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2005 RCGS Studentship in Northern Geography - Jamie Reschny

Divided by ship
When the first winter shipment of nickel concentrate from the Voisey’s Bay Mine plowed through the Labrador sea ice in January, it cut a trench between communities, friends and hunting cabins.

New ice forms quickly during a Northern winter, but the periodic open water could take a deadly toll on the region’s Inuit, who must cross the ice to hunt, says Jamie Reschny, a master’s student in geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s.

Funded in part by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Reschny spent six weeks in Nain last spring, before shipping began, documenting Inuit concerns and studying the potential for sustainable mining.

“This will affect everyone living in the region,” Reschny says. If it becomes too dangerous to cross the ice, Inuit elders may lose their ability to teach their grandchildren their traditional way of life.

A formal agreement signed by the Voisey’s Bay Nickel Company and the Labrador Inuit Association in March 2005 prohibits the company from shipping during a sixweek period in December and January, while the ice is forming, and for six weeks in April and May, when the water might not refreeze. The company is also limited to four shipments each winter. But it’s too early to tell whether this will work, says Reschny, who plans to return to Nain in March.

“If the company wants to be sustainable in a region, it has to pay attention,” he says. “Mining itself is not a sustainable activity. But if you start taking economic and social aspects into consideration, if there are enough positive benefits for the community, then it can become sustainable.”

Elise Stolte

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