Mining prospects leave Rankin residents with mixed feelings

Town built on mining looks at promising but uncertain future



The town of Rankin Inlet knows mining.

The hamlet was originally created in the 1950s to support the North Rankin Nickel Mine. And in recent years industry giant WMC International Ltd. has made its presence felt in the community of about 2,500 people, exploring what it believes to be a rich gold deposit on the Meliadine River, a short distance from the community.

So Rankin Inlet wasn’t surprised when prospectors exploring the area recently announced a promising find of kimberlite, a volcanic rock that often contains diamonds, 20 km from town.

But if the land, called the Churchill Property, and its diamond potential pan out, residents are likely to start paying a lot more attention. The economy in Rankin Inlet is weak, but a diamond mine would be a big job generator.

Lydia Tatty, the regional supervisor for the territorial government’s income support program, has been contacted for some of the region’s employment statistics. She believes that if a mine were to open, many of her clients would qualify for work and no longer need the government’s help.

“There are a lot of clients on income support who are capable of doing something,” Tatty says. And a mine would give those capable people an opportunity to work.”

Businesses in Rankin Inlet would also benefit from a mine. More jobs would mean more money for the residents of Rankin Inlet to spend at local stores and restaurants.

The Siniktarvik Hotel, which also houses one of the few restaurants in the community, has already seen an impact from prospecting. Mining company employees recently stayed at the hotel and rented its conference rooms. If the mine materializes, it would only bring in more business.

“I suspect it would bring some room revenue, and definitely dining room revenue,” says Pamela O’Carroll, manager of the hotel. “Any new industry in this town would certainly be good. If the mine came into town it would help the whole community.”

But some Rankin Inlet residents disagree. Pierre Kolit is a hunter who also works for the territorial department of social services.

He says the helicopters used by the prospectors, which would also be used extensively in the building of a mine, disturb the caribou that live near the town, forcing them further away.

“I have to go an extra 10 or 20 miles out to find caribou. We know [the gold and diamond prospectors] are leaving them alone, but the choppers are flying too many times daily.”

Kolit’s black-rimmed glasses reach back into patches of grey hair around his ears — the only indication that this Inuk man is in his mid-40s. He has to supplement his family’s diet with the caribou meat he catches, but he says the added distance he now travels to hunt is affecting his aging body.

“It takes a lot more,” he says. “When you’re not as young as you used to be, and when you’re working for your kids and your grand-kids, it’s hard on the body. If I was a [sport hunter] on the land it probably wouldn’t bother me. They would have more fun, more of a challenge to get the caribou. But when you go out every weekend, it becomes hard on your body.”

Bernie Kennedy of Northern Empire Minerals, one of the companies searching for diamonds near Rankin, says the effect of a mine would be positive. He says the impact on a small community like Rankin Inlet would be significant.

“It would be tremendous,” says Kennedy. “It would create all kinds of employment in the area. It would also bring a lot of money for infrastructure. If there’s an economic find, an enormous amount has to be spent to actually set up the mine, and if there’s something that can be contracted to people in Rankin, that would be our first choice.”

But Kolit feels the mining companies are, to an extent, exploiting the land and the Inuit of the area.

“It seems like the Qallunaat are taking advantage of our land. We’re the ones who live here. We’ve lived here forever and we’re not going to move south to retire.”

Kolit says the southerners who will run the mine won’t understand the traditions of the Inuit, and that will lead to problems.

“If you have a boss who’s not born up here it makes it harder for us to get out to hunt. If he was born here, going to retire up here, he’d probably understand. But southerners don’t understand our situation. They have a totally different view.”

That southerner’s view that Kolit speaks of will have to be refocused through a northern lens if mining is to be successful in Nunavut. For mining companies aiming toward good relations with the people of Rankin Inlet, the possibility of employment is a good start.

But just as Kolit balances working in an office building with supporting his family by hunting caribou, the prospecting companies will have to balance their mining with ensuring that the traditional way of life for residents of Rankin Inlet is not lost in the glare of shining diamonds.

Mosha Folger is a student in the creative writing and journalism program at Malaspina College in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

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