Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut September 13, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Sexual violence a spinoff of Nunavut’s mining industry: MMIWG hearings

“Inuit women occupy the lower-wage positions. They’re the cleaning staff, the cooking crew”

TJ Lightfoot, left, and Jasmine Redfern gave evidence during a panel on decolonization at a hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held Sept. 12 to hear from experts and knowledge keepers. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
TJ Lightfoot, left, and Jasmine Redfern gave evidence during a panel on decolonization at a hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held Sept. 12 to hear from experts and knowledge keepers. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls heard this week how Inuit women could be exposed to violence and harassment in the wake of Nunavut resource development.

“There’s racism at the mine, there’s gambling in the community,” said Iqaluit resident TJ Lightfoot, who spoke on Wednesday, Sept. 12, as a witness during hearings being held this week at the Frobisher Inn in Iqauit.

“Sexual harassment at the mine is a reality for a lot of Indigenous workers,” said Lightfoot.

Lightfoot lives and works in Iqaluit, but comes from Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The two-spirit Mi’kmaw youth gave witness testimony to MMIWG commissioners based on their background in crisis intervention, sexual health and environmental violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls and the LGBTQ2S community.

Lightfoot, who has a graduate degree in environmental policy, spoke broadly of resource extraction projects, like fracking, that are being protested against by Indigenous groups across Canada.

Resource development can lead to “environmental violence” inflicted on Indigenous communities, said Lightfoot.

One example would be if toxins introduced into a community water supply by a resource extraction project then damaged a woman’s reproductive health or ability to breastfeed.

Experts, community leaders and knowledge keepers are speaking this week as panellists in a four-day MMIWG hearing. The hearings are examining the impacts of colonial violence.

“It’s not just happening to First Nations or Métis people,” Lightfoot said.

In Nunavut, communities might experience spinoff violence from resource development if drugs or alcohol are brought in by southern workers, if Inuit face language barriers at English-only mines, or struggle with power dynamics at work when Inuit fill bottom-rung jobs at a mine site.

“Inuit women occupy the lower-wage positions. They’re the cleaning staff, the cooking crew,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot cited a report issued in 2014 by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and researchers at the University of British Columbia titled “The impact of resource extraction on Inuit women and families in Qamani’tuaq.”

Qamani’tuaq is the Inuktut name for Baker Lake, a central Nunavut community of about 1,700 residents, located 110 kilometres from Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s Meadowbank gold mine.

In that report, women from Baker Lake say that while the mine has brought economic stability to the community and created employment for women, these same women now also face discrimination, substance abuse, violence and breakdowns in family relationships.

In June, a worker at Baffinland’s Mary River iron mine near Pond Inlet spoke with Nunatsiaq News about harassment female employees were experiencing there. That’s after social media posts made it appear that mine staff were referring to female Inuit staff as “cock stars.”

“That is just regular behaviour here,” the woman said then. “ The men just stare and make comments.”

As well, language barriers at mine sites foster inequality for Inuit whose first language is Inuktut, said Lightfoot.

“The message is that you are not important enough to live and work in your own language and that is a form of violence,” Lightfoot said.

For early stage resource extraction projects, Indigenous women and LGBTQ2S communities are also more likely to get shortchanged in consultation conversations, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot showed commissioners a photo of an Indigenous woman holding a feather out towards a wall of about 20 police officers. The woman was part of a peaceful protest by elders, women and children who wanted to preserve water resources in their territory.

“Indigenous women are shut up and shut out of consultation processes,” Lightfoot said.

Cross-examinations will take place today for Lightfoot’s testimony, and for two other testimonies given by witnesses who spoke during a MMIWG inquiry panel on decolonization.

These expert hearings are different from community hearings held by the inquiry that heard from families of survivors and Indigenous victims of sexual violence. A report by the inquiry is expected in April of next year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Lightfoot spoke to the national inquiry as an expert. Commissioners have since clarified that Lightfoot spoke as a witness.

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(30) Comments:

#1. Posted by on September 13, 2018

I have a lot of issues with the nonsense in this article, I don’t have the time to address all of them. Here are two glaring issues:
1. “In Nunavut, communities might experience spinoff violence from resource development if drugs or alcohol are brought in by southern workers” - This is racist multiple levels. This puts the blame on “southerners” for drug and alcohol problems in Nunavut. We live in a free society, and if people in the North want alcohol, they’re allowed to have it. It is up to them to use it responsibly. No one is forcing them to drink. If some southerners decided to stop making alcohol available to northerners, these southerners will then be accused of being racist by denying northerns their right to alcohol (to be used with responsibility). In sum, this idea blames southerners for the poor choices some are making around drugs and alcohol and it implies that Inuks cannot control themselves when it comes to alcohol.

#2. Posted by on September 13, 2018

2. “The message is that you are not important enough to live and work in your own language and that is a form of violence,” - Is this a problem? Yes, is this “violence?” No. Violence involves physical force and bodily harm. Your language not being used in your workplace is not the same as being physically attacked and your life possibly being in danger. There are immigrants fleeing real violence where their very lives are in danger who would love the opportunity being referred to here as “violent.” Lightstones does not seem to know what violence is.

This is all nonsense identity politics that casts one side as the oppressor and one side as the victim. One side is seen as entirely in the wrong and the other with no fault. This is far to simplistic. Where is the responsibility surrounding alcohol use? Where is the recognition of the opportunity mines bring? Where is the recognition that we live in the freest time ever with the most opportunity ever?

#3. Posted by Enquirer of the inquiry? Iqaluit. on September 13, 2018

When are you going to be asking about Missing and Murdered women ?
  When did this inquiry become a stage to rake over old incidents ?
Good and bad things have been happening in Nunavut for many
I feel the MMIWG committee owes native people an apology and some
serious compensation for lying to the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit
people for giving them false hope.
When Marion Buller came on national T.V. and apologized with a big
grin on her face, then asked for more money, I felt we could trust her.
  What is happening ??

#4. Posted by Both sides of the story? Brampton. on September 13, 2018

I have been working in Nunavut for many years, with no problems.
  I find it good to work with Inuit people, no problems at all.
I do see people bootlegging, drug dealing , and even voluntary
prostitution. All races concerned
I used to try and help, but people would yell at me, ” It is not your effing
business !! “.
So now that is exactly what I do, mind my own business.

#5. Posted by Sled dog on September 13, 2018

Experts… how. Is that years of study. Perhaps a PHD and many many years of field research or peer reviewed research. Please explain the witnesses expertise?

#6. Posted by Laughable on September 13, 2018

I see much ill-informed nonsense in this story.

All the mines in Nunavut are dry. There’s zero tolerance for booze and drugs, and since workers from the south fly directly to their project with pretty much no exceptions, and are subject to searches when they arrive, how, *exactly*, are they bringing this booze in?

Second, many of the issues with substance abuse in communities, and gambling, and other issues related to money are because people have money. Tell me, did any of the people complaining demand that government stop employing people in those communities? After all, the government pays in money as well. So does the Northern and the Co-op. So do the hamlets. Do they have protests when someone gets a raise? Are there research papers on that? No, there aren’t, because somehow money from mines is magically different from money earned in other jobs.

#7. Posted by Undetected on September 14, 2018

Laughable, I know for a fact that there are drugs in Meadowbank Gold Mine (Baker Lake) and Meliadine Gold Mine (Rankin Inlet).  There are random searches for those coming in for their rotation but this does not happen each and everytime.  Many come in undetected.

#8. Posted by Baker Lake Resident on September 14, 2018

Don’t blame the mine for this. The mine pays their employees fairly. The employees then have the freedom to decided what to do with their money. They have the freedom to buy, or not buy, drugs and alcohol. They also have the freedom to save their money, buy food and clothes for their family, buy books for their children, save for a downpayment on a home, or any other choices the market provides.

Baker Lake had a plebiscite last year on alcohol access. The town chose to unrestrict access to alcohol. It is the Inuit majority in Baker Lake who are choosing to bring alcohol into the community.

This is an issue of individual responsibility and decision making. In a free society, individuals have the freedom to make the wrong decision. When they make the wrong decision, it is their own fault, not their employer, not southerners. No one is forcing anyone to drink or do drugs. People are choosing to.

#9. Posted by Mansplaining on September 14, 2018

Thanks for all the mansplaining in the comments above guys! We really need more if that. Wow. Talk about balanced perspective. You guys are really contributing in a positive way. Are you Men’s Rights Activists? None of the comments above missed the mark whatsoever. Wow.

#10. Posted by Baker Lake Resident on September 14, 2018

Response to: #9 Mansplaining

Thank you for assuming we are all men commenting here. From what I can tell, the only evidence of previous posters sex is in post 1&2, who is “bob.” You projecting sexual identities in the other posters is just….sexist.

#11. Posted by Observer on September 14, 2018

#7, the statement was “if drugs or alcohol are brought in by southern workers”

So how are they getting the alcohol in?

And if you know for a fact that drugs were being brought in, did you report it to anyone?

#12. Posted by Bemused on September 14, 2018

#9, so you do demand studies on possible negative effects before someone in your community gets a raise or the Northern hires temporary workers for sealift? If so, I apologize.

#13. Posted by Mansplaining on September 14, 2018

@#10 Baker Lake Resident

Thanks Man!

#14. Posted by pony baloney on September 14, 2018

remote sites are an artificial environment. you put a bunch of guys the mine-worker type in a closed space, you deny them what they consume in the evenings and weekends (booze), you deny them what they would like to do after going to bed and weekends (sex), you throw a small number of female workers into this mix and you expect them to behave like people at the office during 9-5?
why doesn’t the government/inuit org allow communities to form near mine sites? (ask the Q) people could go home at the end of the shift and do what they’d normally do.

#15. Posted by Soothsayer on September 14, 2018

There it is, the noise inside the progressive echo chamber.

Be mindful that the language used to describe this narrative is careful not to suggest these things are actually happening, only that they “could be, might be, maybe?”

It’s reasonable to acknowledge the dynamics between southern men and Inuit women at the mine are complex, even intimate. Do these ‘experts’ recognize that Inuit women can be very forward and more liberal sexually than many white women?  Do they recognize that many of these relationships are probably reciprocal, even initiated by Inuit women?

Or does each encounter represent some categorical form of ‘oppression’? 

I’m curious what qualifies either of these women as an ‘expert’?  Have either ever been to the mine? Have either published research?

#9 – This is the sad state of public debate today, where you can toss a cheap trope like “you’re mansplaining” or, “check your privilege” into a discussion and pretend it’s a meaningful contribution.

How weak..

#16. Posted by the man with no name on September 14, 2018

i agree with you soothsayer regarding mansplainings statement. we are merely voicing our opinion on a subject online and we get called out for mansplaining. pfft.

#17. Posted by Insider on September 14, 2018

Sigh. Remember when the big buzz-word was “evidence-based” policy? Up until about three months ago, it was all evidence-based this and evidence-based that, everything had to be evidence-based. I supported this approach then and still support it, because the best government decisions are based on proof, not belief, gossip or hearsay.

Unfortunately, these witnesses did not get the message. Where is the EVIDENCE that “toxins” are getting into drinking water from Nunavut mine sites, especially when most mines are hundreds of kilometres away from communities? Where is the EVIDENCE of sexual harassment? Where is the EVIDENCE of “spin-off violence? Evidence means eye-witness statements that have been verified, or reports based on reliable science.

For mining by the way, every mine project has a socio-economic impact committee that looks at these issues and files reports every year. Did these two “experts” ever bother to look at the thousands of pages of monitoring reports on Nunavut mine sites?

The inquiry is failing to ensure that there is competent cross-examination. If they did that, a lot of these silly evidence-free claims would be tossed out and disregarded. This is the MMIWG inquiry’s biggest problem, they went too far to respond to their loopy-headed critics who wanted it turned into a $100-million group therapy session. They should have just run a standard public inquiry focused on the narrow theme of missing and murdered Indigenous women. That’s what it’s supposed to be about, right? Missing and murdered women? Grieving families? How did it get so far off track?

#18. Posted by Mansplaining on September 14, 2018

Wow. A lot of men in this comment thread seem to be perturbed at the suggestion their victim-blaming, questioning the credentials of these obviously qualified women, suspicions of validity of what is being talked about at MMIW Inquiry by…women, might be ‘mansplaining’.

Dudes, consider for a second that your comments are, in fact…mansplaning.

#19. Posted by Pollyanna on September 15, 2018

#18 This is how it looks; ‘mansplaining’ is a term you use to diminish opinions you don’t like, and you do so when you’re too lazy to come up with a meaningful counterpoint.

Ring a bell?

#20. Posted by meninist' on September 17, 2018

Let’s not fall for mansplaining’s bate here, everyone. it’s okay to disagree with anyone’s opinion, freedom of speech and all, but it’s wrong to objectify ones gender based off their opinion. I’ve seen people using the ‘mansplaining’ card every time they were either offended or if they disagreed. and it wouldn’t stop. it’s best we stop feeding the troll here.

#21. Posted by Northern Guy on September 18, 2018

At the risk of being labeled a “mansplainer” here is the public record regarding mining in Nunavut:

- Female employees ARE harassed and sexually harassed.

- Mining provides wealth and economic stability for many Inuit men, women and children. Does mining promote increased drug and alcohol consumption? The RCMP (who keep stats on this for every mine) say NO. Does mining increase domestic violence? again the RCMP say NO. Are the mines responsible for importing drugs and alcohol or the sexual predation of community members? Again the RCMP says NO.

- Nunavut’s mines are heavily regulated, so the kind of spill and contamination noted by Ms. Lightfoot is almost impossible.

Now for my own opinion; Ms. Lightfoot needs to get better acquainted with the regulatory process and management of projects like mines before publicly offering half-baked theories as fact. What is readily apparent is that Ms. Lightfoot is no expert and should not have been treated as one by the MMIWG.

#22. Posted by My opinion, Quebec City. on September 18, 2018

Thank goodness I went to work at a mine as a female chef originally
from Nunavut, 3 years ago.
I met and moved to Quebec City, with a very fine man.
We have been married 2 years and have 2 lovely children, and we
live a comfortable life. My story.

#23. Posted by uvaga on September 18, 2018

we make our own decision’s dead beat life or make a living, druggies and drunks starts to point fingers at anybody because they are too embarrass of themselves they know they are losers

#24. Posted by satisfied "mansplainer" on September 20, 2018

There was an open letter submitted to Nunatsiaq News today from the V.P Chamber himself stating that lightfoot is indeed not an expert on the mines and that those ‘facts’ were bias and submitted by lightfoot herself.
I found the open letter rather satisfying to read as actual facts were submitted by Alex himself in the open letter.

#25. Posted by Well if the man says so on September 21, 2018

You think that what the Chamber of Mines claims are actual unbiased facts? She, on the other hand, was basing herself on published research on that very topic. In Alex Buchan’s letter however, he does not state any references or sources to back up his very broad claims. You seem to be very comfortable however to just take his word for it.

By the way, she never claimed to be an expert on mining. She was invited as a WITNESS – not an EXPERT - at a session on “Colonial Violence - Socio-economic, health and wellness impacts” and she spoke on a panel on “Decolonizing Practices”. Unfortunate and ironic that she is now being victimized and personally attacked by a male dominated industry that claims to be so safe and welcoming to women. I think they miserably missed the mark on that one.

#26. Posted by No Moniker on September 21, 2018

#25 How is it that Lightfoot is being “victimized and personally attacked”?

Her narrative has been challenged, her ‘expertise’ (which was reported by Nunatsiaq News) has also been challenged only because she has no discernible ‘expertise’ in these areas.

This is the normal course of things in public discourse. You don’t get to play victim just because people doubt you.

You know that right?

#27. Posted by Get your facts straight before "challenging" on September 21, 2018

#26: Notice how Nunatsiaq News made a correction on both articles?
“Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Lightfoot spoke to the national inquiry as an expert. Commissioners have since clarified that Lightfoot spoke as a witness.”
That information was just a google search away and the Chamber of Mines didn’t even care to verify that before writing their lousy letter.

#28. Posted by the man with no name on September 21, 2018

I agree #26,
Often times people like to claim to be victimized when they realize others do not agree with their opinions. they like to say they are being attacked and victimized over a simple disagreement. You know who are victims? people who’ve been abused (be it physical or verbal). You can pretend being a victim but that’s just petty right there. she (lightfoot) is no victim here, the V.P just called her out cause she didn’t make the effort to clarify her claims to him or anyone from the mines, yes she did have reports, but those reports were from last year.
did she make an effort to update those reports? who knows, but from what the V.P says, she was incorrect.

#29. Posted by To #26 Good enough? on September 21, 2018

Personal attack=Communicating to a broad audience (letter published in a newspaper & on the Internet targeting one single person - naming the person’s name & other personal details), using half-truths to tarnish a person’s reputation, manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person, attacking the person instead of the ideas, attacking a person’s character (by claiming that she “job shames”), manipulation of facts/saying untrue things about someone (by claiming that she was there as an “expert” when she was not), focusing on the characteristics of that person instead of focusing on what she is saying, in the view of discrediting her (“as such, these views cannot be relied upon”), shooting the messenger who is simply restating findings from research, making remarks on one’s person instead of providing evidence when examining another person’s claims/comments. They didn’t provide ANY evidence to refute her testimony, all they said is that she shouldn’t be believed

#30. Posted by No Moniker on September 21, 2018

#27 – Interesting, what has she been “witness” to? Any idea?  (the picture above still claims both women spoke as “experts”  d’oh!)

#29 - I can agree with parts of your definition. But I don’t see questioning the quality of her ‘expert’ credentials or the integrity of her claims about life at the mine as an ad hominin attack. Given her public statements these are completely fair game.

I am interested to know what part of the letter focuses on “the characteristics of [Lightfoot] instead of… what she is saying”? Where do you see her being attacked and misrepresented as a person?

Please let us know.

As for research and hard data, I would agree there is very little on either side.

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