Industry analyst and community organizer Joan Kuyek aims to “put mining in its place.”

At an Alternatives North talk at Northern United Place Jan. 14, Kuyek discussed her book Unearthing Justice, which she said covers the environmental and community-based impacts of the mining industry. Previously, she has worked as the national coordinator of Mining Watch Canada and taught university classes on the industry.

Joan Kuyek, organizer and former national coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, visited Yellowknife this week.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

“I’m not anti-mining because I know we need metals. But we sure shouldn’t be doing it the way we’re doing it,” Kuyek said.

For her, those concerns centre around limited job growth, environmental impacts and stability of resource extraction.

“Then these studies show the work they’ve done up to date hasn’t created many local jobs, isn’t going to create many local jobs,” she said, noting mining directly employs roughly six per cent of the workforce or about 1,300 people. Though, this doesn’t necessarily account for spin-off activity generated in other sectors such as transportation and construction.

“All these hopes, all these dreams, all this silver bullet thinking and there’ll be nothing in the end,” she said.

This outlook isn’t necessarily widely shared in leadership. In November, Premier Caroline Cochrane said those looking to develop “responsible and ethical mineral development in the NWT have an ally in my office.”

At the time, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Katrina Nokleby said NWT needed a strong resource sector.

“In order to realize (the full potential of the NWT economy) we need a solid foundation of resource development with geoscience research at its core,” she said.

These comments followed concern that slowing exploration, coupled with maturing mines, will lead to sluggish growth and an economic slump in NWT.

“To some extent, it’s a politics of despair. This is the only alternative we’ve got. If we miss this boat, we’re screwed,” Kuyek said.

According to her, large investments to support resource development, such as electricity generation and transportation infrastructure, will only support a mine for 15 to 20 years, which could lead to employment instability once those jobs dry up.

She said much of this public investment flowing into mining and related projects could be directed elsewhere to diversify the economy.

Kuyek, nonetheless, praised elements of the NWT regulatory regime, including Indigenous participation on regulatory boards, in addition to the existence of monitoring organizations for individual projects like Giant Mine. Similarly, she said a growing tourism industry is a plus.

To limit potential risks, she emphasized the importance of environmental and social impact and feasibility studies, in addition to paid-out financial assurances ahead of granting mining licenses.

“Let’s take care of the mines we got. To the extent we can, get everything we can out of them, and invest it in something else that’s going to help,” she said.

“You could be building your own housing. You could be growing your own food. You could doing innovative forms of transportation for the North. You could be doing all sorts of exciting things. You could get a polytechnic university.”

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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