It was a real-life example of David vs. Goliath, pitting the small High Arctic community of Clyde River in a fight against big oil and the Canadian government.
It’s hard to believe the years-long battle is over and Clyde River took down these giants. Last month’s Supreme Court victory declaring that Clyde River was not fairly consulted before the National Energy Board approved seismic testing in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait proves that one should never underestimate a determined underdog.
Much credit goes to former mayor Jerry Natanine and his community for pursuing this fight to the end. And the fight was won with financial backing from Greenpeace, which hadn’t exactly endeared itself to Inuit with its decades-long efforts to destroy the sealing industry. Their support at the Supreme Court is a show of good faith but time will tell whether the partnership changes the Inuit view of Greenpeace.
We have yet to see the Nunavut government comment on the judgement but we can guess how former oil man Premier Peter Taptuna feels about the situation. On one hand, the premier must view as good news the fact Inuit must be properly consulted on decisions that could affect Inuit rights, and Senator Dennis Patterson says the decision supports Nunavut’s devolution efforts.
On the other hand, Taptuna is pro-development, and has made no effort to hide that resource extraction is his preferred way to bolster Nunavut’s economy. Any barrier to development will be seen as a barrier to jobs for Nunavummiut.
But Natanine has emphasized all along that he is not anti-development. The fight against seismic testing is not a fight against development. It’s a fight against unilateral decisions from on high. It’s an effort to ensure progress benefits the people living where development takes place.
In the end, consultation works best when it results in buy-in from the communities that will be affected long after mining companies leave.
Working to get that buy-in is smart business. One has only to look at Sabina’s Back River mine in the Kitikmeot region, which was recently given a second look after initially being denied by the Nunavut Impact Review Board. The board subsequently reversed its decision. Affected communities bought into the project, arguing it would bring jobs while making reasonable efforts to protect wildlife.
The proponents of seismic testing in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait, to their credit, held off on testing during the appeal, despite no requirement to do so. That’s smart business, too, if they ever try to argue for testing again.
But they’ll need to do much more than get community support for seismic testing. There is enough evidence to suggest that shooting off extremely loud sonic blasts underwater is damaging and potentially deadly for the wildlife Inuit communities rely upon.
The seismic proponents may have lost this fight because of the lack of consultation. But if they come back for round two, they’ll not only need to do a better job of consulting Inuit, they’ll also have to work to achieve buy-in.
Proving seismic testing won’t hurt marine life is the only way that will happen.