Like much of Canada’s Arctic, Quebec’s Nunavik region boasts vast energy and mineral reserves. Inuit there are increasingly accessing the potential benefits from their development by negotiating agreements with companies whose projects bring guarantees of employment and local business development opportunities.
It’s tempting to assume that this will bring an end to poverty in these communities, but although poverty in the North is decreasing as a whole, the reality is more complex.
According to Laval University sociologist Gérard Duhaime, who has worked with Aboriginal Peoples in Nunavik for more than 30 years developing accurate measures of living conditions (most recently as Canada Research Chair on Comparative Aboriginal Condition), the benefits of resource extraction flow to communities nearest a mine, but are not being reflected equally by all communities, or even by all members of a single community.
“If a mine decides to negotiate only with the very closest village, rather than all the villages in a region, you end up with economic disparity,” he says. Likewise, when it comes to employment, “it increases the potential for certain households to consume more and have a better life.” But those who can’t work because they lack the education or skills, or are not interested in the specific opportunities, benefit less.
This, Duhaime says, can strain the social fabric. “You have an increase in social stratification. Instead of seeing yourself as a group, you begin to see yourself as different classes of people competing for the same resources.”
Fortunately, Duhaime sees a new generation of Inuit leaders who are working to address these challenges — in part by negotiating more equitable and inclusive agreements with resource development companies.
“I’m quite optimistic,” says the professor. “The younger generation have this ideology that if there is going to be change for the better, it must come from the people themselves, from their energy and involvement. Clearly, they’re heading in the right direction.”