stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space
spacer
spacer
Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

'Everyone thought we were stupid'

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Fred Lum.
The Globe and Mail, December 14, 2001

Part 1 of 7: 'When we first started, we were nothing'


Salluit Butting out his Export A, the young man looks for his coat and prepares to head into the frigid northern night. Since the sun went down at 3 in the afternoon, an Arctic storm has slammed down on the plateau where his people have hunted for millennia. Visibility is down to a few metres and the temperature is headed below minus 20.

Marcus Papigatuk has been taught how to cope with such conditions - lie still in an igloo for days at a time, if necessary, to conserve energy. But he is not too worried about survival tonight as he plunges into the storm and crosses his ancestral hunting lands . . . all of 100 metres to luxury accommodations managed by a recruit from Club Med.

North of 60, the modern Inuk can battle the elements with a dinner of veal, mashed potatoes, salad and chocolate cake, watch the war in Afghanistan with his girlfriend and then bowl a few frames or catch a quick sauna and Jacuzzi before bed. Here, on a barren stretch of rock and ice so hostile that even his hardy ancestors never settled the place, Papigatuk is one of 104 Inuit employed at the world's most expensive northern mine.

But their presence is about much more than jobs, and money. Eighteen hundred kilometres north of Montreal, near the northern tip of the Ungava Peninsula, they are testing the very Inuktitut name for this place, Katinniq - "where three rivers come together" - and challenging the identity of Canada's three founding solitudes.

Owned by an English-Canadian company, dominated by a French-Canadian work force and watched very closely by an aboriginal Canadian partner, the $800-million, ultramodern Raglan mining complex has Canada's founding races running up against each other in a way seldom seen before. In the open-pit and underground nickel mines, the belching mill, the high-tech geology labs and sprawling kitchen and recreation facilities, 450 French, English and Inuit workers have spent six years struggling to co-exist.


"I wouldn't say there's apartheid on site. There's a two-tier system. It's a caste system."
Paul Papigatuk

They have tried to overcome language barriers, vast cultural divides and, at times, rampant discrimination, not only for the sake of their jobs and the highly political deal that got the mine going, but for the Inuit of northern Quebec to gain control of their future.

Papigatuk knows just how hard that will be. He came to Raglan when work began in 1995 as a trainee operating heavy equipment and is one of the few original Inuit workers to have stayed with a project that promised to transform their region. Being trilingual, he was able to cross the solitudes better than most. He also was determined to get ahead, this year receiving his Class One operating licence, which makes him one of only eight people on the site who can command the mine's biggest vehicles.

But equally, he was able to understand the many racial forces working against him. "When we first started," he remembers, "we were nothing" to the mine's other workers, who are mostly Québécois. "Everyone thought we were stupid."

His supervisor, Sylvain Pomerleau, nods in agreement. Half Québécois, half Inuit, he grew up in the north struggling to understand his two realities. He continues to struggle, as he meets with his own managers, who are all French, and then relates their concerns to his 55 employees in the service yard, whose 23 Inuit workers are mostly in low-level positions.

When Pomerleau started at Raglan, the francophone miners told him to "go with your kind." He knew that they disliked how easily the Inuit seemed to lose interest in work when it was time to hunt, or tried to skip a shift because of a family dispute. As if they could come here to make money and have no responsibility to the work site.

He also knew the Inuit didn't like how the "southerners" and Falconbridge, the big Toronto company that owns the mine, seemed to have so little respect for tradition. As if they could come north to make money and have no responsibility to the land and culture.

Raglan's best workers, many of whom spent decades in the gold mines around Val d'Or, Que., have traditions of their own. Most speak only French and are in their 40s or 50s, members of the the generation that came of age during the Quiet Revolution.

The Inuit tend to be in their 20s and 30s, children of Quebec's other modern revolution, the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which gave the Inuit new authority over Nunavik, which spans the northern third of the province, and put $90-million in their bank account.

But people's attitudes have not always kept pace with the political revolutions. "You can't change 10,000 years of tradition in 20 years," Pomerleau says.

Falconbridge is aiming to do just that with the Raglan mine, the biggest private project ever undertaken in Nunavik. The centrepiece of Falconbridge's corporate expansion in the 1990s, it also became a pioneer of affirmative action, with a deal between the company and Makivik Corp., which oversees development in Nunavik, that aims to give the local population $75-million over the life of the mine, and as many jobs as possible. "Our idea," says Al Giroux, the Falconbridge vice-president in charge of the mine, "is that the Inuit should be running this place."

Perhaps nothing else about the project has been more difficult for the company. Of the 430 permanent employees, only 61 are Inuit, and just half of those are skilled workers. Even more troubling, the Inuit turnover rate is about six times that of workers from the south. Last year, 13 per cent of the Inuit work force quit, although that's a vast improvement from 54 per cent in 1998.

To find out why, Barbara Papigatuk, the company's Inuit relations officer, conducted an exit survey, and found that, along with family concerns and poor advancement prospects, "racism" and "discrimination" were often listed as reasons. Then, like her two predecessors, she also quit because of the awkward relationship between her people and her employer.

"There's not a lot of overt racism any more, but subtle discrimination on the site is rampant," says Papigatuk's husband, Paul, who is Marcus's older brother and sits on a steering committee of Inuit and mine management.

"I wouldn't say there's apartheid on site. There's a two-tier system. It's a caste system."
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7):


Photo Essay
Heavy Mettle


1. 'When we first started, we were nothing'
Life at the Raglan mine

2. Getting the nickel out
Fresh food, workers flown in weekly to remote mine

3. 'I feel like a white man hunting for ore'
The racial divide at Raglan

4. Time becomes an issue
'The family is more important than the job'

5. Increasing Raglan's Inuit workforce
'I don't think we're joining the mainstream of society as well as we should'

6. Knowing how to adapt
Preparing for the next generation at the coastal village of Salluit

7. Inuit savvy makes them a business partner
'The Inuit adapt admirably to the site, but I contend the site is not very good at adapting to the Inuit way'


 
 

interactives
interactives

photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay


Have your say
Offer your views on the issues raised by this series.
The current question:
"John Stackhouse says to fix the native problem, we need to fix the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canada. What do you think?"

Read the current responses.

You can also send us your general comments on the series.

Letters to the editor
If you wish to send a letter about this series to the editor of the Globe and Mail, the e-mail address is letters@globeandmail.ca

Alternatively, you can fax it to (416) 585-5085.

• Include a full name, address and daytime telephone number
• Be brief; keep letters under 200 words
• Don't send e-mail attachment
• The Globe reserves the right to edit for length and clarity

spacer
spacer

Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page


spacer
spacer