Mine’s alchemy turns Nunavut poverty into hope
Mayor: “They’re well-fed now and I’m happy to see that”
MEADOWBANK — Clutching a pair of gold-tipped scissors, Denis Gourde, the tireless man who manages the Meadowbank gold mine for Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd., snipped a long ribbon June 18 to mark the rebirth of hope for the long-impoverished people of Baker Lake.
“It is the happiest community in Nunavut because of Agnico-Eagle,” Jose Kusugak, the president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association said earlier that day, provoking a boisterous roar of approval from an audience of nearly 600 people who flew in to attend the official opening of the company’s lucrative Nunavut asset at an elaborate afternoon luncheon.
Kusugak said that in 1994, while serving as president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., he once visited Baker Lake, then one of northern Canada’s poorest places.
“People were crying with hopelessness. It was perhaps the saddest moment I’ve ever seen,” Kusugak said.
Now, thanks to the wealth-producing power of industrial mining, the people of Baker Lake will enjoy jobs and a measure of dignity for as long as Meadowbank lasts.
Sean Boyd, the company’s CEO and vice-chair, provoked another loud eruption when he told the audience that the price of gold on New York commodity markets hit $1,256 an ounce that afternoon — an all-time record.
This means Agnico-Eagle, which spends about $300 an ounce to produce gold at Meadowbank, hit the market sweet spot when they began production earlier this year, pouring the mine’s first gold bar on Feb. 27.
The company hopes to produce about 300,000 ounces of gold at Meadowbank until at least 2019. Their next big move in Nunavut would likely see the development of the Meliadine property near Rankin Inlet, recently acquired from Comaplex Minerals, into a working mine whose rate of gold production could rival Meadowbank’s.
The company’s TSX share-price stood at $66.14 at the close of trading June 18, up 70 cents on the day.
About 35 per cent of the mine’s work force of about 390 people consists of Inuit from Baker Lake and other Kivalliq communities. The others are mostly Québécois from the Abitibi region.
“I see a lot of people working on this site. They’re well-fed now and I’m happy to see that,” said David Aksawnee, the mayor of Baker Lake.
Moses Aupaluktuq, the MLA for Baker Lake, celebrated the event with his mother, Nancy Aupaluktuq, whose roots lie in the Back River area to the north of the mine site.
“It’s nice to see young people taking advantage of the opportunities,” Aupaluktuq said, his face lit up by an ear-to-ear grin.
Meanwhile, Gourde, the general manager of Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank division, scurried about the site all day, seemingly everywhere at once.
For hundreds of visitors who flew in from places like Toronto, Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake and Val-d’Or, Gourde was the first to shake their hand as they stepped off their chartered aircraft and the last to bid them farewell at the end of the day.
For the ceremony, most of the company’s directors and top executive officers donned fringed Kivalliq-style atigiit, tried their best to say “tunngasugitsi” and performed other gestures aimed at demonstrating their company’s pledge to respect the region.
A large poster listing the Government of Nunavut’s foundational principles for Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit occupied pride of place on stage, while speaker after speaker attempted to portray the company as having embraced Inuit culture.
“We have brought together three cultures,” said James Nasso, the chair of Agnico-Eagle’s board, acknowledging the Meadowbank’s mix of French, Inuktitut and English speakers.
The company also brought in the Rankin Inlet singer, Sam Tutanuak, who helped open the luncheon with songs from his recently released CD, Utiqpuna, now available on iTunes.
Inukshuk Aksalnik and Pauline Pemik of Rankin Inlet throat-sang and drum-danced, while the famous Baker Lake elder, Winnie Owingayak, lit a qulliq by striking a piece of flint against a stone.
Throughout the event, also designed as a morale-building exercise for employees, Agnico-Eagle executives drew repeated attention to their company’s management philosophy, especially its approach to the management of people.
Senior company officials spread their arms wide to embrace lower-level workers who received long-service awards, including Peter Tiktaalaaq of Baker Lake, who they honoured for three years of service as a haul-truck driver.
“What you see here is a result of our togetherness,” Nasso said.
As the afternoon wore on, three young members of the mine’s housekeeping staff, Daphne Quinangnaq and Cassandra Noah of Baker Lake, and Sandy Kookeyuk of Arviat, sat quietly at the back waiting for the start of their shift.
“It’s a good job,” Quinangnaq said.
Peter Tapatai, a Baker Lake entrepreneur who provides expediting and transportation services to Agnico-Eagle, said the Meadowbank mine is already transforming the lives of the young.
“It’s a huge thing for Baker Lake — way better than tourism. People talk about social impacts like alcohol and drugs? Well, we had those before without the mine,” Tapatai said.