Building skills and shovelling money: life as a Northern Indigenous miner in the ’80s and ‘90s – by Derek Neary ( – November 24, 2021)

Ted Tsetta spent close to 30 years working at various Northern mines. He was employed by Subarctic Welding when he heard from a recruiter at the Polaris zinc mine on Little Cornwallis Island, approximately 100 kilometres north of Resolute Bay, in what is now Nunavut (it was still the Northwest Territories at the time).

“I got a call and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll go,’ I’m not going to hesitate in the mining industry,” Tsetta says. “I took that chance right off the bat.” He remembers his first day of work as a labourer at Polaris was Oct. 5, 1981. He was 19 and pulling in more than $3,000 every two weeks.

“I got so interested because I grew up in the mines,” Tsetta recalls, referring to the Discovery gold mine, about 85 km northeast of Yellowknife, in an area where his father used to hunt, fish and trap. In the early 1980s, Tsetta embarked on a mining career with little related training but plenty of ambition. These days, employees require a wealth of safety certifications.

“Back then you were just given a shovel and ‘Here you go. Go dig,’” he says, laughing. Several years later, he moved over to Con Mine, where he toiled in the assay lab and helped pour gold.

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