I am sitting in a pretty, bright new hotel room in Kangirsuujjuaq this morning and thinking of Vancouver enjoying the early signals of emerging spring.
I arrived an hour ago from Salluit (2 hours northwest by small prop plane). It was a gorgeous day for flying… the photo above should give you a pretty good idea of why somebody coined the phrase ‘the vast white north’!
It is 37 below here today, but the sun is shining and the architects of this village, unlike those in Salluit, nestled the town into the mountains (or big hills?) so the wind doesn’t quite take your breath away to the same degree! Yesterday in Salluit, I decided to walk to an appointment 3 blocks away from my hotel because I hadn’t been outdoors for 3 days. I honestly thought I was going to be a sad casualty of my geographically ill-advised decision… found days later propped stiff and straight up in a snow bank covered in snow! It is really quite remarkable to witness people carrying on quite normal lives – kids on the playground equipment; hide and seek games between the cargo chests; folks walking with groceries; dogs running around. I am really quite astounded by it all.
The work is going well. It helps that I’m in each village for several days because, though it does mean some down time, it also means that the moccasin telegraph and the CB radio have a chance to do their jobs. Within just a couple of hours of each arrival, my experience so far has been that the phone starts to ring and I’m able to meet with several folks who have a lot of important stories to tell.
My work here is to explore if and how Raglan Mine (one of two mines operating in Nunavik), and Makivik Dev Corp (the NGO with the mandate to protect Inuit culture and ensure benefits in the face of development), might do a better job of working with the communities adjacent to the mine. Currently, the mine’s Inuit employment numbers are not what they should be; the Inuit businesses that are contracting to the mine are few and often more ‘shell-Inuit’ than ‘genuine-Inuit’ and there are next to no local micro enterprises servicing the mine’s supply chain requirements.
As Raglan begins the formal process of requesting the right to extend and expand their operations in Nunavik (the current nickel mine is slated to close in 2020), the Inuit are really challenging them to step up their local benefits game. It is a tough and complex challenge as you might imagine from these photos… The villages are isolated and small; the available workforce is limited; education and training is hard to come by, expensive and often far away; social issues abound; cultural needs persist and are rarely aligned to working away from home in a dormitory for 3 weeks at a time.
Over the next few weeks, I am charged with the task of meeting as many people as I can – local leaders, government reps, small business owners, existing contract holders with the mine, and folks who do or have experienced mine employment. As I wade my way through their stories, I am trying to understand the current state of affairs, and to explore what it would take to increase Inuit engagement and ultimately Inuit benefit from this industrial activity in their territory.
With significant anticipated growth in mining sector activity in Nunavik (have a look at Plein Nord for more info), Raglan and Makivik are to be applauded for taking on this initiative. These two important players/participants have recognized the need to change some things, add and erase some elements of past and current practice, think outside the box. So far, I am encouraged by the level of engagement by key Inuit in this conversation and look hopefully forward to making some recommendations that can help along the way.
Brenda Kuecks was Ecotrust Canada’s President from 2010 to 2015. She is spending time in Kangirsuujjuaq, Quebec as part of our ongoing community development work in partnership with Glencore and Raglan Mine.