Empowering Arctic Indigenous Scholars and Making Connections

Call for Applications and Nominations
Empowering Arctic Indigenous Scholars and Making Connections

Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S.
Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska

Nomination deadline: 28 December 2018, 5:00 p.m. Alaska Standard Time
Application deadline: 10 January 2019, 5:00 p.m. Alaska Standard Time

For more information, go to:
Empowering Arctic Indigenous Scholars homepage

For questions, contact:
Lisa Sheffield Guy
Email: lisa@arcus.org
Phone: 907-474-1600

The Impact of Resource Extraction on Inuit Women and Families in Nunavut

A Report for the Canadian Women’s Foundation was released in January 2014, outlining the impact that resource extraction is having on the Inuit women and families living in Qamani’tuaq, Nunavut. The report contains a literature review and qualitative data as well as a series of recommendations based on the collected data. While much anecdotal information is available about the impact that the extractive industry is having on indigenous peoples around the world, it is nice to see some data that can be used to support anecdotal accounts.

The full report is available here.

The research looked at the following areas:

  • The Work Environment (including issues like sexual harassment and employment opportunities)
  • Material Well-Being/Income
  • Family Relations
  • Addictions
  • Socio-Cultural Concerns

A few excerpts from the report:

Mining is one of the oldest occupations on the planet. It is an industry whose activities, especially in the case of open-pit mining, are very visual. The impacts of these modifications to the landscape also introduce serious environmental risks. It is therefore not surprising that since the early 1970s, a wealth of literature on the topic of mining, extraction industries and sustainable development has been produced. There are far fewer sources that specifically cover the social and gendered impacts of mining—even less that focus explicitly on Indigenous people. Very little material is Inuit-specific. . . .

There is very little evidence in the literature on Indigenous peoples and mining that identifies resource extraction that has been done with thoughtful consultation, support and that has contributed fairly to nearby communities, with little impact on the land, water and people.1

Despite some benefits and exemplary cases,2,3 the majority of sources cite people’s dissatisfaction with the mining process; from discussion, planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, to the closure of mines.4,10 The imposition of economic and political structures, Western values and beliefs, displacement, dispossession of lives and culture at considerable social costs are all cornerstones of what many authors describe, in reference to mining and Indigenous peoples, as capitalist and colonial relations.5, 6 Many authors make reference to complicity between the State and extractive industries.1, 10 Although people are identified as having greater access to some degree of income security, the benefits of mining projects are not distributed equally between industry and the people directly affected. 7, 8, 9 Mining projects in the Canadian North have become part of a social and political attitude that can be described as ‘new frontierism’,10 where a great expanse of land and resources are waiting to be discovered and profited from, the benefits of which will ‘trickle down’ to those framed as ‘tragically destitute’. The “anxious”3 arguments for territorial and extractive expansion are reminiscent of a very familiar paternal discourse that associates the Canadian Arctic with Canadian identity and opportunity, in a rhetoric that often leaves out Inuit altogether. ‘The north serves, primarily, “our”—easily understood to mean southern Canadian—interests and aspirations.11 . . . .

The Canadian economy has been, historically, and continues to be focused on resource extraction and development. These activities cannot be viewed without attention to environmental, historical, political, economic and social interconnections. Resource extraction has, and continues to generate considerable controversy and debate among Canadians. Over the past year Canadians have seen 2.5 million rivers and lakes protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act drop to only 160 with the passing of Omnibus Bill C-45. Proposals for the twinning and expansion of pipelines for the transportation of crude oil across the continent have been moving forward in the presence of oil spills in Alberta and British Columbia and the Lac-Mégantic explosion in Québec. The Alberta tar sands are seen by many to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and thus global warming; a concern with regard to the environmental and social consequences for Arctic Canada. These developments generate controversy, with some politicians, business people, economists and members of the public focusing on the economic advantages – the contribution of oil sands development to employment and the Canadian economy. The Canadian economy is heavily reliant on the export of resources. In 2010, the energy, forest, agriculture and mining sectors accounted for 60.8% of the country’s exports. Total exports accounted for about 30% the country’s GDP.13 Internationally, countries struggling with poverty increasingly see the export of their mineral wealth as a means for lifting themselves out of poverty and as a way of participating in a globalized capitalist economy.14, 15 Since World War II mining has played an increasingly important critical role in fueling capitalist growth and expansion.14, 16, 17

A growing concern in all economies—increasingly in western European as well as ‘south’ countries—is growing economic inequality and the long-term implications for social well-being and the functioning of civil society. Cheap labour facilitates the accumulation of capital for development.18 The role of resource development in the creation of unequal outcomes and the dispossession of some to the advantage of others is an international concern related to mining and resource development.12 Colonial expansion—internationally—has strong ties to the history of the development of gold and other minerals.19 The history of gold mining—including its recent history—is full of intrigue and controversy. Naylor provides a trenchant portrayal of the recent history of international gold mining, including attention to the technology and environmental implications of the chemicals and processes used to extract gold from ore, and the impact of gold mining on Indigenous peoples.20 Internationally, gold mining continues to generate considerable opposition from Indigenous peoples whose traditional lands – from Papua New Guinea, to Latin America, Australia and Canada—continue to be subject to considerable pressure from the ebb and flow of international desires for ‘glamorous gold’.16

At the same time, there are individuals in the mining industry and companies that are clearly attempting to ‘do things differently’. This is not always possible as mining companies, heavily dependent upon investment and sensitive—as are all corporations—to their share price on Canadian and international stock exchanges, must still live with attention to the ‘bottom line’. Depending on the values, orientation and pressures acting on those responsible for decision- making, the promises made in an impact benefit agreement may get compromised, environmental protection, in an attempt to save money and remain competitive, may be compromised. The pressures operating on management decisions in the mining industry are many. The literature dealing with the social and environmental impacts of mining is overwhelmingly concerned with these realities.

The history of the relationship of Canadians to the Arctic pre-dates confederation and the transfer of lands and resources under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Arctic islands under the control of Great Britain to the newly formed Canadian state. The colonization of northern lands, peoples and resources proceeds in a fashion that paralleling settlement of eastern and then later, western Canada. Displacement is literally and symbolically critical to capitalist expansion and colonial initiatives.10, 12, 21, 22 Incorporating colonial subjects into developing economies has been a concern related to colonial expansion since the early 1800s. In the Canadian Arctic, Inuit were first employed in the whaling industry. With its collapse just before the First World War, they were integrated into the fox fur trade of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The collapse of the fur trade following the Second World War introduced a period of welfarism with Inuit increasingly dependent for sustenance and survival on the newly-developed liberal welfare state. It was a period where Inuit struggled with an epidemic of tuberculosis, the residential and day schooling of Inuit children, a move from hunting camps to consolidated settlements and, in general, phenomenal social, cultural and economic change. 23

These events had devastating and long-lasting impacts on people’s livelihoods, cultural vitality, self-esteem and both physical and mental health.18, 23 Increasingly, efforts were made to integrate Inuit with the Canadian industrial economy, commencing with employment at the North Rankin Nickel Mine operating on the west coast of Hudson Bay from 1957 to 1962 and the construction of the Distant Early Warning (D.E.W.) Line (1956-57). These efforts are also evident in the development of Nanisivik, a lead-zinc mine developed near the Inuit community of Arctic Bay on the northern tip of Baffin Island. Planning commenced in the early 1970s and the mine operated from 1978 until 2002. It employed around 200 people from neighbouring communities and, along with the Polaris Mine operating on Little Cornwallis Island in the high Arctic, introduced many Inuit to wage employment for the first time.24 Studies have revealed that the long-term or sustainable benefits of these projects for Inuit were few—if any.24 They neither benefited from the infrastructure associated with the mines, nor were investments made in alternative income-generating activities that would sustain Inuit families after the mines were shut down.

WaPo Article about Alaskan Yupik/Inuit Snowboarder

From WaPo:

Callan Chythlook-Sifsof grew up in the part of Alaska known as “The Bush” and spent her first 12 years in a village about 500 miles northwest of Anchorage, a place reachable only by boat or plane.She received her first snowboard as a gift from an uncle when she was 7, and she and her older brother would pull each other across the rugged terrain.

She never imagined a snowboard would carry her to the Olympics and let her make history in the process. Chythlook-Sifsof is the first Native Alaskan – from the state’s indigenous cultures – to make the U.S. Winter Olympic team. Even she’s a little amazed by it all.

“When you come from where I come from, the Olympics are just something you see on TV. It’s never really real,” she said. “For everybody living there, I’m really proud to show to people that this isn’t just something that you see on TV. That real people can do this. It’s for everybody.”

It’s not that Native Alaskans have a disdain for the Olympics. Chythlook-Sifsof said the remoteness of the land doesn’t exactly lend itself to having Olympic dreams come true.

Even now there isn’t a snowboardcross course in Alaska. Her family moved to a ski resort in Girdwood – about an hour outside Anchorage – when she was 12, a move that allowed her to hone her craft.

And when she saw Girdwood native Rosie Fletcher take bronze in the parallel giant slalom in 2006, she knew the Olympics were suddenly a very real possibility.

Movie Review of “Before Tomorrow”

From the Onion A.V. Club:

Billed as the third part of a trilogy that began with Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and continued with their The Journals Of Knud Rasmussen, the melancholy drama Before Tomorrow features a different writer-director team, but has a look and mood similar to the earlier films. Co-directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu (working from a novel by Jørn Riel) follow an Inuit tribe in 1840 as they go about their seasonal rituals of celebration, fishing, and storage, all while whispering among themselves about the strange ways of the white folks that some of their people have recently met. The movie primarily focuses on an old woman (played by Ivalu herself) and her grandson (Ivalu’s real-life grandson, Paul-Dylan Ivalu) as they travel to a remote island to dry meat, then get stranded under mysterious circumstances. As the movie’s title implies, everything is about to change for these two. These are the last happy days before destructive modernity encroaches.

Unlike its predecessors, Before Tomorrow is a little too enamored of the idea of unspoiled innocents corrupted by outsiders. The characters in Atanarjuat and Knud Rasmussen were more complicated and flawed, while here, they’re sweetly superior. (An on-the-nose “natives are people too” theme song by Kate and Anna McGarrigle is another major miscalculation.) Unintentional condescension aside, though, Before Tomorrow succeeds for the same reasons the earlier films did: Cousineau and Ivalu take the time to document a way of life from the inside, making old Inuit customs and domiciles seem inviting rather than alien. There’s a lot of chatter around the campfire and swapping of songs and stories—many of which seem unscripted—and even when the scope of Before Tomorrow narrows to two characters, the filmmakers make sure we keep hearing those characters’ voices. That’s a marked, welcome contrast to other movies about remote cultures, which often favor silence and stillness. Before Tomorrow has a different agenda. It’s set in a forbidding landscape at a dangerous time, and Cousineau and Ivalu show how companionship and shared tradition can go a long way toward sustaining people even in the face of personal devastation.