Joan Scottie, Warren Bernauer and Jack Hicks, I Will Live for Both of Us: A History of Colonialism, Uranium Mining, and Inuit Resistance (University of Manitoba Press 2022), 264pp. Joan Scottie, Warren Bernauer and Jack Hicks, I Will Live for Both of Us: A History of Colonialism, Uranium Mining, and Inuit Resistance (University of Manitoba Press 2022), 264pp.

The story of an Inuit woman’s organisation of opposition to colonial expropriation is an inspiring narrative of resistance, finds John Clarke

I Will Live for Both of Us depicts the colonial relationship between the Inuit people and the Canadian state and shows how the latter serves the extractive industries. The process of dispossession, however, is shown from the perspective of those who have faced it. We see the harsh measures that were imposed on the Inuit along with the manipulative methods of governments and mining companies. Sadly, we also witness the mechanisms of collaboration within the oppressed population.

At the outset, we are informed that ‘My Christian name is Joan, but Paningaya’naaq is the name I was given when I was born. I am an Inuk, and I spent most of my childhood on the land’ (p.1). Further, ‘This book is a collaborative project involving me, Jack Hicks and Warren Bernauer … written in the first person, from my perspective. My life story forms the backbone of the book and I am the senior author on this project. I had the final say on all editorial decisions and all the stories in the book were approved by me’ (pp.7-8). Joan’s co-authors have academic backgrounds, but also considerable experience as allies in Inuit struggles against uranium mining projects that are at the heart of the book.

Colonial dispossession

In the first chapter, Joan explains that her people, the Qairirmiut, inhabited a vast area of what is now Nunavut but today ‘most … live in the communities of Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet and Chesterfield Inlet’ (p.13). While ‘most other Inuit groups spent the majority of the year … fishing and hunting marine animals … we lived inland year-round, hunting and eating caribou’ (p.13).

When Joan was born in 1948 the Inuit way of life was largely intact. ‘My mother gave birth to me inside a small iglu (snow house) with a qarmat (skin roof)’ and she ‘gave birth to all her children on the land’ (p.17). The intensification of the colonial process was looming, however. ‘One summer in the late 1940s, we saw helicopters and planes flying overhead and travelling west towards Ferguson Lake. My father realized that there were qablunaat (white people) there’ so he went to investigate. He ‘found a small mineral exploration camp’ (p.18).

Joan stresses that ‘I strongly support maintaining our distinct culture and have worked very hard to keep our hunting way of life alive. I think Inuit culture is great’ (p.31), but doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities that were faced by women. Among these was infanticide, a practice that ‘was not uncommon (in) times of famine and hardship.’ Because ‘daughters did not yield much of an advantage to the family (since) once they married, they would usually move in with their spouse’s family,’ it was infant girls who were killed (p.31).

Joan’s mother, Lucy Qaunnaq, ‘expected that she would have to give me up’ but ‘my father and grandmother decided to keep me and I was spared this fate.’ In 1993, she discovered the burial place of her infant sister and vowed that “I will live for both of us” (p.39).

Qablunaat and colonialism

In chapter two, Joan describes the dispossession of the Inuit. ‘Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Kivaliq Inuit were drawn into a colonial relationship with Canada. An unequal power relationship slowly developed between Inuit and qablunaat. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries commercial whalers and fur traders created a new dependency among Inuit on European and Canadian manufactured goods. The federal police helped assert Canadian sovereignty over Inuit lands and Canadian laws over Inuit society. Christian missionaries helped extend qualunaat authority over Inuit by displacing Inuit spiritual leaders’ (p.41).

Immediately after the war, with interest in resource extraction growing, Inuit began to face the ‘policy of assimilation’ that Indigenous people to the south had long experienced. ‘Children were separated from their families and sent to residential and boarding schools … Gradually, Inuit were drawn into the permanent communities that dot the map of the Arctic today’ (p.42).

By 1970, most of the Kivalliq Inuit had been moved into communities like Baker Lake. ‘Once Inuit moved to town, the qablunaat gained an unprecedented amount of control over them’ (p.42). In this situation, people developed a sense of fear and intimidation that is referred to in Inuktitut as ‘ilirahungniq,’ a term Inuit ‘often use … when discussing oppression and inequality’ (p.43).

There were, however, those who defied the order being imposed on them, and Joan’s father was one such person. ‘My father, Hitaki, was well known in the Baker Lake area for the way he repeatedly refused orders from qablunaat and publicly challenged their authority’ (p.45).

In 1961, when Joan was twelve, her mother went for treatment for an injury, accompanied by her children, and Joan would ‘never move back to the land full time again’ (p.49). The children had to attend school in Baker Lake and ‘church representatives insisted that we be baptized’ (p.50). ‘Christian’ names were part of this and Joan thought that the name Janet sounded beautiful. However, the cleric ‘must not have been paying attention very closely because he wrote ‘Joan’ on my paperwork’ (p.50).

Joan witnessed a teacher beating her brother with a yardstick. She could do nothing to help him but ‘after they left, I went into the room, took the yardstick that was used to hit my brother and broke it over my knee. Then I went through the entire school, into all four classrooms, and broke every yardstick I could find. I left the broken yardsticks on the teacher’s desk, as a message’ (p.51).

In 1973, his health failing, her father came to live in Baker Lake. Until he died in 1978, he maintained a very strong will and continued to talk back to qablunaat. He did this even though he could no longer hear and did not know how to speak English. Whenever he met a new qablunaat, he would gesture to them as if to say, “You, get on a plane and go back to the south”’ (p.56).

Uranium mining

Chapter three shows how ‘By 1969, the Baker Lake area was overrun by uranium exploration companies. That year, the federal government issued prospecting permits for one-third of our hunting grounds’ (p.57). Driven by the developing nuclear-power industry, ‘Uranium companies resumed their frenzied search for uranium in northern Canada’ (p.60). Though this faltered, Canada’s participation in a ‘secretive and illegal cartel’ drove up the price of uranium and ‘caused a rapid expansion of … exploration activity near Baker Lake in the 1970s’ (p.60).

Joan has worked to defend her people from destructive encroachment. However, she and others who have joined her in this fight have been motivated by broader considerations as well. ‘Spokespeople for the nuclear industry always claim they mine uranium to create jobs and produce alternative sources of energy. However, the truth of the matter is, the Canadian uranium mining industry has its origins in the nuclear arms race, shadowy cartels, and illegal dealings that helped apartheid South Africa – one of the most brutal, oppressive, and racist regimes of the twentieth century – develop nuclear weapons’ (p.60).

In 1977, Joan became a researcher in a study of ‘the impacts of uranium mining on wildlife and Inuit hunting’ (p.62). She interviewed hunters and Elders and deepened her understanding of how vulnerable caribou were in the face of mining activities. The federal government responded to this report with some restrictions on exploration activity while granting more exploration permits (p.65).

Challenging Urangesellschaft

The fourth chapter shows the fight against an attempt to set up mining operations. ‘By the late 1980s, a German company called Urangesellschaft had discovered a large uranium deposit west of Baker Lake.’ It ‘submitted a proposal for the ‘Kiggavik’ uranium mine to the federal government (that) called for an open pit uranium mine and milling operation to be built eighty kilometres west of Baker Lake …’ (p.71).

As founder of the Baker Lake Concerned Citizens Committee (BLCCC), Joan ‘worked hard to inform local residents about the dangers of uranium mining and coordinate local opposition to Urangesellschaft’s proposal’ (p.71). The company ‘had a nice office in Baker Lake with all kinds of full colour pamphlets – and there was no lack of coffee and baked goods for visitors. In contrast, we were grateful for the private donation of an electric typewriter, a card table, and some well-used chairs’ (p.76).

An immediate problem was that ‘there were no terms in Inuktitut for many technical English words. Take radiation, for example. How do you explain to an Elder something you can’t see, taste or smell. Even the word uranium has no Inuktitut translation. We ended up using the term nungusuittuq (it never goes away), as this seemed the best way to describe the properties of uranium’ (p.77).

The company had a base of local support to draw on. ‘In Baker Lake itself, and elsewhere in the region, many small business owners – mostly qablunaat, but some Inuit as well – stood to profit considerably from the construction and operation of a nearby mine’ (p.85).

The Northern Anti-Uranium Coalition and the Baker Lake CCC, decided that participation in the federal environmental review around the mine would be necessary. However, ‘we didn’t limit ourselves to the review process because we had to educate and mobilize Inuit in our communities’ (p.87).

In March of 1989, an information workshop on uranium mining took place in Baker Lake, at the initiative of the federal government. ‘[It] was a two-day cheerleading session on uranium mining, good corporate citizenship and the unimpeachable credibility of Canada’s nuclear industry regulators’ (p.89). Those opposing the mine responded with their own public meetings that involved ‘guest speakers with experience in fighting the nuclear industry’ (p.92).

The campaign led the Baker Lake Hamlet Council to hold a plebiscite in March of 1990 and over 90% of local residents voted against the mine. In July, Urangesellschaft asked the review panel to ‘delay indefinitely its planned environmental assessment of the Kiggavik uranium mine project’ (p.103). It had withdrawn in the face of the struggle against its destructive plans.

Nunavut Agreement

Chapter five assesses the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that was reached in 1993. The Northwest Territories was divided and the Nunavut Territory was created as ‘an Inuit homeland’ (p.106). ‘Aboriginal title to traditional territory was extinguished in return for financial compensation, the establishment of Inuit Owned Lands and ‘a new system of governance’ (p.109).

Until the Government of Nunavut (GN) negotiates a devolution agreement, ‘the federal government will continue to make most decisions about mining in our territory’ (p.109). However, ‘the Nunavut Agreement provided our Inuit organizations and territorial government with an opportunity to economically benefit from mining in our territory’ (pp.108-9).

Joan concludes that ‘Even with the Nunavut Agreement, mining mostly benefits qablunaat, key decisions are mostly made by qablunaat, and negative impacts mostly affect Inuit (especially Inuit women). Colonialism is the term that best describes the relationship of power between mining companies and Inuit communities’ (p.123).

The rights to the Kiggavik project had been acquired by Areva Resources, the Canadian subsidiary of ‘the French nuclear corporation AREVA – by far the biggest nuclear company in the world’ (p.131). In 2006, as we see in chapter six, Areva began to generate support for its project, hiring an Inuit consultant and setting up an information office in Baker Lake. It ‘formed a community liaison committee made up of representatives of different local councils and interest groups’ (p.131). The company even resorted to offering what were known as ‘homeland visits’.

‘AREVA representatives used a helicopter to take Elders and their families to see the places where they had once lived on the land. For some of the Elders, this was the first time they had seen their homelands since they were forced to move to Baker Lake in the 1950s and 1960s. I can’t put into words how emotional these visits were for the Elders, and how manipulative it was for AREVA to operate this program’ (p.132).

At the same time, the official representative bodies assisted the mining project. In order to avoid a community vote, the Nunavut Planning Commission ruled that the support of the hamlet councils would be sufficient to meet the requirement that the project must have the support of the people of the region (p.140).

Round two

In chapter seven, Joan describes how the community continued to challenge the mining project and how they dealt with a loaded and unwelcoming review process. Throughout this, they understood that a victory for Areva would be fatal. Once a mine was established, it would provide the infrastructure and incentives for other such ventures and ‘many more uranium mines would inevitably follow’ (p.155).

At this point, the international uranium market took a useful turn, with a fall in prices making the company reluctant to set a firm start date for the project. Combined with serious community opposition, this made it harder for the political decision makers to wave the project through (p.159).

In May of 2015, the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended that the project not be approved and, in the next summer, the federal minister upheld this. The company was ‘immensely disappointed’, but Joan suggests this result ‘shows just how much regular Inuit can accomplish when we work together and stand our ground’ (p.168).

In the concluding chapter, Joan suggests that ‘Our victories and failures have important lessons for other Inuit communities – and Indigenous peoples more broadly – who are fighting to defend their land’ (p.194). She points to the need to ‘approach bureaucratic processes such as environmental assessments with caution’, but argues that this was done effectively by her community because it was combined with ‘political campaigning’ and mobilisation (p.195).

The enabling role of Canadian governments is exposed, but Joan also concludes that ‘we cannot rely on our territorial government or representative Inuit organizations to defend our hunting way of life’ (p.196). She maintains that ‘At the end of the day, the most important alliances are those we form with other Indigenous communities’ (p.196).

Joan suggests that ‘Our culture places a high value on political harmony, and as a result most Inuit are very uncomfortable with open conflict. While this approach might have worked well when we lived on the land, it is not always appropriate in the present context.’ When it comes to mining companies, ‘a more aggressive approach is necessary’ (p.198).

This book concludes by declaring that ‘… if you always keep the long-term best interests of the ordinary people of your community and your natural environment in your heart and mind and you don’t lose hope … YOU CAN WIN. Like we did’ (p.198).

I Will Live for Both of Us shows the dynamics of ‘resource colonialism’ through the life experiences and struggles of an Inuit leader. As such, it draws invaluable political conclusions while providing an inspiring narrative of resistance.

The colonial dispossession of the Inuit was completed much later than in the south. Joan was there when the first mining exploration crews came to secure the profits that were to be had from the removal of her people. She experienced the forced resettlement process and her own contribution to Inuit resistance stirred in her at that time.

This book details the oppressive regime imposed on the Inuit and the effort to create in them a sense of hopelessness as their way of life was threatened. However, we also see a refusal to accept this, a determination to resist and an ability to do so effectively. That this is shown from the perspective of an Inuit woman who has played a pivotal role in this resistance makes it all the more powerful and important.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.