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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Mayors: Impact of mining remains mixed

Good jobs and quality education for residents, protecting the environment and obtaining good foods top communities' concerns

 

Last updated 4/25/2010 at Noon



IQALUIT, Nunavut -Mayors and representatives from six Nunavut communities offered feedback on the effects of mining exploration and development activities in their respective areas during a forum at the 13th annual Nunavut Mining Symposium held April 14 at the Frobisher Inn and Conference Centre.

The panel members voiced concerns about potential detrimental effects of mining activities on the environment.

"How will the companies make the land like it was before?" asked Mayor Ernie Bernhardt of Kugluktuk, a community in western Nunavut located relatively near the large diamond mines operating in Northwest Territories.

Joining the mining work force

The panel members described thorny, yet subtle, socioeconomic problems that many residents must overcome in the remote hamlets of Nunavut to successfully enter the mining work force in the territory and offered numerous anecdotes to support their observations.

"It's very difficult for our people to adjust to living by the clock and living in a house that belongs to the government," said Bernhardt. "Our parents made a good living trapping for furs, but it's impossible to go back to the way our parents lived. Our children have to master their own destinies and the parents have to teach the children to grab opportunities. We have to instruct our youth to buy into the new lifestyle."

The panel, moderated by Rhoda Katsak of Pond Inlet, urged mining companies to consult with the hamlets to discover what local residents want. Mainly, the locals want opportunities, rather than handouts, they said.

Bernhardt said only a few employees of the big diamond mines come from nearby villages, and those workers have fairly low-level jobs such as truck drivers and laborers. "There's only one trainee, in welding," he said. "In Kugluktuk, we have 14 university graduates and three have their master's in business administration, and yet no one has asked them: 'Come work for us'."

However, BHP Billiton, majority owner of the Ekati Mine, recently informed communities near the mine that they had 290 jobs to fill and they wished to fill them with local residents, one mining executive told Mining News after the forum.

The executive said the mine owner received only three job applications in response. "So it's more complicated than just a question of jobs," he said.

One factor in the low response, another a delegate speculated, might be that many unemployed Nunavut residents live in government subsidized housing that costs C$30 a month. That monthly rent jumps to $880 if they take a full-time job.

In Whale Cove, a hamlet on the shores of Hudson Bay in south-central Nunavut, Mayor Percy Kabloona said mining companies come and go. "When they come in, they don't ask for the local people to help them. If mining companies are going into our communities, we would like roads and access for our communities in every mode of travel. If they are traveling by water, they need to pay attention to the tides and the movement of the water. It would a good position for our people."

Killabuck said a lot of Iqaluit residents are unemployed despite jobs being available because they do not speak and understand English well.

"If mining activity is going on near Iqaluit, perhaps there could be more employment for our young people," he said.

One difficulty with employing the youth of Nunavut is that many young people drop out of high school, and those who obtain their diplomas discover when they pursue higher education at universities in the south that they have difficulty competing with students educated in other regions of Canada.

Baffinland Iron Mines Ltd., which is developing a massive high-grade iron ore at the Mary River Project on Baffin Island, has been working to overcome these barriers for local Inuit youth. Since 2007, the company has presented laptop computers to every graduate of the local high school, and effectively eliminated the local high school dropout rate, said Greg Missal, Baffinland's vice president of corporate affairs.

Supporting local businesses

"We would also like local business owners to be given consideration if you're giving out contracts," said Killabuck.

Helen K. Klengenberg, owner of The Akhaliak Group of Companies of Iqaluit, echoed this sentiment while touring a trade show sponsored by the symposium.

Klengenberg, whose company offers office products and supplies and printing services, said she attends the trade show every year in hopes of attracting business from mining and mining support companies. The daughter of an Alaska Native from a small village in the Arctic and a Danish father, Klengenberg also is a sales representative for Xerox and a consultant.

Inuit-owned businesses have formed successful joint ventures with service firms in Quebec and other jurisdictions in recent years to support mining projects in Nunavut. Qamanittuaq Sana, for example, performed much of the civil engineering, road and dike construction, crushing and consolidation and environmental services required for construction of the Meadowbank Mine. The firm was formed in August by the Qamanittuaq Development Corp. and Fernand Gilbert Ltee., an engineering firm in Quebec.

Some of the mayors said creating and supporting local business activity in their communities might be too difficult to do in the near future.

"It's very hard for our people to go from trading furs to starting a business," Bernhardt said. "Maybe we should leave that alone for another hundred years."

Obtaining food a priority

The mayors also expressed concern about growing difficulty in obtaining traditional foods. "We have to go a long way to get narwhal. We can still get white whale and caribou, the annual cycle continues, but we have to go a long way to get the narwhal," Kabloona said.

"The last two years it's been pretty hard to get caribou," Bernhardt said. "We don't know if it's due to the two diamond mines or if it's because the hunters are taking the bulls and the young ones can't find their way back. The fish are also getting pretty soft and the seals are going farther out on the ice."

Mayor Lucasi Ivalu of Igloolik, a hamlet on the Melville Peninsula in northern Nunavut across Foxe Basin from Baffin Island, said many of his residents want to hunt but no longer have dog teams and sleds. "They need to purchase equipment to go out on the ice, and the costs are going up every year," Ivalu said.

In Baker Lake where Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. recently began producing gold at the Meadowbank Mine, local residents working at the mine on a two weeks on, two weeks schedule off schedule still go out on the land to hunt during their time off, said Mayor David Aksawnee.

Even in Iqaluit, the territory's capital, food costs are high.

"If I want to eat properly, C100 bucks a day is not enough to feed three people," said Council Member Jimmy Killabuck.

When asked to name two things that the mining companies might do to help improve conditions in the hamlets, Bernhardt of Kugluktuk replied, "Only two?"

He then suggested that mining companies that routinely fly huge, largely empty planes to remote mine sites near communities should consider bringing breakfast for the local children.

"In order to have healthy children, it would be nice to have healthy breakfasts for the children," he said. "You could fill up the planes with cereal, milk, oranges and bananas. The bananas might turn black, but they still make good banana bread."

 

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