Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut July 19, 2016 - 10:00 am

On the hunt for minerals: Amateur prospecting in Nunavut

"I think it’s possible to do both: we can keep our animals and we can do some mining out there”

Arviat prospector John Tugak doing what he loves — panning for minerals on the land. (PHOTO COURTESY JOHN TUGAK)
Arviat prospector John Tugak doing what he loves — panning for minerals on the land. (PHOTO COURTESY JOHN TUGAK)

John Tugak is a well-known local musician in Arviat, so he’s busy during the summer wedding season. But he asks friends and family to please not get married on the weekend.

Tugak, a 40-year-old father of five, spends most of his free time on the land hunting not just for animals, but for minerals too.

“As a prospector, learning as I go along, it’s kinda confusing but it’s worth venturing into because you have families to support and hopefully you create jobs for your community and other communities,” said Tugak.

“I just hope to do something I like to do: reading, learning, going out on the land.”

Tugak is one of more than 1,000 Nunavummiut who have taken prospecting courses since the Government of Nunavut first started offering them in 2001.

He first got interested in minerals when he and his grandfather were out hunting in the late 1990s and, unable to find caribou, they started looking at the ground to see what was there.

But it’s not easy being a prospector in Nunavut anymore, says Tugak, over the telephone from Arviat.

There are a lot of regulatory hoops to jump through. And while he agrees you need to protect the land and the animals, getting all the approvals in place to start hammering rocks is onerous and time-consuming.

“A few years ago, it was not like that. It was easier. But you can understand now why this is a long process, to protect what we have out there. It’s really good. But the process is very long,” Tugak said.

Tugak, who is busy with many things in Arviat, including his day job at the Arviat Housing Association, is also founder of Huckleberry Claims, a prospecting business he runs.

He said he always liked Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn character because Huck loved adventure, and being outdoors, so it seemed like a good fit.

Tugak has submitted a four-year project proposal to the Nunavut Impact Review Board to prospect for base metals in four locations near Whale Cove and Arviat.

Several parties have raised concerns about the project including the Hamlet of Whale Cove, the World Wildlife Fund and the federal Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

None seem to have big problems with his small-scale prospecting operation but rather with the impacts that might result should Tugak find something in the rocks and pursue a claim to the area.

The Hamlet of Whale Cove, for instance, objects to Tugak prospecting at one particular area — Term Point — because of its heritage value and because community members still use it for camping.

“Prospect the rest of Nunavut or outside the municipal boundaries,” says June 17 correspondence from Whale Cove to the NIRB.

The World Wildlife Fund said it is mostly concerned about Tugak prospecting near Qamanirjuaq caribou calving grounds and the cumulative impact of increased human activity near those sensitive areas.

And in advance of a final Nunavut Land Use Plan, which proposes to protect caribou calving grounds from development, a claim to explore this area, and then develop it, could be grandfathered, the WWF warned.

Tugak understands these concerns and plans to abide by any restrictions on where and how he goes prospecting. He’s a hunter; he provides for his family and he does not want to jeopardize the health of the nearby caribou herds.

He is now in the process of responding to the NIRB to address those stakeholder comments.

So how did he choose his locations anyway? That’s a story in itself.

Tugak has spent months in front of a computer poring over old mining reports and maps — some of them decades old — archived on various geology websites.

“I did too much research over the past winter. I gained a little bit of weight so that was one of the problems,” he said, laughing. “Too much reading.”

He hopes to return to some of those historic exploratory sites, gather samples and see what he can find.

He’s hoping to identify potential areas for development and maybe create jobs for Nunavummiut.

“I think it’s good that we have caribou protection measures from INAC. We have to protect our animals. As a prospector, you have to follow the guidelines and procedures. If we do that, then I think it’s possible to do both: we can keep our animals and we can do some mining out there,” he said.

“Our people, we don’t have a lot of jobs in the North,” he added, and a fast growing population. “It’s something that a lot of people should be doing if you have no job. It may be rewarding for some people.”

Under the GN’s Nunavut Prospectors Program, prospectors are eligible for up to $8,000 per year to cover basic expenses and equipment related to prospecting such as fuel, vehicle maintenance, supplies, food and wages for assistants.

Tugak has an assistant — his 18-year-old daughter Corrine, who has already taken the GN’s prospecting course and is excited about helping her dad find minerals such as gold, iron, zinc and copper.

His other daughter works at the Meadowbank gold mine so it seems that mining runs in his blood.

The GN is offering prospecting courses this summer, lead by geologists from the Department of Economic Development and Transportation. Here are some upcoming dates and locations:

• Resolute Bay and Clyde River, July 18 to July 23

• Kimmirut, Sept. 5 to Sept. 10

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