Raglan pumps $3-million a year in salaries into Inuit communities, says Lanari, the anthropologist, but "how it is spent is another question. People feared it would go to alcohol and drugs, and some does. There is more alcohol and drugs in the community. But people are also spending the money on pianos, furniture, snowmobiles to go hunting."
At the same time, they have to contend with other mining companies scouring the rugged landscape for deposits, the annual "Rambo season" with its influx of fatigue-clad American big-game hunters and an even more greater curse from the south: climate change. In Salluit, a dozen homes, including that of the Papigatuks, had to be moved recently when the permafrost under them started to soften.
"We have only recently turned a light on in management's mind that the Raglan project is a visitor to our region."
Some older Inuit leaders - the ones born in igloos who know little of schools, environmental assessments and bondholders - yearn for the days when rhythms of life were set by the movement of a caribou herd rather than the whim of a nickel market. But Nunavik, like many aboriginal communities, is increasingly run by a younger generation, who are as comfortable running trade missions to Hong Kong as they are skinning seals on the ice.
Investing much of the $90-million James Bay money in American stocks, the Quebec Inuit have doubled their capital, and now live off the interest and dividends. With that, they have financed local businesses like mini-tanneries, designed a new computer font for Inuktitut and developed a regional environmental research lab that monitors the land, water and wildlife that remains central to their identity. Their next goal is to win some independence from Quebec.
Falconbridge may have seemed like the giant when it arrived, but the Inuit's own business savvy has made them an equal, of sorts. As part of the original agreement to win Inuit support for Raglan, local communities were given seats on a joint committee to ensure that the company meets its commitments on employment, the environment and payments to the region. Despite the complaints of discrimination, committee members feel that they have edged the mining operation toward a progressive course.
"The Inuit adapt admirably to the site, but I contend the site is not very good at adapting to the Inuit way," says Paul Papigatuk, who is on the committee. "We have only recently turned a light on in management's mind that the Raglan project is a visitor to our region."
At the very least, the committee ensures that Inuit voices are heard by Falconbridge's top people in Toronto. Closer to home, the mine has established a "respect committee" to investigate complaints of discrimination and abuse. As well, it has overhauled its medical policy, allowing Inuit who feel ill to take time off work without a nurse's certificate. Thus far, there has been no apparent increase in lost time.
On a more sensitive level, the mine management is struggling to show Inuit employees that criticism is not the same as discrimination, and that when they're feeling uncertain of their place or job, they should speak to their supervisors.
Mine managers and Inuit workers know that developing an aboriginal work force in a unionized and francophone-dominated mine will be far from easy. Giroux wants to move beyond the original training programs that filled the place with janitors, cleaners and apprentices trained at provincial schools. Those jobs, while attractive for a time, led to few promotions, and plenty of turnover.
He wants to focus instead on targeting enthusiastic Inuit employees with intensive on-the-job training that could move them ahead much faster than miners might in other places. One possibility is to turn some underground stopes into training grounds where Inuit miners can learn a trade while producing ore. Currently, of the 125 underground workers, only five are Inuit. "I've got all the janitors I need," Giroux says.
Out in the service yard, the new approach is already under way, with Inuit being given fast-track training. Sylvain Pomerleau, the supervisor, says that not only have a good many francophone workers come around to the Inuit point of view, they even admit, occasionally, to being on Inuit land.
Falconbridge has made enough of an effort to retain Inuit workers that area communities no longer believe that any racism on the site comes from upper management. "It's changed totally in the last few years," Pomerleau says. Familiarity can do that.