Mineral and Resource Development in the Arctic

Edited transcript of an interview with Peter Mansbridge and Sheila Watt-Clouthier on the cultural implications of mineral and resource development in the Arctic.

September 26, 2007

Edited transcript of an interview with Peter Mansbridge (PM) and Sheila Watt-Clouthier (SWC) on the cultural implications of mineral and resource development in the Arctic.

Sheila Watt-Clouthier is an activist and was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  She has brought prestige and acclaim to Canada's North for her fight to have climate change considered a human rights issue for the Inuit.


PM: On Southampton Island, you have the classic case of a community, Coral Harbour, that's facing the same kind of social problems we listed, perhaps even more so. And who are high on the expectation meter with the possibilities for mineral exploration and mining development. Almost to the point where, listen we need it, we've got to have it. How do you feel about that?

SWC: Well I think with our resource development as a whole, I think we need to be really cautious about, how we do this? It comes to the pace and the scale of how development will hit the Arctic doorstep. As anything else, we have learned that the speed in which things have happened has really created this almost out of control change at the community level. And I am cautious about that, as well as resource development, because we're going to have an influx like we've never seen before, if we open up too quickly…When speed comes into a culture such as ours, that is just so closely knit to the rhythms and cycles of nature and a hunting culture that didn't have much exposure before hand, we didn't have that opportunity to be able to say, wait a minute - this takes away from me, I'm going to leave that. But this could enhance my culture in fact, so I'll take that. And we didn't have that wonderful reflective time to be able to assess the situation and find a balance with all that was happening. And I am afraid that with resource development, it could be the same kind of challenge that is going to happen, in fact I'm almost certain it will be, because I am not convinced that we have everybody here that's ready to take on all those jobs that everybody is talking about. I suspect without the training and the real preparation of people who are going to take on some of those high caliber jobs in the mining industry and so on, we are still going to import the specialists, the experts, and export all the resources. What 's going to be left here, who’s really going benefit truly from all of this? Perhaps lots of good influx of money, yes, but I'm not sure what the planning stages are at. I have no idea yet. People haven't even spoken about that per se, in terms of preparing people. And the other thing, and it perhaps is a bit philosophical or spiritual on my part, but having worked with young people who have become dispirited and understanding that part of that challenge we face with our young people and even adults sometimes who take their own lives and so on, I am really cautious about the kind of protection that we're trying to have with this majestic land and the kind of connection that we want our young people to have with the hunting culture. And respecting that out there and having that almost spiritual connection to the place where you find solace, where you have peace, inner peace within yourself and what teaches you all of those wonderful skills. I am a little concerned that that relationship would change if you're digging up the very land that has sustained you and your family and your grandparents and beyond for millennia, how will that change? These are questions more than answers. I don't profess to say, oh we shouldn't be doing this. But for me it's about the pace, the scale and the balance of it all. Because even with my petition to stop the United States’ development, I have asked for balanced development, so I am just concerned about some of those things.

PM: But it clearly is a dilemma. We've talked to the local MLA there, who also happens to be the environment minister. And he's says, let's go, bring him in, bring in the diggers. And when you put it to him, you've got all these other problems, and there are those who worry what this is going to do to your community and your culture, he says, "Whoa!" He says, "How can it get any worse? We need something, we really need something!"?

SWC: Well, how could get any worse you mean in terms of environmental degradation or in terms of…?

PM: Well…in the quality of life.

SWC: Well, if we see it in terms of solely money is going to be the answer, the solution to all of the problems that we face here in the Arctic, I guess one would say, wow bring it in, bring it all in. But I think there's more to it than that, in terms of building back a society. What kind of a Inuit society are we trying to build that would match the opportunities and challenges and aspirations of the young generation that are taking their lives at a faster rate than we can grieve them. I think there's a lot more questions at hand here, in terms of what needs to get done, our education systems that need to be improved and training programs and really rebuilding structures that are based on the Inuit wisdom no matter what the program is, whether it' s a government, a school system, judicial, all of those. But I always concern myself when you look around the town even here or elsewhere and you see the infrastructures going up, you know bigger hospitals, bigger court halls, for me that indicates that the problems are getting bigger. We have to look to the issues at a real human level, at a real spiritual level to see what is going on and work those things through in terms of preparing our young people. And I think maybe our young people should now be starting to voice themselves rather than having some of us at this age be saying oh this is what we should be doing. Because I don't think that it is this age that should be holding their future hostage to begin with. And I'm hoping that they are going to start looking at these issues.

PM: Let me tell you what one of the young people on Coral Harbour said. He'd got a job working with these geologists, basically guarding for polar bears, but also taking a few basic courses and study of rocks. He couldn't have been more than 22, 24, he's got a couple of kids, he doesn't have a job, his wife doesn't have a job. He's on you some form of income support program. And he was saying, listen I want a job, I hope they find something here, I hope they come in with the mines. So that's the human level, grassroots level. And so how do you make the case?

SWC: Quite understandable, it is understandable. As I say I understand from where people are. But it's so unfortunate that as a result of what has happened to us historically in terms of how we just haven't been able to quite make it, that we now have to be choosing these kinds of quick fixes and be so anxious for those kinds of jobs without really stepping back and looking at the larger picture of where we want to go as an Inuit society. And to tap into some of the remarkable, remarkable talents and gifts that our young people here have, that are promoting our culture, our performers, our cultural performers. If you were here during a night festival and just saw the kind of richness that exists here with young people who are making it, I would say, wow, we should be exporting that for the world to see, because that's a part of the solution. I'm not at all against young people who want to work and be dignified in doing so. I am just concerned about some of the larger pictures of where we're headed. Because as I say, when they come in, who will benefit and for how long? And when you look at other what we consider very successful resource development issues, Fort McMurray and other places, I often hear there is major problems over there in terms of what the workers themselves are going through. I don't have all of the details, so I don't know if I should even be quoted on that. But you know there's alcoholism, there's lots of problems, social problems that exist at a lot of those mining camps and mining communities just the same. And I don't know of any that can be used as a real model for great success that have balanced out the human aspect and the economic aspect that really does help. But no, I would not be the one trying to stop a young person like that in getting what it is that he feels he needs to have for him and his family, which is a job. But for me in life, I think earning a good salary, and making a good living is more than having a job, it is about finding your place, your rightful place and doing something that you feel really connects you to yourself and your strengths and your talents and gives back to your community in some way. But that's my definition. But perhaps it's not that of others.