An Introduction to Field Work in Rankin Inlet

October 13, 2011

by Patricia Boulter

Trish at Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga (Meliadine River) Nunuavut Territorial Park near Rankin Inlet.

After spending almost a year researching Rankin Inlet’s mining history I had the opportunity this past August (2011) to travel to Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet) in the Kivalliq region in Nunavut to assist in a community workshop and the collection of oral histories. Over the course of pursuing my MA my research led me to explore the socio-economic and cultural impact of the North Rankin Nickel Mine (operative from 1957-62) on government/mining policies and the lives of Inuit in the eastern Arctic. The nickel mine was the first operating mine in the Canadian Arctic, indeed the community of Rankin Inlet formed around the mine site. Although it was the first time Inuit had gained employment within the mineral extractive industry, from the outset they played an essential role in the mine’s success. Literally over the span of a decade Inuit went from migrating between seasonal hunting camps and living in skin tents and igloos to living in prefabricated houses in permanent coastal settlements and working in industrialized, modern wage labour environments. While certain kinship groups and individuals rejected the highly monitored industrial landscape that marked Rankin Inlet’s mining era other adapted and indeed embraced the many changes occurring at this time. At the time in question government and mining officials viewed this rapid period of change as both socially and economically progressive and culturally corrosive.

Interestingly, the benefits and impacts of mining in the Arctic are still being framed in similar contradictory terms. Rankin Inlet is currently on the verge of experiencing a second mining boom, due to the development of the Meliadine West gold project located approximately 16 km outside of the community’s center. This research is therefore timely, for in order to understand the present day consequences of large-scale industrial mining activities in remote Arctic communities, it is important to understand the history of mineral extraction in the region and its socio-economic and cultural effects on various Inuit groups. Therefore our research attempts to determine how the mine itself and impacts of the mine were received by a variety of actors and how the mine has been remembered at various different stages at a regional, community and individual level. Consequently, in mid August, 2011 Dr. Arn Keeling (Professor of Geography at Memorial University and a lead researcher associated with the Abandoned Mines Team), Jordan
Konek (a filmmaker from Arviat associated with the Nanisiniq Group), Pallulaaq Friesen (a
community facilitator) and Peter Irniq (a gifted translator and former Commissioner of Nunavut) and myself (Patricia Boulter) set out to find answers and create networks of knowledge surrounding some of these very timely and pertinent research questions.