The following is the final piece in the second set of our ongoing Arctic Interruptions series. Edited by Sara Komarnisky and Lindsay Bell, this series challenges our expectations about the North and opens new windows on its life and history. The series will appear in Volume 4, Issue 1 of Northern Public Affairs.
In April 2013 Nunatsiaq News, Nunavut’s territorial newspaper, published an article titled “Mining companies need to understand Inuit: Nunavut consultant.” The article drew on a presentation made by former Rankin Inlet mayor and now mining consultant, Pujjuut Kusugak, at the Nunavut Mining Symposium. In the presentation, Kusugak asserted that people who come to Nunavut from southern regions of Canada (defined as south of the 60th parallel) to work in the mining industry need to have a better understanding of Inuit and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA). Further, Kusugak went on to state, “Inuit will not just agree to have land ‘exploited’ or ‘used’ for development…Inuit aren’t going to just give you that land” (Dawson 2013, 1).
This article ruptured ideas held in southern imaginaries of Nunavut as mining’s last frontier (Klein 2012), or as a former minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development called it, “our frozen treasure chest” (Saunders 2014, 1). Instead, Kusugak’s words served as a firm reminder that Nunavut is the homeland of Inuit whose claims to territory have shaped the social and geographical landscapes. He cautioned that mining executives and workers need to learn “what it’s like to work in the North…People need to understand what they’re getting into” (Dawson 2013, 1).
I would argue this article also served another purpose: By drawing attention to the complex grounded encounters occurring between mining companies and Northern communities, it interrupted what many people expect of Northern peoples, places, and processes. Mining projects in the Canadian North are often conceptualized in theoretical and practical scholarship as impacting vulnerable Northern populations and challenging traditional ways of life (Hall 2013). This approach fails to understand that Inuit are not merely victims in the face of ‘modern’ development projects (cf. Horowitz 2002), but actors in processes of environmental and social change, albeit in highly asymmetrical relations of power (Blaser et al. 2004). Further, less attention is given to the movement of people, capital, and goods in and out of the region (Cameron 2012).