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”
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.”