Resource Extraction

Executive Summary

This research report is the second of two documents dealing with the social impacts of mining activity near Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake) on Inuit women and families in the community. The first report (March 2014) was based on interviews and qualitative data. This report deals with results of a questionnaire, with content developed in 2013 by Inuit women of Qamani’tuaq in the course of a week-long workshop.

The questionnaire was completed by 62 women, aged 19 years and older. The data deals with their experience, perceptions and feelings. While social impact research typically focuses on statistical indicators (rates at which services are engaged, facilities used, employment rates, training received, health statistics, etc.), there are considerable shortcomings to this approach. The quality of life experience is important. Regardless of what indicators may reveal, how women perceive and feel about their experiences are essential to appreciating impacts.

The age range of respondents parallels that of women in the community, being somewhat over-represented by women of an age (20-40) where they would be most likely to work, or have worked, at the Meadowbank mine. The experience of women with the industry was considerable, with 26.7% having worked at the mine, 6.7% being currently employed, and 43.1% having a family member working in the industry. Inuit women were about 11% of the total workforce (2012). Analysis was done with Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS).

The results suggest that women are conflicted about the impact of the mine on themselves and their families.  About 67% of respondents report their families are divided, and 76% indicate the community is divided about the benefits of mining. Seventy-five percent of women noted that the mine had ‘given their families good opportunities’. ‘Needed the money’ was a reason given by 50% of respondents for taking a job at the mine, with another 29.2% indicating that it was the only job available. Results reveal that benefits are material and related to income opportunity afforded by mine employment. Money to support relatives was reported by 63.8% of respondents as something that had happened for their family since the mine opened, with 77.6% noting that money was available for clothing and houshold goods, and 55.2% indicating that funds made vehicles and travel possible. Thirty percent of women indicated they would like a job in the industry, while 18.3% were definitely not interested and a further 23.3% were unsure about whether or not they would like mine employment.

The costs of having a mine operating nearby are social, cultural and personal. While 50% of respondents were happy in thinking of the future of Qamani’tuaq, 50% also indicated they were confused, with 43.3% indicating they were worried, 23.3% saying they were scared and 13.3%, depressed. ‘Proud’ (a feeling about the future of their community) was identified by 21.7% of respondents.

Women identified significant problems created by the mine. The top four problems identified were an increase in the use of alcohol (71.2%), language conficts (66.1%), more money being spent on alcohol and drugs (64.4%,) and a loss of traditional/cultural practices (64.4%). Racism at the mine was noted by 57.6% of the women. A signficant percentage of responses dealt with serious issues for women. These included sexual harassment at the mine (49.2%) and increased harassment in the community (28.8%), as well as an increase in sexually transmitted infections (45.8%) and more prostitution in the community (13.6%).

The problems identified are even more serious when paying attention to the way women rated community services available to deal with them. Suicide prevention services were not given a high rating. Mental health services were rated as largely ‘so-so’. Health services were rated negatively by 44% of respondents, with a further 28.8% regarding them as ‘so-so’. However, the most negative ratings went to childcare, with 56.6% rating services negatively, along with the availability of programs and spaces for women. Childcare services, available in Inuktitut, and the creation of a cultural centre for the transmission of cultural and traditional knowledge were rated as top priorities for women in the community. Women were of the opinion that Hamlet Council could use some help in dealing with the impacts of mining. A majority were unsure as to whether or not women had played a role in negotiations and agreements related to the development of the Meadowbank mine.

In filing impact assessments, mining companies typically emphasize the job opportunities available to local people. In the case of Qamani’tuaq and the Meadowbank mine, these opportunities are clearly a ‘mixed blessing’. The social impacts and costs of mining—expecially for Inuit women and their families—are often overlooked or underplayed. This research suggests that more complete guidelines, and participatory approaches to engaging Inuit women in the preparation of these assessments are in order. It also makes it clear that ignoring the impacts and failing to direct resources to addressing them, extracts a very heavy toll on Inuit women and families.