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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Inuit encounters with colonial capital : Nanisivik - Canada's first high Arctic mine Lim, Tee Wern


Mineral development has a long history of occurring in the territory of Indigenous communities. In Canada’s North, mineral exploration and mine development has become the most significant economic development strategy for Nunavut, with unprecedented levels of investment taking place today. However, broader and long-term implications of mineral development, and relevant historical experiences, are not well understood or documented. This thesis investigates a historically significant case: Canada’s first high Arctic mine, the Nanisivik lead-zinc mine, which operated near the Inuit community of Arctic Bay from 1976-2002. Across two papers, this thesis focuses on the mine’s development in the early 1970s, and closure in the 2000s. Through a Marxian analysis utilizing the constructs of primitive accumulation and modes of production, chapter 2 outlines non-renewable resource-based industrial capitalism (exemplified by Nanisivik) as a distinct and severe structure of dispossession. This is contrasted with prior periods of similarly colonial but merchant capitalist resource extraction, namely whaling and the fur trade. I explain how the State and capital combined to impose capitalist relations of production on a predominantly noncapitalist Inuit social formation. Aspects of structural resistance to this imposition are also discussed. Archival materials demonstrate in particular the intention of the Canadian State to institute a mineral-based wage economy in the region, to facilitate capital accumulation, and Inuit assimilation and labour formation. Chapter 3 explores Nanisivik’s closure and post-closure phases after operations ceased in 2002. It argues that, given the demolition of $50 million worth of industrial and residential infrastructure at Nanisivik, carried out against the wishes of the community of Arctic Bay, the mine represents a case of ‘closure failure.’ Research findings demonstrate a clear gap between the rhetoric and actual implementation of recent government and industry approaches to ‘sustainable’ mining, and socially responsibly mine closure. Analyses of relevant policy documents and interviews with residents of Arctic Bay suggest that economic concerns were consistently prioritized over socially responsible closure concerns. Profound and lingering disappointment and loss within the community over the outcome is also evident. Expanded mine closure regulation is called for in response.

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