‘We’re left behind’: Inuit mine worker blasts COVID-19 rules keeping him from job

Agnico Eagle in ‘final stages’ of planning for Nunavut workers’ return

Agnico Eagle spokesperson Sonja Galton said the company is close to bringing back Nunavut workers to its mines, including the Meadowbank mine, seen here in a file photo. (File photo by Jane George)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For the better portion of the last two years, Rankin Inlet resident Kumanaa Autut has been at home instead of working at the Meadowbank mine.

In his place are rotational workers from the south, while the Government of Nunavut keeps territorial residents away from the mines due to COVID-19. Autut, 67, doesn’t think that’s fair.

Kumanaa Autut, seen here in a recent picture, has done contract work for Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. for the last 10 years. He said he believes Nunavummiut should be allowed to return to work if they are vaccinated and obeying the safety protocols. (Photo courtesy of Johanne Coutu-Autut)

“The gold mine is at my house, it’s on my land,” Autut said. “My land, my gold.”

The mine, operated by Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., first sent Nunavummiut staff home in March 2020 and, most recently, on Dec. 24, after a dozen cases were confirmed across the company’s three Nunavut mine sites: Meliadine, Meadowbank and the Hope Bay property.

Although Nunavummiut directly employed by the mine receive 75 per cent of their pay when they are at home, contractors don’t get the same treatment, as is Autut’s case.

For 10 years, Autut has worked for a contractor who supplies dynamite to Agnico Eagle.

Since the pandemic began, he has been off and on employment insurance and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which only offered a small fraction of his annual salary and much less than the 75 per cent annual salary that direct employees receive.

Autut hasn’t received any benefits since Dec. 24, his last day at work, although his employer recently offered him 75 per cent of his salary as of January.

On top of that, he said he’s missing out on the pension contributions that usually come with his salary.

“It’s been pretty hard on me and also on my family because we have to pay the bills,” he said. “It’s been stressful.”

Agnico Eagle is close to bringing workers from Nunavut back to work, says company spokesperson Sonja Galton, who adds there is only one active COVID-19 case left at the Meliadine mine.

The company is in the midst of getting approval from Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, and will be provided updates when that happens, Galton said.

“We are now in the final stages of implementing the correct protocols that will need to be in place … to establish a return date and bring everyone back safely,” she wrote in an email.

Patterson provided some detail on the process during Thursday’s COVID-19 update. He said bringing Nunavut workers back to the mine has to do with the company’s comfort level with increasing the risk of COVID-19 spreading in communities, how easily the company can prevent spread on site and how often staff bring COVID-19 to the mine site from the south.

Autut, who is fully vaccinated and has had his booster, understands that communities need to be kept safe from COVID-19, but if Nunavummiut are following safety protocols, he said, they should be able to work.

“[Southern workers] are going to work and I’m stuck at home with nothing,” he said. “And this is my house, this is my land. That’s not right. That’s not right at all.”

For Autut, being replaced by southern workers means less money, opportunity and experience for Inuit.

He said he wants the Kivalliq Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to lobby for Nunavut workers to return and for the Government of Nunavut to weigh the benefits of sending workers home versus missing out on benefits.

“We’re left behind, and this mine is not going to be forever,” he said.

“This is our opportunity to get people to work at the mine to be a carpenter, to be a plumber, to learn a trade. This is our chance.”

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Inuk on

    It’s about time this subject has came up in the news.

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    • Posted by Roger Sr Anowtalik on

      I started in 2018 for Apprentice welder and supposed to do 4 yrs, and because of covid-19 I have missed lots of training at the camp and I was not able to do the trainings most of the year and because of covid-19.

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  2. Posted by Not surprised !! on

    That’s what happen when you keep voting the Conservative Government. They do not care for the Aboriginal and our Inuit. You did a good job for not keeping your mouth shot. In smaller cities the Conservative people will get so mad, cut you off of your eligibility. They will make sure that you never complaint about them again. They don’t us and they will make sure they will not help us too much.

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    • Posted by Let’s Go Brandon on

      You seriously need to wake up, Liberals are in power, NDP been our representative in Ottawa, all the fear mongering been by the Liberals and NDP the last couple years, Dr Patterson is running the show here in Nunavut with his puppets the Premier and Mr Main.

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    • Posted by Umingmak on

      Huh? This comment makes no sense. The Liberals have been running the country since 2015. The MP for Nunavut has been NDP since 2019. Akeeagok is very, very liberal. Savikaataq is very much a centrist. Nunavut hasn’t had a conservative-leaning Premier since Peter Taptuna.

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  3. Posted by NUNAVIMIUK on

    Going threw the same schitt here in nunavik , work at canadian royalties , got both shots plus booster . sitting around since november

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  4. Posted by Umingmak on

    Glad to see this finally out in the media.

    Workers at mines and resource development projects in the NWT, Alberta, BC, etc have never lost their jobs over this. It’s only Nunavummiut who have been shafted. Let these hard-working men and women return to their jobs!

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  5. Posted by Concern employee on

    AEM in Nunavut is now a French speaking mine now too, as Covid is happening. Regular employees, supervisors, HR to the top people at the mine it is up 80 percent speak French at the mines now. There are employees that would not pass an English language test if there was one.

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    • Posted by Not surprised!!. on

      My husband was a welder, had applied to the French Construction job because we knew one of them had an accident and had to go home. That construction crew was getting one of their relative to come to work for them. Those kind of stories are not new. The French is telling us when we try to get a job in Quebec we have to know their language in order to be hired. In Nunavut, even a house keeper in a Hospital, hotels and so on. They well tell you that Inuit do not show up and keep losing their job because they have a poor showing up for work. No!, that is not right for the Inuit. And, there is another story, when I was visiting home I had applied in a hotel that are full of Filipino workers. And, they were telling me they do not need a worker and she saw I was Inuk. The Government worker in charge of the Manpower, please help us Inuit that we have the right to get a job too. The people in Iqaluit are being pushed away because we are being discriminated from people who’s relative need a job from South and they are being told by their boss to keep their mouth shot. My people will not be quiet any more and we will look for someone who can help us and we will get though.

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    • Posted by Tom Shelby on

      This is a racist comment, what does language have to do with it, if 80% spoke Inuk at the mine, you wouldn’t say a word.

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      • Posted by French isn’t a Race on

        Actually language does legitimately have something to do with operations. The mines have deemed English to be the official working language for safety reasons, Inuit are allowed to speak Inuktitut at the mines but only in casual conversation, not in work-related talks, so it’s mandatory that they speak English. This comment shows that it only seems to work one-way, as there are numerous French-speakers now working at the mines that can’t speak a lick of English.

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  6. Posted by Name withheld on

    Tried to say something, they don’t care about inuit, we never move up the ladder only french, inuit are kept in the bottom

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    • Posted by Aputi on

      At baffinland you can freely speak inuktitut, then translate it to English during work that way both parties can understand

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  7. Posted by Tom Shelby on

    Covid has screwed 1000’s of people across the whole country, so many out of work and loosing their lively hood. Until everyone gets the vaccine and stop spreading it around by not wearing masks, sharing a bottle, sharing cigarettes and picking up cigarettes off the ground, Covid will be always be a problem in Nunavut, so get use to it.

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    • Posted by Somebody on

      It clearly says that even Inuit who are following the protocols are still unable to go back to work. Why? Sure seems like racism to me.

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  8. Posted by Ron Roach on

    The biggest problem with COVID 19 and the decisions being made by the government is that all the people making decisions not only in Nunavut but all over Canada are getting paid full wages and maybe lots of overtime and do not understand the hardship their decisions are causing for people not working for government, NTI and Regional Inuit Organizations.

    There are lots of people struggling to pay for basic foods and maintaining their house, paying mortgages, truck payments, and being forced to paid basic living costs with credit cards and high interest rates or not paying bills so family can eat. Yet you see the government, NTI, and RIO,s tell there employees to work from home and don’t worry if you don’t get your vaccinations you will always have a job. I am not even going to say anything the decisions being made concerning teachers and students( double standards)

    It is amazing that the government will not let people work at the mines when the safety measures at the mines are better than any community measures in all Nunavut communities. If you have had your two vaccinations and booster shot you should be able to work anywhere in Nunavut and Canada.because you have done what your elected government has told you to do yet you cannot. But they do not hold there own employees to the same standards but suffer no consequences. I have lost all respect for people we elect to government because it is now do as I say, not as I do.

    I talked to lots of people and everyone is getting sick of COVID 19. I believe that everyone is entitled to made their own decision on weather to get vaccinated or not. I would assume that before making you decision you have looked at all the good and bad reasons and then make a decision and realizing that there are consequences to your own decision.

    If you decide not to get vaccinated then you should just stay home and if you get sick don’t expect the health service department to rush to help you. There are lots of people that are a lot sicker than you that need the health services more then you and are not getting the service.

    If I was an elected official and knew that 80 percent of the population was vaccinated and has followed what the government has said to do I would not be trying to please everyone. Yet the 80 percent of the population is wearing masked and suffering and following all the rules for the 20 percent that refuse get vaccinated.

    These are crazy times and there seems no common sense anymore.

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  9. Posted by Past miner on

    That’s crazy ! All of the Inuit mine workers in the eastern Arctic region are sitting at home ! All mining and exploration remained open for our inuinnaks here in the west. Even going diamond mines regularly. Hope they get all inuit back on the workforce. Nunavut government should give lost back pay . Impact benefits agreements are written and never implemented to help the ones affected by this .

  10. Posted by Kimbo Okpatauyak on

    Why is it so hard for us Inuit to go back to work if covid is worldwide why is it so easy for the southerners to get a job at the camp and the virus is so high in the south and yet we have the lowest percentage of covid and yet it’s so hard to get back to work I don’t see why doctor Patterson can’t must say ok they can go back to work I was wrong but yeah u are wrong u can’t stop the virus ur just making us go crazy and u know our housing and food and so many other things is so expensive and the 75% won’t even pay much here u need to realize ur making a big mistake doing this this need to be fixed and the Inuit needs to get back to work like Kia promised that is 50 percent Inuit to work at all Nunavut mine site but it is 100% French this is not right

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