Mining and Inuit Communities in Canada – Tom Hoefer
This is a long version of the answer that Tom Hoefer (Executive Director, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines) gave us for the Lead Article A Zero-Sum Game? which deals with the following question: Rapid globalization makes competition for land, raw materials and other resources intense. When the stakes are so high, can rural, indigenous peoples and urban, industrialized communities both benefit from resource extraction? Or is this situation a zero-sum game?
Resource extraction – particularly mining – in northern Canada is already benefitting both rural, indigenous (Aboriginal) peoples and urban, industrialized communities. Currently, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut host 5 mines producing diamonds, gold and tungsten. The mines’ physical footprint is less than 0.01% of the two territories’ area, which itself is the size of India. The region hosts fewer than 75,000 residents the majority of whom are Aboriginal (First Nation, Inuit and Metis). Education levels are lower than the Canadian average, unemployment is significantly higher, and social problems are greater.
Training partnerships and industry-community agreements have helped make mining the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal people, and have created a brand new Aboriginal mining business community. The mines provide much needed employment and income to fill the void created when NGO pressures decimated the fur trade, an economic cornerstone of Aboriginal communities for several hundred years. Aboriginal communities have captured thousands of person years of long term, high paying mining jobs, and several billion dollars in business spending through their new business ventures. The industry’s tax and royalty contributions are also helping move the territories and communities closer to economic self-reliance. The 4 NWT mines contribute about 30% of the GDP, and Nunavut’s single gold mine is already contributing over 10% of its GDP. The mines also employ workers from southern Canada, and they purchase materials and supplies from manufacturers there, creating jobs and wealth for other, urban and industrialized parts of Canada.
The Northwest Territories and Nunavut’s large size, remoteness and cold and harsh climate conditions are not favourable to economic diversity. Non-renewable resource development is our economic strength and today, the mining industry in the NWT and Nunavut is making the most significant socio-economic contributions to Aboriginal communities than ever in the industry’s 80-year northern history.
But it’s not enough. Given our Aboriginal baby boom, and given that mines don’t last forever we need to continue to explore for, and develop, new mines to address our employment needs. Our current mines are doing much to help, but there is room and need for further growth that will contribute much-needed community opportunities. We are hopeful that commodity markets will remain strong enough to support a number of exciting new mining ventures in both Territories which will provide still needed opportunities for local employment, business and government revenues.
Tom Hoefer, Executive Director, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines