Project 6

Mining and the Social Economy in the Canadian North

Research Team
Dr. Arn Keeling, Geography Department, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland
Dr. John Sandlos, Department of History, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's Newfoundland
Jean-Sebastien Boutet, Masters Student, Geography Department, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Concise Report

For further information about this project, contact Arn Keeling (


Through the investigation of case studies in western Labrador and northern Quebec, we plan to examine the impact of mining development on northern communities and their local environments and economies. Through archival and community-based research, this project intends to illuminate how major mine developments affect existing social economy organizations and practices. We are also interested in how the community instability associated with mine closures impacts these organizations, as well as the broader social economy. In particular, our project will address the impact of social and economic changes associated with large-scale capitalist enterprises on indigenous and Northern communities. Primary research will be undertaken by a master's student, contributing to training and the development of research capacity. We plan to work closely with several organizations that have expressed support for this project, including local First Nations, community groups and mining companies active in the region.

This research will provide a distinctive regional and thematic counterpart to a SSHRCC-funded project (led by the investigators) examining the environmental and social impacts mining developments in Aboriginal communities across Canada's territorial north. Our research will develop social economy capacity by helping Native and non-Native communities identify key problems related to single-industry developments. It will also contribute to government efforts to develop and define appropriate policies and programs to assist social economy development. This work will also inform contemporary debates about on how to promote community sustainability through social economy activities that run parallel to the ephemeral economic life of mineral developments.

Update - Progress Report

As outlined in the grant proposal, the main research activities under the project are being undertaken in conjunction with graduate training of a master's student in the Department of Geography at Memorial University. The student, Jean-Sébastien Boutet, enrolled in the program in September 2008; the following training and research activities have been undertaken since that time

Training component

The training component of this research project has so far consisted of coursework and independent study of the proposed case. A year-long, six-credit course introducing the discipline of geography covered some of the main epistemological and ontological debates that underline the various schools of thought in geography, the research practices and different methodologies that are appropriate for conducting geographical research, and a preliminary examination of some theoretical frameworks used in the discipline. In each area, students were given a chance to explore in more details the topics that are directly relevant to their proposed research project. In the case of Mr. Boutet, time was devoted to investigating archival fieldwork and oral history research methods, as well as the theoretical frameworks of political ecology and political economy. A three-credit individual reading course, under the weekly supervision of Dr. Arn Keeling and Dr. John Sandlos, is currently in progress. This course explores central texts and articles related to the sub-fields of geography and history that are relevant for this research project, such as environmental history, Indigenous history, social economy and the political economy of resource-dependent communities. In addition, a selection of readings has been devoted to methodologically-oriented material. Overall, this course will form the basis of the literature review component of the research thesis as well as shed light on the knowledge gap that continues to inform the research proposal. A preliminary research proposal was initially developed in the fall of 2008, and included brief descriptions of the context of the research and knowledge gaps in the literature, research questions and objectives, methodology, dissemination and theoretical framework. This proposal is currently being refined and will be presented to the Geography department on April 9, 2009. Approval of the final proposal by the supervisory committee is expected shortly thereafter
Other upcoming training activities will include one or two graduate courses in geography or history (Fall 2009/Winter 2010) as well as an environmental history field workshop in Svartárkot, Iceland, in June 2009. For the latter activity Mr. Boutet was selected by the Network in Canadian History and the Environment (NICHE) along with five other Canadian environmental history graduate students for partial funding to join the Canadian delegation that will participate in this international experience.

Finally, an application is being prepared for the Research Ethics Board at Memorial University to review the oral history component of the research. This request is being prepared according to the Draft 2nd Edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, whose guidelines are currently being reviewed by all graduate students at Memorial University in the context of a compulsory, non-credit research ethics course (the Graduate Research Integrity Program

Initial research activities and community contacts

The current ongoing research activities include the identification and consultation of secondary research material concerning Indigenous history and iron mining history in the Caniapiscau region, with a particular focus on the mining town Schefferville, Quebec, the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, the Innu Nation of Matimekush - Lac John, and the Iron Ore Company of Canada. In addition, there is a web-based archival reconnaissance of the primary material relevant for this research that will be consulted in person during the summer of 2009. The relevant archival documents that have been identified so far are found at the Archives Nationales du Québec (Montréal, Québec and Côte-Nord regional centers) and the Library and Archives Canada.

Most importantly, there has been a great deal of work done cultivating community contacts and laying the groundwork for oral history interviews and workshops in the upcoming summer months. In the fall 2008, Mr. Boutet traveled to Schefferville to present his project to the two main Indigenous communities that he will be working with for the oral history component of his research. In addition to receiving a formal agreement from both band offices to proceed with the research project, community members who could potentially take part in the interview process as either participants or collaborators were identified and met with. This trip also allowed for a furthered understanding of the current situation on the ground in Schefferville, and has greatly contributed to a re-thinking and refinement of research questions, methodologies and theoretical framework


As supervisors, we are pleased with the preparatory research and training components completed thus far. We anticipate that the archival and community fieldwork undertaken by Mr. Boutet will provide a substantial basis for both his thesis and subsequent reporting to SERNNoCA on the connections between mining, northern development and the social economy of Northern Quebec, especially as it impacted northern Native communities.

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