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Mining future looks bright
Twentieth mining symposium celebrates three operation mines and increasing Inuit employment

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Saturday, April 8, 2017

With a mine in production in each region as of mid-February - when TMAC poured its first gold bar at Hope Bay - the mood was celebratory at the 20th Nunavut Mining Symposium.

NNSL photograph

Operating mines from each region shared the corporate award at the 20th annual Nunavut Mining Symposium gala dinner April 5. From left TMAC Resources' John Roberts, Baffinland Iron Mines' Brian Penney and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.'s Dominique Girard. - photo courtesy of Nunavut Mining Symposium

Almost 400 people gathered to discuss mining in the territory around the theme Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Alookie Kotierk opened the symposium that ran April 3 to 6..

"I know that Nunavut is immensely rich, in land, culture, heritage, wildlife, minerals, oil and gas. We must work together to harness this wealth," Kotierk said via translator.

Kotierk noted the three producing mines are on Inuit-owned lands - TMAC's Hope Bay gold mine in the Kitikmeot, Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.'s Meadowbank gold mine in the Kivalliq and Baffinland Iron Ore Corp.'s Mary River iron mine in the Qikiqtaaluk.

"I challenge each and every one of us to focus on building our local workforce, investing in our children, youth and general population, to achieve higher education and encourage skills development at all levels," she said.

In his welcome address, Premier Peter Taptuna noted the territory's untapped potential, and how Nunavummiut continue to experience difficulty connecting to resources and markets.

"We are still the only jurisdiction in Canada not connected by physical infrastructure to Canada's other provinces and territories."

Despite this, he said, while "Canada's economic growth has slowed, Nunavut still outpaces the rest of the country. The future looks bright in many ways."

But Taptuna spoke of Nunavut's need for independence from the federal government, as did Senator Dennis Patterson later in the day. Both men spoke of Ottawa's unilateral decision to ban oil and gas development in Arctic waters with disappointment and frustration.

"I am worried about what lies ahead," Patterson said, "with a federal government which is driven to protect increasing percentages of Canada's lands and waters, and has nowhere else in the country where it can freeze development without requiring consent and indeed without even asking."

Taptuna says he hopes to see a devolution agreement in principle in the near future.

"A devolution agreement would be a positive development for our territory. We are the last jurisdiction in Canada to not have control of our own public lands, waters, and resources. In the long-term, it would allow the government to generate royalty revenues and put those funds towards investments," he said.

Focusing on Inuit

With its millions invested in training so far, Agnico leads the way in Inuit employment with 300 Inuit employees and a goal of 700 once Meliadine joins Meadowbank in producing gold. Agnico's goal is to jump to 50 per cent Inuit employment from about 35.

Agnico's chairman Jim Nasso recalled Jose Kusugak attending the opening of Meadowbank.

"Jose had visited Baker Lake in the '80s. It was a community that was depressed, they were devoid of hope. He witnessed tears of despair. However, today, most of our Inuit employees come from Baker Lake," said Nasso.

Nasso said social assistance recipient numbers have gone way down.

"And school attendance has gone way up. The number of visitors to the medical clinic - I wouldn't say zero - but they're much lower than they were, which speaks for the wellness of the community."

In contrast, Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. sits at 16.3 per cent Inuit employment hours.

"We don't have enough Inuit working at our facility. We have a goal for 2017 to increase to 200 Inuit employees," said president and chief economic officer Brian Penney.

"When I hear Agnico Eagle talking, I think they represent a model we should try to replicate. We'd like to learn from them, quite frankly steal shamelessly from them. In doing so I think all mining companies will benefit as we increase the capability of the Inuit workforce in the area."

Agnico hopes to see Inuit run its mines, as local people run the Mexican and Finnish mines.

"Our vision is to have all of the employees be Inuit. Why not? It's going to take time, but we're already on our way. The engineers, the managers, the accountants, all of that, over a period of time, should be local people," said Agnico president Ammar Al-Joundi.

While speakers agreed there remains much to be done - namely in the areas of infrastructure and devolution, and now the carbon tax - Nunavut has come a long way since 1996 discussions in Rankin Inlet hatched the first symposium.

"They came up with some principles - that people in Nunavut should have a share in the action in the form of training and jobs for local people, contracts for local businesses, equity involvement in projects, consideration and respect for the cultural differences of the people of the territory and the chance to be partners in the non-renewable resource industry," recalled the symposium society's Bernie MacIsaac.

"Those principles still apply today."

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