The Raglan Agreement at 20: how it’s shaped Nunavik’s mining industry
“It was a real trail-blazing event”
“It feels like it was just yesterday,” says Willie Keatainak, thinking back to a day that will always stand out in his memory: Feb. 28, 1995.
That was the day when Keatainak, then mayor of Salluit, and other Nunavik leaders gathered in Kuujjuaq with officials from Falconbridge Ltd. to sign the Raglan Agreement.
The agreement was the first Impact and Benefits Agreement signed in Canada between a mining company and an Indigenous group.
In 1995, the Raglan mine was still a few years away from going into operation, out of a sprawling complex laid out on the tundra about 100 kilometres south of Salluit.
The agreement itself laid out the terms between the Inuit of Nunavik, namely the nearby communities of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq: how the project would be monitored and how it would ensure Inuit enjoyed the requisite social and economic advantages.
Keatainak knew the project well — for years before he was elected mayor, he worked as a liaison between Raglan and his community.
When negotiations began towards the agreement, people in Salluit had only one project to compare it to: the Asbestos Hill mine, which operated near the community through the 1970s.
The project had brought some wealth to the community, but it had also left behind dilapidated mining structures and tailing ponds.
“I wanted people to understand that the community had been affected by prospecting projects for the three decades before Raglan started,” Keatainak said.
“Mining activities had a big impact on the community in terms of environmental concerns and also the social issues. At that point, people didn’t have much of a say.”
Having Inuit communities at the table this time around was key, Keatainak said, and that helped secure benefits, including the more than $100 million paid out to the region in profit sharing since the mine opened.
Twenty years later, there’s a sense of accomplishment and of celebration.
The mine’s current operators, Glencore, marked the anniversary with events and entertainment at the mine site earlier this year.
This week, as the company does each year, Glencore will host a community supper in Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq, with gifts of ham — and toys for its younger residents.
“You have to understand that this was one of the first negotiated agreements of its kind in North America, maybe even the world,” Keatainak said.
“It was a real trail-blazing event. I hope it’s been a benefit to both our people and our land.”
It’s not only the 20th anniversary of the Raglan Agreement that gives Nunavik’s leadership pause, but the mine plans to expand its lifespan well beyond its initial expected closure in 2020.
Raglan’s phase two, called the Sivumut project, would include two new underground mines which would operate from 2019 to 2032.
Although Glencore has since announced it has postponed its phase two plans, the company says Sivumut is still on the horizon.
Glencore is currently completing an assessment of the project’s social and environmental impacts, to be evaluated by the Kativik Environmental Quality Commission in 2016.
“I just hope it works out better in the second phase,” Keatainak said.
When Keatainak says “better,” he’s talking about jobs for fellow Sallumiut. At 20 per cent Inuit employment, the Raglan mine is meeting a goal laid out in the Raglan Agreement, but regional leaders would like to see more Nunavimmiut take advantage of employment opportunities.
“We’ve learned much from negotiating and implementing that agreement,” said Adamie Delisle Alaku, vice president of renewable resources at Makivik Corp. and another signatory to the agreement.
“In essence, it’s about trust and mutual respect.”
Among all the concerns over the negative environmental impacts of mineral exploration, Alaku said Nunavimmiut recognize the opportunities.
“And that’s the main thing — generating jobs,” he said. “It might not be a lifelong career, but you go there for a couple of years and make your money.”
That’s what Salluit-raised Alaku did; three years as an open pit foreman and another seven as a human resources coordinator with Kewit-Nuvumiut, an Inuit-owned contractor that works at Raglan.
The trilingual and college-educated Alaku thrived at his work but he saw many other less skilled Nunavimmiut struggle as they competed for jobs with more qualified Southerners.
Many Inuit come to the mine site without basic certification such as a driver’s license, Alaku noted; others rely on apprenticeships to move into mining positions.
And although the Raglan Agreement gives hiring priority to Nunavimmiut, the mine workers’ union prioritizes qualified workers, he said.
“If they want to increase their Inuit percentage, they have to put trainers in all the fields,” he said. “If you want an apprentice mechanic, put a trainer in the garage.”
Makivik has learned some lessons along the way, Alaku said. With the region’s newer nickel mine, Nunavik Nickel, the organization opted to keep the IIBA private, and not distribute royalties to Nunavimmiut.
That project had less support from the region; residents of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq didn’t want to see a second mine, Alaku said, but the project went ahead anyway.
“I think for [future mining projects], we need better monitoring and a better say,” he said. “But I think we keep the same formula.”
“We’ve benefited from the Raglan Agreement,” he added. “It’s been really good for the region.”
Come back to Nunatsiaqonline.ca Dec. 14 to read more about Raglan mine’s Inuit workforce.