Mining has been a major economic activity in the Canadian Arctic for the last century. It has made a valuable contribution to the development of this fragile economy and to the living standards of its inhabitants. The benefits include jobs and income, tax revenues and the social programs they finance, foreign exchange earnings, frontier development, support for local infrastructure, and economic diversification into a broad range of activities beyond the life of the mine. These benefits emerge as the result of activities and influences of several actors that exercise differing degrees of power, whether coercive or exchange by nature. These benefits, however, do not come without costs, particularly to Northern peoples who have suffered historically from the inequitable distribution of resources benefits and inevitable, adverse socio-cultural and biophysical impacts of rapid resource development.
Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) are a mandatory aspect of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Proponents wishing to develop natural resources on Inuit-owned land are required to negotiate and complete an IBA with the Regional Inuit Organization. These agreements have evolved from simple socio-economic contracts, to multiparty assemblages of agreements designed to promote sustainability beyond the operating life of the mine.
A political ecology approach was taken. Using this approach, it was determined that the distribution of decision-making power appears to be unequal and largely confined to the Industrial and Regional Inuit association actors. As a result, other affected interests were marginalized in the process including members of the local community, environmental and other nongovernmental organizations, and federal, territorial and hamlet government actors.
Nevertheless, the use of IBAs signal a recognition on the part of all stakeholders that historic mining practices are no longer acceptable and that it is now necessary to move towards a more equitable and sustainable approach to mineral development. In order to answer the question of an IBA's usefulness as a tool of sustainability, a set of sustainable mining criteria was developed and used to assess whether, in fact, the agreement could be used to promote a more sustainable path to mining development in the North. After the application of the criteria to IBAs in general and to one case study in particular, which fell under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, it was discovered that the IBA instrument is limited in its utility---at least in terms of its current structure. However, in conjunction with other agreements and review processes, the IBAs utility as a tool of sustainability may be enhanced.
By the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement's very nature, decision-making ability on behalf of the community is restricted to the Kitikmeot Inuit Association that only represents the interests of beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the industrial proponent. Opportunities for broader community (non-beneficiaries) input appear limited, thus restricting the usefulness of IBAs as a tool of community sustainability, at least until this weakness is addressed. Moreover, on a broader level of analysis, it should also be noted that the IBAs still are designed to operate within the global, liberal, capitalist system which itself leads to power imbalances. Nevertheless, it should be noted that IBAs signal a recognition on the part of all stakeholders, that historic mining practices are no longer acceptable and that it is now necessary to move towards a more equitable and sustainable approach to mineral development.