North·FEATURE

Looking for rocks with dad: Meet the Inuit family behind Nunavut's newest mine

Doris Kallak, 66, was a guest of honour this week during a celebration at Nunavut’s Doris North mine at Hope Bay. The mine is named after her and her stepfather first staked the area near where the mine is today in 1964.

Doris Kallak, 66, used to play on the tundra near the mine first staked by her prospector stepdad

Doris Kallak, 66, was a guest of honour this week during a celebration at Nunavut’s Doris North mine at Hope Bay. The mine is named after her and her stepfather first staked the area near where the mine is today in 1964. (NWT Archives/Submitted by Geoff Clark)

Richard Akana's heart thumped when his feet reunited with the tundra at Hope Bay.

It had been at least 55 years.

"[I had] a big lump in my throat," reflects the 62-year-old, "thinking of what good memories we had as kids playing all over."

Siblings Doris Kallak and Richard Akana at the Doris North mine site. (Submitted by Geoff Clark)
Akana and his older sister, Doris Kallak, 66, were guests of honour this week during a celebration at the Doris North mine at Hope Bay in Nunavut's Kitikmeot region.

The gold mine, which hit commercial production last month, was named after Kallak. There's also a Doris Lake, and several others named after the family.

Kallak's stepfather Noel Avadluk staked the first claim in the Greenstone Belt in 1964, not far from the current mine. Akana and Kallak, and their siblings, often joined him on the land. 

"We loved exploring, looking at rocks," Akana said. 

"It was interesting."

A 'famous Inuk prospector'

Avadluk, originally from the Bathurst Inlet area, worked as a special constable with the RCMP, later turning his attention to geology.

He was known as the "famous Inuk prospector," according to Emilie Cameron in her book, Far Off Metal River: Inuit lands, Settler Stories, and the Making of the Contemporary Arctic.

Avadluk playing cards with an unidentified person. (NWT Archives/Holman Photohistorical and Oral History Research Committee/N-1990-004: 0440)

He made a living "grubstaking" in the 1960s, Cameron writes, mixing traditional skills with "self-taught geological expertise."

Those were skills Avadluk passed onto his children, including his step-daughter Kallak. 

"Go as far as you can picking up rocks," laughs Kallak. "You'd get rewards for it. Bubble gum or candy."

The family would fly to their camp at Hope Bay in a single engine Otter on floats during the summer.

Kallak spent hours with her stepfather and siblings combing the rough terrain under the midnight sun.

Kallak inspects the processing mill at the new mine. (Submitted by Geoff Clark)

Avadluk told them to keep an eye out for rocks that looked similar to "tunnuq," with strips of white minerals that resembled caribou fat.

"Or you break it and you blow on it and you see it sparkle and we'd go bring it to them," said Kallak. 

The Hope Bay gold mine on June 8, 2017. (Submitted by Alex Buchan/TMAC)

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna, who comes from Kugluktuk, remembers Avadluk as a "busy" guy always going in and out of town.

Even in the '50s, Taptuna said, Inuit were determined to get ownership of their land.

The Inuit of Coppermine sent a letter to the federal government in 1953 asking for financial assistance and training to stake mineral claims.

"We believe that was the first petition of Inuit to Ottawa. They wanted lands for their own, as landowners," said Taptuna.

"Now we're the largest landowners practically in the world when it comes to the territory of Nunavut, both surface and sub-surface."

Kallak (front, centre) and Akana with several Inuit leaders at the Hope Bay mine June 8. (Submitted by Alex Buchan)

The Kitikmeot Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated both have royalty agreements with TMAC Resources the operator of the Doris North mine at Hope Bay.

Kallak was amazed to see the mine in production this week.

"When I look at the process plant, I said, 'Oh! This is more easy than walking and walking and picking up rocks.' 

"It was nice to be back."

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