RAGLAN MINE — The December sun has yet to peak over the tundra when three young men, bundled in orange one-piece suits and safety gear, are ushered into the room.
Each from a different Nunavik community, these are Raglan mine’s newest recruits: apprentice miners, looking nervous and keen. Samwillie Grey-Scott welcomes them, switching between Inuktitut and English. Grey-Scott, an apprentice trainer at Raglan, is preparing them for their first trip underground.
That first trip will determine a lot: if the new apprentices can stomach the feeling of being 1,300 metres down, and if they can adapt to a dark environment and commit to working long hours in those underground tunnels.
As Grey-Scott’s Toyota Landcruiser moves down into Raglan’s Qakimajuq mine, the area is surprisingly warm and humid at about -5 C, compared to -25 C above ground.
Raglan began production at this mine in early 2015. Qakimajuq, which translates as “to be rich” in Inuktitut, is aptly named: it’s tapped into some of the site’s highest-grade ore deposits yet.
Qakimajuq is one of four operating mine sites at the Raglan nickel mine in Nunavik. Located about halfway between Kangiqsujuaq and Salluit on Nunavik’s east side, the mine consists of high grade nickel and copper deposits and employs about 900 full-time employees.
Around a dark corner, lighting illuminates a jumbo bolter — newly-imported machinery. Inside, a development miner works painstakingly drills holes along the tunnel’s ceiling, bolting in wiring that will secure the area ahead of blasting with explosives.
Most new workers respond well to their first visit underground, Grey-Scott said.
He remembers how he felt when he started at Raglan as a 19-year-old, in 2010.
When he graduated from the apprentice miner program two years later, the company flew his mom from their hometown of Aupaluk to the site. On a visit to the underground, he said she gripped his arm for the entire ride down.
“It’s not for everyone,” Grey-Scott said with a laugh.
The work has its challenges, but it’s suited to the now 24-year-old Grey-Scott, who has developed into a star employee and spokesman for Inuit employment at the mine.
Since 2014, Grey-Scott has worked as an apprentice miner trainer under Raglan’s Tamatumani program, which offers skills development for the mine’s Inuit workforce.
Many at Raglan credit Tamatumani, in place since 2008, for helping the mine reach its goal of 20 per cent Inuit employment earlier this year. Since its launch in 2008, the mine’s operator, Glencore, says it has invested $18.5 million into the skills training program.
The year 2015 also marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Raglan Agreement, a benefits agreement reached in 1995 between Nunavik organizations and the mine’s then-owner, Falconbridge Ltd., which included a provision for royalties to paid out to the region.
But, more importantly, the agreement included a strategy to direct at least one-fifth of the mine’s jobs to Nunavimmiut.
The percentage of Inuit employees at Raglan has fluctuated since the mine began operations; it started above 20 per cent at the mine’s official opening in 1998, but fell to 15 per cent a few years later.
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