State of mine: trainers help Inuit get jobs at Nunavik’s Raglan mine
“I decided for myself I wanted to do something different, try a new challenge… and I like it so far”
RAGLAN MINE — The December sun has yet to peak over the tundra when three young men, bundled in orange one-piece suits and safety gear, are ushered into the room.
Each from a different Nunavik community, these are Raglan mine’s newest recruits: apprentice miners, looking nervous and keen.
Samwillie Grey-Scott welcomes them, switching between Inuktitut and English.
Grey-Scott, an apprentice trainer at Raglan, is preparing them for their first trip underground.
That first trip will determine a lot: if the new apprentices can stomach the feeling of being 1,300 metres down, and if they can adapt to a dark environment and commit to working long hours in those underground tunnels.
As Grey-Scott’s Toyota Landcruiser moves down into Raglan’s Qakimajuq mine, the area is surprisingly warm and humid at about -5 C, compared to -25 C above ground.
Raglan began production at this mine in early 2015. Qakimajuq, which translates as “to be rich” in Inuktitut, is aptly named: it’s tapped into some of the site’s highest-grade ore deposits yet.
Qakimajuq is one of four operating mine sites at the Raglan nickel mine in Nunavik. Located about halfway between Kangiqsujuaq and Salluit on Nunavik’s east side, the mine consists of high grade nickel and copper deposits and employs about 900 full-time employees.
Around a dark corner, lighting illuminates a jumbo bolter — newly-imported machinery. Inside, a development miner works painstakingly drills holes along the tunnel’s ceiling, bolting in wiring that will secure the area ahead of blasting with explosives.
Most new workers respond well to their first visit underground, Grey-Scott said.
He remembers how he felt when he started at Raglan as a 19-year-old, in 2010.
When he graduated from the apprentice miner program two years later, the company flew his mom from their hometown of Aupaluk to the site. On a visit to the underground, he said she gripped his arm for the entire ride down.
“It’s not for everyone,” Grey-Scott said with a laugh.
The work has its challenges, but it’s suited to the now 24-year-old Grey-Scott, who has developed into a star employee and spokesman for Inuit employment at the mine.
Since 2014, Grey-Scott has worked as an apprentice miner trainer under Raglan’s Tamatumani program, which offers skills development for the mine’s Inuit workforce.
Many at Raglan credit Tamatumani, in place since 2008, for helping the mine reach its goal of 20 per cent Inuit employment earlier this year. Since its launch in 2008, the mine’s operator, Glencore, says it has invested $18.5 million into the skills training program.
The year 2015 also marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Raglan Agreement, a benefits agreement reached in 1995 between Nunavik organizations and the mine’s then-owner, Falconbridge Ltd., which included a provision for royalties to paid out to the region.
But, more importantly, the agreement included a strategy to direct at least one-fifth of the mine’s jobs to Nunavimmiut.
The percentage of Inuit employees at Raglan has fluctuated since the mine began operations; it started above 20 per cent at the mine’s official opening in 1998, but fell to 15 per cent a few years later.
The barriers facing the 174 Inuit currently employed at Raglan are many; some lack the necessary education and training or language skills, while others struggle to endure the required two- and three-week stints away from home.
Nunavik’s Kautaapikkut mining roundtable led consultations through the region earlier this year to examine issues specific to women and found that family demands are the biggest barrier for women seeking or keeping jobs at Raglan.
“I’ve seen so many people come and leave after a couple of months,” said Raglan employee Julie-Leah Nutara. “We leave home and work so many hours.”
But Nutara, now in her fifth year at Raglan, has stayed on — she says not having a spouse or children is a big factor. She splits her time between her job at Raglan, her home community of Inukjuak and travel to the South.
Nutara started at the mine in 2010, first as a dishwasher, a sandwich maker and then later as a warehouse shipper and receiver.
Last summer, Nutara began a new position as an apprentice miner, part of a slow but steady movement of Inuit women into non-traditional roles.
“I decided for myself I wanted to do something different, try a new challenge,” said the softspoken 24-year-old. “And I like it so far.”
She and two other apprentices take morning classes through Tamatumani, and spend their afternoons in the mine.
Most recently, Nutara has been driving the fuel truck, the boom truck or the “436,” a large haul truck used to transport ore to the crusher.
When home in Inukjuak, Nutara said her friends and family often ask her if she’s scared of the work.
“They are surprised and happy for me at the same time,” she said. “I tell them it’s a good job. I don’t feel any different [being a woman].”
Once Nutara completes the two-year apprenticeship, she’ll be the second Inuk female miner working at Raglan — fellow Inukjuamiut Vicki Amidlak is the other one — and one of 15 Inuit currently working underground.
When down is up
At Raglan, moving underground could be considered the equivalent of “moving up” in the work world, away from entry-level jobs such as janitor and dishwasher.
And there’s room for more Inuit in Raglan’s mines, says Grey-Scott, but they have to want it.
Grey-Scott has the satisfaction of coaching new blood into the mine, but he knows from experience that driving a truck over a 12-hour shift can become monotonous.
“I know that frustration personally,” he said. “There is opportunity here, but you have to go out and get it. I’ve read the Raglan Agreement and I know there should be more options for Inuit.”
That’s why Grey-Scott hopes to focus on a training program in 2016 that will help move miners into more skilled positions, allowing them to operate more equipment, and earn more money.
Producing more Inuit development and production miners could translate into a larger and more stable Inuit workforce at the mine over time, he said.
A second chance
If you’re above ground at the Raglan site on a clear December mid-day, you can see the pink and orange twilight out the windows of its vast housing complex, which can house some 900 people at a time.
Annie Kenuayuak has been a familiar fixture in the complex’s hallways for 14 years now, sporting a wide smile and a pink Glencore Raglan fleece sweater.
As a co-ordinator of Inuit employment and training at Raglan, Kenuayuak is as comfortable in front of her computer as she is organizing local craft sales, where Inuit artisans come to the site to sell their work.
You’ll also hear her on the airwaves of Nunavik’s Inukitut-language radio network, Taqramiut Nipingat Inc., telling Nunavimmiut about job openings or training opportunities at Raglan.
That was one request Nunavik communities have recently made to Raglan’s leadership: they want to hear about what’s happening at the mine and learn more about its Tamatumani program.
Tamatumani translates roughly as “it will be better the second time around,” Kenuayuak explains.
The “second time” refers to when Xstrata took over the mine from its previous owner, Falconbridge Ltd. (Xstrata went on to merge with Glencore in 2012.)
“Falconbridge had a hard time interacting with the Inuit,” Kenuayuak said.
Though Falconbridge signed the Raglan Agreement, the company was more focused on contractual obligations, she said — the mine’s current owners have been more successful.
“And the reason it’s successful now is because the department understands how the Inuit live and how to approach them,” Kenuayuak said.
“It’s been a long hard road, but we’re getting there.”
Nunavimmiut who are looking for more information about Raglan’s Tamatumani program can call 819-762-7800, ext. 8442.