Inuit prospectors search for wealth in the rocks of Nunavut
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Standing behind a table lined with pebbles and shimmering pieces of pink quartz, Louie Qingnatuq puts a magnifying glass to his eye and inspects what looks like a simple chunk of rock.
The up-close view of the rock’s bumpy surface reveals tints of blue here and there. For Qingnatuq, it’s a hidden treasure.
“The bluish colour is a sign of gold,” he says, a grin widening on his face.
But Qingnatuq isn’t just hung up on the gold. He’s big on discovering just about any unique rock and mineral that is scattered on the tundra in the east Kitikmeot region.
The 53-year-old Gjoa Haven resident is a trained prospector. In the summers he scours the land south of his community in search of pieces of rock containing traces of silver, copper, lead and zinc.
Qingnatuq worked for the Northwest Territories Power Corp. for more than 20 years before making the big jump into prospecting two years ago. “I started wondering about the land,” he explains. “And I had heard about all the minerals that are out there.”
He’s one of the several prospectors showing off their wares in the “Prospectors’ Rock Land”, a display set up for the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Cambridge Bay. An entire table is devoted to Qingnatuq’s rock collection — an array of tiny pebbles, rust-coloured rocks and sparkling pink quartz.
People attending the symposium, including representatives from major Canadian mining corporations, mill around the “Prospectors Rock Land” to check out the mineral-rich rocks.
James Eetoolook, Nunavut Tunngavik’s first vice-president, picks up Qingnatuq’s magnifying glass to take a closer look for himself.
Qingnatuq first learned the tricks of trade two years ago in a one-week prospecting course. Put on by the Nunavut government’s Minerals, Oil and Gas Division, the course introduces students to the basics of prospecting for minerals.
Then, Qingnatuq hit the land in 2000, staking a claim 80 kilometres south of Gjoa Haven. The stretch of land is located across the Rasmussen Basin, in the Arrowsmith Bay area.
“I’m mostly looking for minerals like gold and pyrite and some other minerals,” he says. “If you see a really odd rock, especially the rusted rock from far away, that’s where you should go.”
In his first prospecting trip, undertaken the summer of 2000, Qingnatuq collected about 30 rock samples from the Arrowsmith Bay area. He then sent the rocks to a geologist in Kugluktuk, who chose 15 to be analyzed in a lab in Vancouver.
Two of Qingnatuq’s rock samples were promising. They showed traces of copper, lead, zinc, silver and cobalt in them.
The next summer Qingnatuq carried out more prospecting and sampling in the area and turned up another interesting catch. Of the 11 rock samples he sent to the Vancouver lab, five contained hints of zinc and lead.
His finds were significant enough that Neil Willoughby, the chief geologist in Kugluktuk, wrote in a report on the Arrowsmith Bay area that it “has good potential for the discovery of significant base metals, and possible precious metals.”
Over in the Baffin region, prospector Harry Iyerak is digging up some mineral finds of his own.
The Igloolik resident is well respected in the prospecting field, having completed reconnaissance work for the Cominco mining company.
Iyerak went from working underground at the Nanisivik nickel mine to prospecting for minerals on land near Igloolik.
He sees mining as the industry that will get Nunavut’s economy rolling.
“In the future it might be promising for our communities. More mining companies are starting to come and look at the potential here,” he said.
With a small pick hammer, a magnifying glass and a GPS, both Qingnatuq and Iyerak will set out again this summer to explore the tundra for more shining, bluish coloured rocks.