Mining in Inuit Nunangat

Finding What Works: Mining in Inuit Nunangat

Update: October 2016

As part of the ReSDA workshop held in Ottawa on October 26-28, 2016, Dr. Frances Abele provided an update of the research. You can read the abstract provided that summarizes the current status of the project here.

March 2014 to March 2017

Project Leader: Frances Abele, Professor at Carleton University and ReSDA Theme Leader

Research team and partners:
Joshua Gladstone, PhD Candidate and Research Assistant, Carleton University
Natan Obed and Sharon Edmunds-Potivin, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.


This proposal is intended to draw on the combined experience of Inuit organizations and communities in Inuit Nunangat in order to understand how Inuit-industry-government partnerships have helped to ensure mining projects achieve positive results for Inuit employees and communities. We will examine what appear to be successful aspects of contemporary mining projects across Inuit Nunangat and develop criteria that could be used to define “success.” To do this, we will find out what goals the partners in each mining project set, how these goals have been met, and whether there is evidence of positive long-term impacts on communities.

Research Purpose

For at least the last 60 years, non-renewable resource extraction has been an important driver for social and economic change in northern Canada, leaving a mixed legacy of environmental and social effects (Keeling & Sandlos, 2009). Formerly, the mining industry worked exclusively with government to secure land rights, resource leases, infrastructure subsidies, and workforce incentives to transform resources into economically viable deposits on Inuit lands. In each Inuit region, the settlement of a comprehensive land claims agreement has meant that Inuit now have significant influence over the way that northern lands and labour are used by resource development companies to achieve their aims in the North. Today the mining industry can no longer develop a project without first considering the rights of Inuit under comprehensive land claims agreements. Inuit land and resource ownership and rights to negotiate impact and benefit agreements mean that project operators are expected to look beyond employment as a byproduct of mineral extraction and consider the needs and interests of Inuit organizations and communities.

One of the many challenges facing Inuit and other Canadians in the wake of comprehensive land claim settlements has been to ensure that collective rights are translated into outcomes that meet collective expectations. Within this context, it is important to understand how Inuit have mobilized effective partnerships in order to achieve positive outcomes for workers and communities. What tools are available through modern treaties, and what additional resources have been employed? Most importantly, what lessons can we draw from the recent past in order to enable Inuit (and others?) living in northern communities to achieve the benefits resource development may have to offer in the future? Given the magnitude of recent interest and investment in northern resources, it is important to ask where, why, and how resource development is being done “right.”

Taking seriously the socio-cultural and political dimensions of sustainable development in the Arctic, this research addresses the challenges of mineral extraction from a regional perspective by drawing on the knowledge and experience of Inuit within Inuit Nunangat. Inuit in each region have had their own encounters with resource development, actively participating as workers, investors, policy-makers, and regulators, and experiencing the positive and negative effects of projects as members of families and communities. As a result of this wide range of experience, Inuit and other northerners have developed a clear sense of what has and has not been done “right.” This research will rely on existing knowledge and focus constructively on the different ways resource development projects have worked for and with Inuit.

The conditions under which positive outcomes could be achieved have already been described to some extent in the literature. For instance, relationships among stakeholders that could foster better results, for example through impact and benefit agreements, have been described (Caine & Krogman, 2010; Galbraith, Bradshaw, & Rutherford, 2007; Mills & Sweeney, 2013; O’Faircheallaigh, 2009). But so far there is little comparative research examining how specific processes or strategies yield positive outcomes. The results of this research should help Inuit organizations, governments, industry, and the concerned public gain valuable knowledge not only about successful mining initiatives, but also about the circumstances contributing, perhaps, to their success.


Our methodology will involve consultations with Inuit organizations in each region of Inuit Nunangat, a scoping process involving a literature review and interviews to identify key partnership initiatives, and a series of interviews about each partnership initiative with representatives from stakeholder groups. Divergent goals or criteria for success will also be recorded. The results of this research will help Inuit organizations, governments, industry, and the concerned public gain valuable knowledge not only about successful mining initiatives, but also about the circumstances contributing, perhaps, to their success.


March 2014 – March 2017

The following methodology will provide a rigorous way of exploring our questions through a combination of a literature review and in-depth interviews focusing on Inuit-industry-government partnerships at each mine that has been active under a comprehensive land claim regime.
Step 1: Consultation, ethics clearance, and research licensing (March – May 2014)
This proposal has been developed by Frances Abele and Joshua Gladstone at Carleton University in partnership with Natan Obed and Sharon Edmunds-Potvin at Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. A version of this proposal will be sent to Inuit organizations in each region of Inuit Nunangat for review and input. These organizations could act as an advisory group as the project proceeds, providing guidance and feedback at different stages and directing researchers toward key informants and information. Toward the end of this period, the research team will seek ethics clearance from Carleton University and apply for necessary research licenses in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Step 2: Scan (June – August, 2014)
In the second step of this project we will identify all of the mines that have been active under each comprehensive land claim jurisdiction in Inuit Nunangat, including Voisey’s Bay, Raglan, Meadowbank, and possibly Diavik and Ekati. We will conduct an initial review of the academic and grey literature to compile a list of initiatives related to each mine that meet broad criteria for partnership in the areas of employment training and advancement, community health and wellbeing, cultural continuity and Inuit heritage, and any other areas identified during consultations.
Step 3: Scoping (June – August, 2014)
The initial list of initiatives will be narrowed as criteria for successful partnerships are refined. The process for narrowing the criteria will be developed with the assistance of the advisory group, and through deeper analysis of each initiative. Key informants who have been involved directly in the partnerships under consideration may be contacted at this stage to provide additional information. At the end of the scoping exercise, a list of one or two partnerships defined as “successful” by Inuit organizations for each mining project will be identified and the criteria used to define success from an Inuit perspective will be refined.
Step 4: Interviews (September 2014 – April 2015)
Interviews will be conducted with key informants representing the different organizations involved in each successful partnership. Key informants may include program negotiators, managers, delivery personnel, policy makers, and clients. Informants will be identified based on their knowledge of specific projects or project initiatives, and they would be asked to recommend other knowledgeable people to speak with about specific issues related to each partnership. It will be important to interview the full array of partnership participants in order to make sure all perspectives are captured.
Step 5: Analysis (May – August, 2015)
Interviews will be analyzed thematically and used to develop rich descriptions of each partnership. Examples will be compared in order to arrive a some initial propositions about how these partnerships form and how they can become successful from the perspective of Inuit and the other organizations involved.
Step 6: Dissemination and Knowledge Mobilization (September 2015 – March 2016)
Research findings will be disseminated in a project report, presentations at conferences and workshops, and academic publications. In addition, we would like to develop an illustrated oral Inuktitut presentation of the research results, in the form of a podcast. This could be broadcast on the IsumaTV network and by other means on the internet. This aspect of the project has not yet been included in the budget and will require consultation to determine if this is possible.

For more information contact:
Frances Abele
Professor at Carleton University
5209 River Building
School of Public Policy & Administration
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6
613-520-2600 (ext. 2553)

Joshua Gladstone
PhD Candidate and Research Assistant
Carleton University