Nunavik’s Raglan mine reopens despite outrage from Makivik Corp.
“We are very concerned about the spread of the coronavirus as a result of reopening the mines”
Nunavik’s Raglan nickel mine is reopening, following its closure on March 24 due to Quebec’s COVID-19 business shutdowns.
The decision follows Quebec Premier François Legault’s announcement on April 15 that mining activities in the province could be allowed to resume gradually.
But Makivik Corp., which represents Nunavik Inuit, says it is “strongly opposed” to the resumption of mining activities in the region, which has so far seen 14 cases of the new coronavirus.
“This is very dangerous. The Inuit elected officials in the communities and in the different regional organizations need to be heard and need to make the decisions and call the shots,” Makivik President Charlie Watt said in a news release on Friday, April 17.
“Nunavik cannot and will not be governed by civil servants who may be tempted to use the pandemic to empower themselves.”
Makivik has written numerous letters to Quebec about various issues related to the pandemic, “and they have not responded … not even an acknowledgement of receipt,” Watt said.
Watt said Quebec can’t ignore Makivik and has to fully respect the spirit and intent of the 1975 land claims agreement, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
“The pandemic does not mean there is no longer a duty to consult with Inuit,” Watt said. “We are very concerned about the spread of the coronavirus as a result of reopening the mines. We don’t believe the conditions will completely protect the Inuit population from coming in contact with potentially infected people returning to the region.”
Céliane Dorval, a spokesperson for the Raglan mine, which is owned by the Glencore Group, defended the decision to resume mining operations.
“Progressively, over the next few days, we will restart operations while ensuring the health and safety of our workers. No compromises will be made on this aspect,” she said on Friday, April 17.
“We will continue to ensure measures related to intensive cleaning, disinfection, reorganized work to limit contact between workers, and isolation in the event a staff member or supplier develops symptoms.”
As well, Inuit workers from Nunavik, who will not yet be returning to the mine after being sent home in March, will continue to receive their regular salary until May 4, she said.
“It is essential for us to find solutions and to make sure these employees will want to come back to work when the time comes,” Dorval said.
About 100 of the mine’s Inuit employees live in the south, she said.
“As they are currently not residents of Nunavik, they will be allowed to go to the site,” she said.
In order to limit contact, Raglan’s Deception Bay camp is closed to Nunavimmiut for now.
“However, they can go to their camps, which are quite far away from our facilities,” she said.
The mine is also planning to launch on-site testing for COVID-19, similar to that now in place at the Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s Meadowbank mine.
“This preventive measure is in addition to all other existing measures at the mine site. In the event of a positive case, swift identification would allow contact tracing, isolation of sick individuals and medical evacuation if required, which will help shield the local population from transmission of the virus,” Dorval said.