DID. “If you haven’t been to the North, it’s very hard to picture just how far apart everything is,” she says. “To allow people to speak to each other in real time is a really powerful change in order to have people talk about their common interests, and politics.”

“The local radio has been very, very, important for a long time, it’s the main way that people find out what’s going on, and they listen to that every day,” says Abele. “The genius of what Norman and Zacharias are doing is that they’ve been able to build on that network to create these communities.”

Mark Airut is the manager of the Igloolik radio station, now run by ISUMA since last May. He is Inuk, and echoes Abele’s praise for DID. “I think it’s really great, lots and lots of people are now following us, and now they listen to our radio all over the world,” he says. He says since ISUMA took over, the station’s workers have gone from being voluntary to paid staff, and many locals say ISUMA radio is now all they listen to. “We’re doing our best work on educational stuff,” says Airut. “It’s really successful.”

Currently, Cohn estimates the project is two-thirds completed. “Our website will play at high speed in what will eventually be ten indigenous communities,” he says. ISUMA has been hooking people up since the spring, and will continue to do so during the fall.

Underlying the entire project is the principal of open data and transparency as a tool to combat inequality. “Indigenous people see these developments as the only chance they have to get out of poverty and into the 21st century,” says Cohn. “If all the people involved are sharing in the exploitation of the resources, then it’s not pejorative. If the people involved are being exploited, then its pejorative … Today, you cannot get away with that level of inequality unless it’s hidden from public view.”

Cohn believes DID can be a powerful tool to give Indigenous people their fair share of the pie. “If people have those tools, you cannot deny them those rights,” he says. “These communities are sitting on mountains of minerals, of gold, of uranium.” He sees a future for this project in Indigenous communities throughout the world, and notes it is in developer’s interest to properly inform and consult, or risk huge lawsuits down the road.

How much the Inuit will eventually profit from the Baffinland development remains to be seen, but Cohn is hopeful. “Indigenous people are not genetically impoverished,” he says. “If everyone owned the land they were living on, Inuit people could quite very well be rich,” he argues. “Why are Inuit peoples more like Palestinians than Saudi Arabians? In 2013, you can’t do that to people, unless you’re doing it in the dark.”

Elisabeth Fraser is a freelance Canadian journalist. She lives in Montreal.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.



September 30, 2013

Iqaluit Mayor, Nunavut officials register concerns at Baffinland hearings

Nunavut officials register concerns at Baffinland hearings: Overall, the Nunavut Government says it supports the mega-project, but it has concerns about potential impacts on wildlife and ...see Full Story

Mayor says Baffinland mine will have impacts on Iqaluit: Iqaulit Mayor Madeleine Redfern says the Mary River iron mine would bring
jobs and income to Nunavut, and more people to the capital, putting a
strain on...see Full Story

July 30, 2012

Inuit Views Presented at the Economist's Canada Summit

Duane Smith of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) was invited by The Economist to present the views of Inuit at its premier Canadian event held here today, called The Canada Summit: Confronting the Big Questions.

The event’s main panellists and speakers included Alberta’s Premier Jim Prentice and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen F. Poloz, as well as many bankers, economists, and chief executives who addressed issues such as global banking, energy, and investing in ideas.

Mr. Smith was joined on a panel called “Canada and the Arctic Council” by former Toronto mayor and current CEO of WWF Canada, David Miller, and Tony Guthrie, Chief executive of De Beers Canada.

Speaking as both ICC Canada President, and Vice Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Mr. Smith shared Inuit insights based on questions posed by moderator and Canada correspondent for The Economist, Madelaine Drohan. In contrast to Mr. Guthrie’s position that the Arctic was the “last global frontier”, Mr. Smith suggested that the Arctic was better described as a vibrant place full of life and, most notably, “a place where Inuit live in an area covering 40% of Canada’s land mass”.

Both Mr. Smith and David Miller said that De Beers now exemplified many characteristics of a good corporate citizen in the Arctic but “they had to learn the hard way”, added the ICC Canada president.

In response to a call for tougher rules for Arctic development by the WWF Canada head, and a call for fewer rules by the De Beers CEO, Duane Smith emphasized the importance of strictly following existing rules and constitutional arrangements that already exist. “We need to make sure the rules are not watered down, as some resource companies are asking for, but more importantly we need to make sure the existing arrangements, such as co-management are maintained and strengthened”, he added.

David Miller praised Canada for having the foresight in 1996, when the Arctic Council was founded, to agree to having international indigenous peoples organizations play a direct and meaningful role alongside states in the Arctic Council, of which ICC is one of six.

In response to a question on Arctic sovereignty, the ICC Canada President reminded the audience that sovereignty for Inuit included dimensions well beyond the buying of icebreakers, such as food security and social well-being.

Mr. Smith said he saw the need back in 2011 for Inuit leaders from Greenland, Alaska, Russia, and Canada to forge a collective path on these matters and organized an Inuit Leaders’ Summit on resource development. He concluded by inviting those who want to understand “our own Inuit rules regarding development” to consult the ensuing 2011 A Circumpolar Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat, where “it is clear we want development partnerships, but on our terms and at the right pace”.

Source: Inuit Circumpolar Council


December 4, 2014

Baffinland aims for year-round shipping from Milne Inlet

A proposal by Baffinland Iron Mines to ship iron ore through Milne Inlet 10 months of the year is drawing surprise and anger in Nunavut.

“People are shocked,” Pond Inlet hunter Caleb Sanguya told the CBC in Inuktitut. “I know the majority will reject the proposal.”

Ryan Barry, the executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, says he was taken aback.

“Our boards were not expecting it when they did the last assessment with the early revenue phase, so I would fully understand if there is public concern about this proposal, or the way it is being proposed or treated."

Baffinland, which began operations at its Mary River site on north Baffin Island this summer, had originally planned to move iron ore using a railway to Steensby Inlet on the island’s south coast, then by ship through the Foxe Basin and Hudson Strait.

Days after receiving approval for the controversial project, the company changed its tune, opting for a “phased” approach that would see smaller amounts of ore being moved by road northeast to Milne Inlet for shipment to Europe through the summer months only.

In its new proposal, the company says it wants to take advantage of its existing infrastructure, by tripling the amount of ore currently being shipped through Milne Inlet, from 4.2 million tonnes to about 12 million tonnes per year.

That would mean ships moving through the area from June until March, breaking up the sea ice to keep waters open in Eclipse Sound near Pond Inlet and into Baffin Bay. It would also mean more traffic on the current tote road from the mine site to the port, and a new dock.

Baffinland opted for the phased approach when it was unable to find the $5 billion in capital required for its approved project.

The company hopes to being shipping ore in the winter months starting in 2017.

But the Nunavut Impact Review Board says it will take the time it needs to assess the new proposal.


November 4, 2014

Mary River stockpiles its first load of Nunavut iron ore at Milne Inlet

"We are now truly a mining company"


Workers at Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River iron project transported the mine’s first load of iron ore to its port site at Milne Inlet Sept. 8, the company said Sept. 22.

Baffinland says the iron mine project continues on schedule, with plans to ship its first batch of stockpiled product out of a newly-constructed port at Milne Inlet in mid-2015.

“I am extremely pleased to say that we are now truly a mining company; we have drilled, blasted, crushed and transported final iron ore product to the port at Milne,” said Tom Paddon, Baffinland’s president and CEO.

“And we have done this with a record of no ‘lost time injuries’ over a three-year period, a significant achievement particularly when you consider that we are operating in the High Arctic.

“This is an important moment in the North.”

The original Mary River project proposal, which would have seen a railway built from the mine to Steensby Inlet and for year-round shipping of an estimated 18 million tonnes of ore annually, earned its own project certificate from the Nunavut Impact Review Board in December 2012.

But a month later, Baffinland slashed the scope of the project, opting instead for a scaled-down “early revenue phase” that would, in the mine’s early years, focus on shipping smaller amounts of ore each year out of Milne Inlet instead, and only during open water season.

Earlier this year, the NIRB gave the go-ahead to Baffinland’s early revenue phase proposal, which could see up to 4.2 million tonnes of iron ore per year mined, stockpiled and shipped from Milne Inlet to markets in Europe.

Baffinland then got to work on a 100-kilometre tote road to Milne Inlet, the construction of a fixed dock, a large ore stockpile and laydown area, 3,500 tonnes-per-hour ship loaders, a camp expansion to accommodate 60 workers and the extension and relocation of the airstrip to the west of the stockpile.

The iron ore grade at Mary River is estimated at about 67 per cent, one of the highest in the world.

And due to the quality of the ore, no processing is required before shipping it to market, Baffinland has said, reducing overall impact on the environment and keeping production costs low.

“After more than 50 years of talk about developing Mary River, Baffinland has succeeded in this accomplishment,” Paddon said in the release.

“While we still have important work to do that will ensure the efficient transport of product to market, we can rightfully take pride in what our Baffinland team has safely undertaken thus far.”

The Mary River mine is located 160 km southwest of Pond Inlet.


September 30, 2014

ICC inspired by strong global support at high level UN indigenous peoples conference; disappointed with dissenting voice from Canadian government

The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) expressed its excitement today over an Outcome Document emanating from the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high level United Nations event that ended yesterday in New York. 

ICC Canada President, Duane Ningaqsiq Smith, said he is very pleased that after several months of talks and difficult negotiations, world leaders and indigenous peoples came to a consensus at the UN General Assembly on how best to “make the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples work at national levels, how to practically implement it”. 

Mr. Smith, however, muted his enthusiasm when asked about the Canadian government’s isolated take on the Outcome Document. “Yes, quite disappointing”, he said. “I’m not sure what our government is trying to achieve by standing up immediately in the UN General Assembly after a moment that should be celebrated by all sides, and do what they did”. The only other concern, on a very different issue, came from the Holy See. 

What Canadian government officials did was object to the intent and details of the Outcome Document, noting in their statement that some of what was in it “cannot be reconciled with Canadian law”. Canada stood alone in noting it had particular reservations with the agreed-upon language of free, prior and informed consent, which according to ICC international Chair, Okalik Eegeesiak, “the government interprets as some sort of veto, that by all international legal standards has no basis in fact. They seem to be picking at this and that in the UN Declaration in order to justify its ongoing fence-sitting on this historic declaration that strongly supports, and supported by, Inuit and other indigenous peoples”. 

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples itself took 24 years to negotiate, most often with the backing of Canada until it came to its adoption in 2007, when it suddenly reversed its previous strong support. ICC Greenland President, Hjalmar Dahl, who was there in the early years of negotiations said, “informed consent is so crucial to the survival of indigenous peoples and this is one area in which we just cannot compromise any further”.

While deeply disappointed in Canada’s position, Mr. Smith agreed with Ms. Eegeesiak who said, “today we celebrate our achievements on the world stage and are content that the world has moved greatly forward the provisions of the UN Declaration . Inuit, as always, are committed to working with all respective governments, including Canada, in the implementation of the Declaration for the betterment of Inuit.”

Source: Inuit Circumpolar Council - Canada Office

Photo: Shane Brown, GCG Media Team

September 29, 2014

Public memorial held after assassination of activist resisting Goldcorp/Tahoe Resources mine

Public memorial held in Toronto after assassination of teenage activist resisting Goldcorp/Tahoe Resources mine in Guatemala

Written by Rachel Small and Joanne Jefferson on May 3, 2014

The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and allies joined the larger May Day March in Toronto.

On May 1st, as Goldcorp announced the year’s profits at their annual shareholder meeting in Vancouver, more somber events were happening in Toronto and in Guatemala to hold the same company accountable for the murder of 16-year-old mining resistance activist, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco.

In Toronto, over 60 people gathered on Adelaide Street in front of Goldcorp’s offices for a memorial to honour Topacio’s life and to denounce the violent and cowardly act that killed her. At the same time, Topacio’s family, friends and community members were gathering in Guatemala to commemorate her activism and leadership, and to demand justice for her death.

Topacio was assassinated by unknown gunmen on April 13th in Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Guatemala. Her father, Edwin Alexander Reynoso who accompanied her at the time, was also shot and remains in critical condition. Both Topacio and her father were active in the resistance against Canadian company Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, in San Rafael las Flores, Santa Rosa. Topacio, along with her work as the Youth Coordinator of the Resistance in Mataquescuintla, was also a poet and musician.

Marchers raised their hands painted red in solidarity with the international “Goldcorp me enferma” (Goldcorp makes us sick) campaign. Photo by Allan Lisner.

Canadian company Goldcorp owns a 40% share in the Escobal mining project which Topacio and her father have been resisting in defense of their community’s right to prior consultation, self-determination and human rights. At her funeral, Topacio’s mother promised: “The resistance doesn’t end here, my love.”

“One of the ways we can honour Topacio’s life and her mother’s promise is to stand here today and denounce Goldcorp for their responsibility in this act of violence, as well as in all of the violations of human rights and environmental rights that community members have faced since the mine opened in their region,” said Rachel Small, a member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN).

Attendees heard some of Topacio’s poetry, her favourite music, and speakers who shared messages of solidarity and a commitment to continue to support this struggle. Candles, flowers, and a large painted banner that said “Rest in Power, Topacio” filled the busy downtown corner as people expressed their collective sadness, anger, and determination, as well as a moment of silence.

As the memorial was taking place, 36 international human rights, environmental justice, and solidarity organizations delivered a letter to Guatemala’s Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, demanding justice for the attacks against Alex and Topacio Reynoso. “We condemn this violent attack and call on your office to conduct a full and impartial investigation to ensure that that those responsible are brought to justice,” the letter states.

The document also identifies other incidents of violence and injustice that have occurred in communities surrounding the mine, including two occasions when police violently evicted a peaceful, legitimate, and legally located encampment outside the mine. The former head of security for the mine is currently facing charges for shooting peaceful protestors during one of these instances.

After the memorial, participants joined in the annual May Day march through Toronto streets, sharing with hundreds of people the message that Canadian mining companies must be held accountable for their actions. In solidarity with the international M4 movement, many dipped their hands in red paint symbolizing the destruction of health and the environment brought about by Goldcorp’s mines.

Photo by Allan Lisner.

First published by the Media Co-op.

July 23, 2014

Baffinland could start mining Mary River this summer

Baffinland says it will begin stockpiling iron ore at the site this summer or fall, and start shipping it in the open water season of 2015.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation could begin its first phase of extracting ore from the Mary River mine site this summer.

The scaled-down version of the iron mine on North Baffin Island got its final approval from Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt last week, following recommendations from the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

NIRB plans to hold a final workshop by conference call mid-May to prepare a project certificate, which will outline the terms and conditions, and the agencies responsible for them, that the mine will have to meet in order to keep operating.

Greg Missal, vice-president of corporate affairs with Baffinland, said the company was pleased with the final terms and conditions imposed on the mine and will start mining iron ore at the site this summer or fall.

“It’ll start to be trucked up to Milne Inlet and it’ll be ready to be loaded onto ships during the open water season of 2015.”

The dock that will carry that ore on to ships is now being designed and engineered.

Missal said that dock will determine the precise number of ships needed to move the ore.

Baffinland plans to ship 3.5-million tonnes of ore per year through Milne Inlet, using ships that carry between 70,000 and 90,000 tonnes. They expect to use about 55 ships during the open water season, in addition to ships carrying sealift supplies and fuel.

Missal said they plan to use dust suppression techniques to monitor and control dust from the road that will carry the ore to port.

The company will also consider providing compensation to hunters affected by changes to wildlife, in partnership with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which signed an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement with the company last fall.

The life of the mine is expected to be more than 20 years for the first deposit.

There are nine iron ore deposits overall.


May 9, 2014