This poster was part of a recent safety campaign launched by Agnico Eagle Mines. The company has since apologized and withdrawn the signs. (Photo courtesy of Agnico Eagle)

Agnico Eagle retracts ‘English is first’ safety campaign after backlash

Message should have been ‘safety is first,’ mining company says in apology

By Mélanie Ritchot

After coming under fire for a recent safety poster stating “English is first,” Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., which operates several mines in Nunavut, has apologized and is withdrawing the signs.

The poster, which also read “you say atii — meaning ‘okay’ or ‘let’s go’ — they hear ‘a tea’,” and “don’t get lost in translation,” garnered attention from hundreds online after Becky Han, an Inuk musician and advocate for the preservation of Inuktitut, suggested the company teach their employees a few Inuktitut words instead, as guests on Inuit land.

Lonny Syvret, the senior advisor of the company’s Nunavut operation, said in an interview that “upon reflection, the message should have been ‘safety is first.’”

“While the purpose of the campaign was really well intended, we clearly failed in the implementation and the perception of the posters.”

The poster was part of a safety campaign and to promote English as the company’s language of operation, Sybret explained.

For safety reasons and with some miscommunications having happened in the past, he said all work-related communication needs to be done in a single language.

He said other posters with similar messaging about French were also printed, as the company hires employees from across the country.

Pujjuut Kusugak, the director of the company’s Nunavut affairs, said about 30 per cent of the company’s employees are Inuit or from Nunavut.

Kusugak said he is unaware of any unilingual Inuktitut-speaking employees, but many have English as a second language.

“It’s well understood by employees the importance of using one language to communicate for the safety of all employees,” he said.

Off work hours, Kusugak said there are many interactions between employees of different cultures, for example, Inuit employees teaching others Inuktitut words and about Nunavut.

“[That] creates a better work environment for everyone, we love seeing that and we have encouraged that.”

Agnico Eagle issued an apology to Nunavummiut staff and the communities they operate in on Wednesday afternoon.

“Agnico Eagle recognizes that the land on which we operate in Nunavut is owned and traditionally used by Inuit and that we are visitors on their land,” the news release states.

Karliin Aariak, Nunavut’s languages commissioner, said Wednesday afternoon she had received a few complaints about the “English is first” poster and thought she might receive more.

Aariak’s office has launched an investigation, which will include determining whether the messaging goes against any laws.

For example, Nunavut’s Official Languages Act includes Inuit languages like Inuktitut as official languages in the territory and requires certain organizations working in the territory to offer services in Inuit languages.

Other laws, like the Inuit Language Protection Act, might also be relevant, she said.

Aariak couldn’t comment on the poster specifically since the investigation is ongoing, but confirmed Agnico Eagle has been notified about the investigation.

“It’s a good sign when people are publicly speaking out about their language rights,” she said.

This is especially relevant in light of Thursday being truth and reconciliation day, Aariak said, adding “most, if not all” Inuit were prohibited from speaking their language in residential schools.

“We’ve kept our language alive for this long and we need to feel proud [it] didn’t die off,” she said.

“We should all [feel] the strength of our language and not be afraid to stand up for it,” Aariak said.

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Old timer on

    So did they till the French people this to English first? If not something not right there your in Inuit lands hope NIT KIA do something about this.

    • Posted by French guy on

      Yeah French people are told similar things, but that poster is especially bad.

      • Posted by Oh Ima on

        I don’t think the posters are that bad, I think it makes the point I am Inuk, everyone responsibility to take safety seriously, I feel AEM tried to send in a way that was respectful and using a bit of humour, which Inuit are known for! At least AEM tried.

  2. Posted by Safety and logic on

    Sharing a common working language is best for EVERYONE’S safety. The mines can’t work in Inuktitut yet, there aren’t enough inuktitut-speaking people willing to be trained and work yet. Aviation also uses English as the common language for safety, and they do so around the world.

    Mine workers are not “guests”, they are Canadians in their country and are employees of the mines. Are inuit “guests” when they work elsewhere in Canada? Do Inuit belong only in Nunavut, or are they full Canadians who can go anywhere?

    Racism is not reconcilliation, and workplaces choosing to use the common language that everyone at the mine speaks and understands is not racism.

    • Posted by Kaitlyn R. Nobiss on

      A lot of indigenous people don’t identify as Canadians as it was an identity forced upon indigenous groups through acts of colonization like residential schools , treaties and segregation.
      Inuit are indigenous to Nunavut and anyone else who comes to Nunavut , or isn’t Inuit is considered a settler. Myself included , even though I’m indigenous .
      If you were to go to a different country , it is very standard and important to respect the customs and language of the people there.
      It is very settler/ colonizer thinking to act entitled to space and land that isn’t yours.
      I’d suggest you do more research , on the true history of Canada . First Nations, Métis and Inuit are the groups of people who were here first.

      Safety is important for any workspace and as the common language is English , it makes sense to have it used. But as we continue to decolonize within KKKanada maybe we will see a better day where settlers put in more effort to be truly multi-cultural and learn the indigenous languages within KKKanada .

      English and French are not the indigenous languages , they’re merely spoken more because settlers historically tried to wipe out indigenous languages .

      • Posted by No Moniker on


        I find the term indigenous, and specifically the criteria by which a group might be called indigenous, is not always that clear. The standard Oxford definition being: “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native”

        We know that Inuit are not the first occupants of this land, as you seem to have implied. In fact, most archeologists agree they arrived around 800 years ago, possibly to trade with the Europeans who were already here, granted those (Vikings) did not settle here nor did they intent to.

        When the Inuit moved into what we call Nunavut they too KKKolonized this land, taking it from its original occupants who until that point had lived here for about 4,000 years. Oral histories explained what happened as something akin to ethnic cleansing, and in some instances even genocide.

        It seems reasonable, knowing all this, to ask if Inuit really are indigenous to Nunavut?

        I’d be curious to hear what you think.

        • Posted by Nomadic on

          Inuit didn’t stay in one spot. They traveled often going to places where there will be good hunting. For example, they would go to inland to go caribou hunting, they would go to the river to fish, they would go close to the ocean to hunt seals and whales etc. And often them follow the migration of each animal. I have heard a lot of stories hunters travelling and meeting up with people in Alaska, people in Greenland.

          If you want to argue about inuit being indigenous to nunavut. Of course we are, Nunavut was created 1999. Inuit negotiated for this land and majority of the people are Inuit.

          Your argument is kind of stupid because it sounds like you don’t have respect to the people that live in there land.

          • Posted by No Moniker on

            Of course people moved around to hunt, but they also occupied semi-permanent settlements and built small communities at specific sites. Many of these were once Tuniit, until Inuit moved in and replaced them.

            So your point is Inuit are indigenous to Nunavut because… 1999? Does that mean European Canadians are indigenous to Canada because… 1867?

            Do people think through the implications of their arguments anymore? This one is barely coherent.

            • Posted by Inuit** on

              We are talking about Inuit in Nunavut. Yes tuniit were here before us but we are taking about Nunavut. And we are talking about if Inuit are indigenous to this land.

              According to the law yes, Canada is Canada for canadian people. And Nunavut was created by Inuit who are the indigenous to this land.

              Nunavut means our land. And who created the territory? Inuit. And land belongs to inuit. Sure crown owns more then 80 percent of the land but does that mean queen will use the land? Will they hunt here?
              They are only making millions of money out of this land like people that come up here to work.

        • Posted by Confused on

          No Moniker,
          Where on earth did Inuit of Nunavut come from only 8 generations ago?
          where are they from is it Alaska, NWT (Nunavut), Greenland (Denmark), Siberia, Quebec or NFLD and Labrador? and You may find this confusing, Inuit and parts of Mexico and Hawaii have the some same words and meanings to them.

          • Posted by Tell us more on

            No need to be confused, we live in an information age. I just asked Siri, where did Inuit come from, and it gave me several good links.

            Tell us more about these Mexican and Hawaiian words?

        • Posted by Dorset on

          Yup, the Inuit decedents living here now have been proven to be new here themselves. They slaughtered the Dorset who were here long before the Inuit.. Archaeology and genetically it has been shown that no Inuit share DNA with the Dorset. Google and there are scientific papers, and much evidence pointing to Inuit settlements wiping out the Dorset. That’s a part of history that no one wants to acknowledge as it doesn’t fit the Qalluna go home rhetoric.

    • Posted by Concorn on

      No wonder Inuit that work for the mining companies don’t often succeed to where they should or could be at. French is there first language at site and most Inuit don’t understand that Language. Please don’t judge nunavutmiut for trying. It’s the company that needs to enforce their employees that English speaking should be the language for safety reasons.

  3. Posted by articrick on

    Tell that to the French only speakers, I have worked for AEM and while on my shifts, all I would hear is French 12 hrs a day for 2 weeks,

  4. Posted by Inuk on

    In Nunavik mines French is the dominant language but they at least try to put people who are bilingual in important positions like in public service or positions of authority. When they make announcements it’s usually in 2 languages but not all the time. Two official languages of Canada must be in use as often as possible esp. In Quebec. Its wonderful when they make an announcement/meeting in inuktitut but it’s very rare. The toolbox meeting at the start of a work day is pure French though and you need a coworker to fill you in when its important. Learning French is hard just like learning inuktitut.

  5. Posted by JOHN ELL on


  6. Posted by Clueless on

    Based on the way I’ve seen Atii used irl I thought it meant “STOP” not go.

  7. Posted by Aputi on

    @baffinland your able to speak inuktitut on cb and say it in English afterwards, with agnico eagle your supervisor will tell you English only and yet French on cb they don’t even translate

  8. Posted by Justin on

    Yes, Nunavut belongs to the Inuit. It is their land. Quebec states the same thing about Quebec. All the indigenous tribes, hundreds of them, also want full domionion over “their” land. Alberta wants to have full control. While we’re at it, how about Nova Scotia as well, but let’s make sure to segregate British and Acadian heritage first. I also think that when Quebec is seperate, let’s make Montreal island segregated to account for the Anglophone population, that can be their land too.

    When you think of it – lot’s of Europeans came over and built up different settlements in previously unihabited places. Let’s make sure the Irish, Scottish, German, Ukrainian, Russian, Finnish, Dutch, Polish, etc… all have their own lands too. Now…immigration has changed. We better create enclaves for religions. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists…..darn it! They have different sects, we better account for Sunni, Shia, Protestants, Catholics, Baptists, etc… they should each have their own traditional lands too.

    So basically, Canada doesn’t exist. It shouldn’t exist. It is a mistake, we should instead become 1,000 seperate states that all have dominion over their own lands. That will work absolutely perfectly. Never in history has this never worked out right?

    One catch! No more sharing of federal tax dollars! Everyone isn’t Canadian until their hand is out for billions of taxes paid by other Canadians. And in the case of Nunavut…who receive $1.8 BILLION from the Federal government – this means you can’t have it if you aren’t “Canadian”. Please keep in mind that this annual payment accounts for $43,000 per capita in Nunavut, by FAR the highest in Canada. For reference, NWT follows at $34K per capita, then Yukon at $28K…and then it drops down to $4K for PEI, and less and less. Basically, the north, and especially Nunavut, are propped up entirely by Canadian tax payers, because the north can’t sustain itself. But god forbid we attempt to do business up there, because then we are guests and you aren’t Canadian anymore? Fine…then let’s cut off federal payments, re-invest into the rest of “Canada” and can simply work out royalty payments as we would in any foreign country. Would be cheaper for the mining companies, and you can fend for yourselves. How does that sound?


    • Posted by Status card on

      Some very good points made here.

      How many hundred years do I have to go back to prove my ancestry? How many people today can say, without a doubt: “My ancestors have lived on this land since humans were humans?” No one in Nunavut that’s for sure, if you want to bring up the “we have been here for generations” or the “we were here first” argument, at least prove it. If the Dorset people were alive, they would be the true Indigenous group with claim to Nunavut. It’s too bad a newer group of people decided to move into the area, and wipe them out. Gee that sounds awfully familiar?

      Just because I am of European decent does not by default make me a colonizer, and to call everyone one is a broad and untrue statement. Even among the British there were not as many who were colonizers as everyone claims. The poor were forced to move here, either through false promises or forced immigration. My ancestors are Irish/Scottish and were ALL forcibly relocated to eastern Canada against their wishes and were done so as slaves. Yes, slaves, it isn’t well known that there were many Irish slaves. After a couple hundred years my ancestors small town was deemed “too expensive” to maintain by the Canadian Government and was forced to move yet again. If they refused they were denied health care, and other services, and were forced to move again. People like me who reside now in Nunavut would be a great ally and very supportive, however no one can look beyond their hatred of my skin colour, long enough to have a true conversation about me. Stop calling everyone “colonizers” or “settlers”.

  9. Posted by Village on

    Question: What is that land below called
    Answer: Land below is Kanata (in Cree language its village)

    Answer to new comer the land is called Kanata (land he did not point out from sea to sea but the land below?)

    • Posted by Tulugaq on

      Kanata is an Iroquoian word meaning “village” and was used by the Iroquoian people that Cartier met in 1535 when he was shown the way to Stadacona. The French translated the word into Canada since the XVIth century.

  10. Posted by Andrew on

    Pure ignorance of AEM, insult to our language and culture, AEM knows they will get away with it just like when spills happened and AEM brag that they get away with it and no fines or anything happens. Most disrespectful mining company with no concerns with Nunavut beneficiaries, wildlife, land and water.

  11. Posted by Tulugaq on

    Safety is a nice excuse to force English as common language while in fact it’s a colonial language that anglo imperialism is forcing upon any other language group. In the 1970’s there was also a crisis in Quebec about the language of air control since francophone pilots wanted to use their language to communicate with other French speaking pilots and air control. Ensued a national crisis because Ottawa decided to impose English as the sole language for aircraft communications for “safety” purposes but had to backtrack quickly since this was unworkable and was a bonus to the independence movement. Ultimately, pilots could use French or English and air controllers had to be bilingual and that actually enhanced safety.

    Inuktut is the official language in Nunavut and imposing a colonial language like English is insulting to the majority of Nunavummiut and an expression of anglo imperialism. If people are unhappy to work with Inuit that speak their own language, they can work elsewhere or they can learn Inuktitut. Safety is a lame excuse and respect of the Inuit majority should be the rule.

    • Posted by Hair splitter on

      Inuktitut isn’t “the official language” in Nunavut, it is “an official language,” among others.

  12. Posted by Atii on

    Have a little RESPECT to the people whom you are taking minerals from!
    despite people who were there first or whatever today, you are on Inuit land!
    JUST RESPECT the people and keep your eyes open and learn! LEARN the language and respect the people…
    Can all people just Imagine for a minute here, human beings going to your land, scaring you, saying you cannot talk or speak in your language anymore and abuse you so bad, and than taking all the minerals and the food chain is disrupted because of the minerals… MAN!!! Show some f*&%en respect!! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!

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