Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut April 11, 2018 - 3:30 pm

Inuit must lead Nunavut mine development: Ken Coates

“There is a new Arctic developing, and it’s an Arctic that is based on sharing resource wealth”

Ken Coates, Canada’s research chair in regional innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, delivers a keynote speech to attendees of the 21st Nunavut Mining Symposium. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Ken Coates, Canada’s research chair in regional innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, delivers a keynote speech to attendees of the 21st Nunavut Mining Symposium. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Including Inuit in Nunavut’s resource development sector is non-negotiable, the respected academic Ken Coates told attendees at Nunavut’s 21st mining symposium in a keynote speech April 10 at the Koojesse Room in Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn.

“The mining corporations know what they need to do: you need to have collaborative relationships with the Government of Nunavut and with the communities,” Coates said.

A historian who holds the position of Canada research chair in regional innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, Coates, originally from Yukon, has published numerous books about the history of the northern territories, Indigenous rights and northern development.

He delivered his speech to a mostly non-Inuit audience of Nunavut mining executives, mineral exploration experts and bureaucrats.

“You must work with Inuit in a systematic way,” Coates said.

Coates gave an ad hoc history of mining in the North, noting often how Indigenous groups were largely left out of early attempts at mining in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

He said that’s no longer the case.

“There is a new Arctic developing and it’s an Arctic that is based on sharing resource wealth,” he said. “What is different is that decisions are going to be made in the North.”

Coates applauded efforts by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. to start the Q-STEP mine training and apprenticeship program, and he noted how important the Nunavut Arctic College is to mine employment training.

But to build sustainable prosperity for the North, Coates told the mining delegates that these efforts to employ and train northerners must be long term.

“We don’t do it right. We tend to do training for a local mine that is 100 kilometres away,” he said.

“Mines will open and mines will close and people will want to stay. You have got to give them a chance to work across the whole area.”

Besides the need for a territory-wide mine training approach, he said employment training done within companies should set northerners up for mining careers that will last even when technologies advance.

“Do not just train people for jobs tomorrow. You have to have someone to drive that truck. But you better train people for the jobs of 2030,” he said.

“The people you are training today as 18-year-olds, in 2030 will be in their early 30s, they’ll be building a family. If your plan is to get rid of those jobs through automated trucks, make sure those people are trained for the next generation of work,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “the folks of Nunavut have to understand that the private sector has to make a profit.”

This depends on much more than activities at home. Coates said it’s also connected to global forces like the Chinese economy, which influences global demand for minerals, and competition with mining regions in Africa, Kazakhstan and South America.

Earlier in his speech, he said that Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern told symposium attendees at the event opening the day prior that Inuit groups are on board with resource development—when it’s done right.

And that means being environmentally conscious, as well as collaborative, he said.

While environmental regulations for development in the North are known to be stringent, “don’t shy away from it,” Coates told attendees.

“This is going to be part of Canada’s brand … we will be seen as environmentally sound industries as we go forward.”

He said northerners also understand that current economic growth in Canada is focused mostly in large centres, which means that the resource economy has become even more important for rural and remote communities.

Most communities see a mine opening as a way to create employment that keeps young people working at home, he said.

Indigenous businesses set up to work with the resource industry are often successful, he said, because these businesses create local jobs and foster regional buy-in.

“The growth of the [Indigenous] business community in this country has been staggering,” Coates said.

He called this kind of business development a “hidden mystery and magic” of resource development.

He also said Inuit leadership on the Grays Bay Road and Port project in western Nunavut could change the face of infrastructure development in Canada.

“Never underestimate the Inuit,” he said. “Mining and development are not incompatible with Indigenous self-determination.”

To northerners, he said, “You are on the front lines of Indigenous engagement in the resource economy … continue to show people what you can do.”

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(13) Comments:

#1. Posted by Knockout Ned on April 11, 2018

It’s always refreshing to hear what we think. The platitudes are a nice touch.

But the real cherry on top is the implication that development is happening, and that we’d better adapt - rather than adapting the development to suit our needs, and our schedule.

#2. Posted by Inuk Miner on April 11, 2018

Thank you Ken, good speech.

#3. Posted by how much of a proft? on April 11, 2018

“...At the same time, he said, “the folks of Nunavut have to understand that the private sector has to make a profit.”  So?  Does that mean a measured size amount from the trillions of dollars in profit for mining companies cannot also build a connecting road, from Nunavut to the rest of Canada, to assist in the future economy growth long after the companies mine the land of profitable minerals and alter the food source?

#4. Posted by Ear Candy on April 11, 2018

#1 Platitudes are a necessary evil for anyone doing business in Nunavut. It’s part of the ‘entry fee’. Pay up or get lost. I agree it’s revolting all around, but what else to do?

#5. Posted by Adapt the development... how? on April 11, 2018

@#1 When you say “adapting the development to suit our needs” what you are really saying is “reject all projects unless they meet my narrow set of acceptability criteria”. Nunavut is not so attractive to investment as to be able to dictate the terms in this way.

Of course Inuit could do as you suggest, to their extreme economic detriment. Cue even deeper poverty and dependence.

Unfortunately because of successive decades of paternalistic policies, Inuit haven’t built the capacity that would allow them to adapt development to suit their needs. I don’t have all the answers, but an industry that puts thousands of Inuit to work, giving them agency over their livelihoods… seems like a good start.

#6. Posted by the right time on April 11, 2018

“To northerners, he said, “You are on the front lines of Indigenous engagement in the resource economy … continue to show people what you can do.”  The words, “show people what you can do”  suggests cheap with little initiative or to show proof.  The expectation that Inuit understand the need for “the private sector has to make a profit” suggests an arrogant right of way to a claim.  Inuit will decide the right time to move and in what direction.

#7. Posted by jimmyy on April 12, 2018

Look how many tradesmen have the Government produced. Nanisivik mines produced several in their short span of life. Do we need trades people to build our houses? Anyone who has been able to complete a 4 or 5 year apprenticeship is ready for management or supervisory positions.

Maybe our education system is not adequate.David, Paul, Eva, Which system did they come out of, just a thought.

#8. Posted by Knockout Ned on April 12, 2018

#5 And why not? They are, after all, our resources. Why shouldn’t our criteria be as narrow as we want?

I’m less interested in “attracting investment” than I am in ensuring we manage our resources wisely. What’s the point if 80% of all benefits are flowing south?

Our extreme economic detriment? Do you get the sense that Inuit have experienced economic prosperity due to the mines we have operational? Must be Inuit median income has exploded to almost $30,000/year. Truly a time of plenty. Median Total Income of Taxfilers with Income by Region and Community, 1999 to 2015.xls

You wonder how we adapt the development? How about pacing the development such that it only progresses as fast as our labour force does? Why open 3 more mines when the mines we do have employ mostly southerners? What’s the point?

We should only expand development as fast as WE can benefit from it.

#9. Posted by jimmyy on April 12, 2018

Will Southern contractors continue to build our housing.The hotel owners would still survive.

#10. Posted by Sami Blood on April 12, 2018

Coates is not an ‘academic’ in the usual sense, he’s a front-man for the mining industry. Especially the nuclear industry. His star dimmed in Saskatchewan after he caused a huge embarassment for the University of Saskatchewan. He used money from Cameco (the Canadian uranium company which is being prosecuted for not paying its taxes) to set up an exchange program between Indigenous students at the U of S and a university in Norway. ( The Sami students weren’t told who was bankrolling the project. When they found out it was Cameco, they called a press conference at which they collectively quit the project and denounced surreptitious funding of post-secondary education Norway by the nuclear industry. Major egg-on-the-face for the U of S. Not long after, the provincial government closed the institute that Coates was employed at (

#11. Posted by logic on April 13, 2018

The magic word is,....ROYALTIES!

#12. Posted by jimmyy on April 13, 2018

The magic word is training youth to be certified trades persons.

#13. Posted by George Kuplu on April 13, 2018

Nothing but good news to me since I just recently got my prospecting licence for this year.  I already have few spots I would like to start mining after I get my application’s in for recorded claim, please and so on and so forth after steaks have been put in.  I’m just waiting for the creeks to start running and, this spring and summer really should be exciting.

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