A small group of concerned citizens blocked the road to the Meliadine gold mine this past week to protest Agnico Eagle Mines (AEM) continuing to operate the gold mine, which many in the community felt posed a threat of contributing to the possible introduction or spread of COVID-19 to nearby Rankin Inlet.

Shortly after the March 19 road blockade that coincided with a meeting between senior AEM management and representatives from Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake, the Kivalliq Inuit Association, Government of Nunavut and others – AEM announced it was sending home its Nunavut-based workforce (Nunavummiut) from the Meliadine and Meadowbank operations, as well as the exploration projects, for a period of four weeks, effective immediately.

Rankin Inlet Mayor Harry Towtongie, left, and Kivalliq Inuit Association president Kono Tattuinee pass-on the latest information to protesters blocking the road to the Meliadine gold mine near Rankin Inlet on March 19. photo courtesy of Noel Kaludjak

The company stated that all Nunavummiut workers currently on site will be returned home, and those who are currently off-site will not return.

Those employees sent home will continue to receive their regular remuneration, and AEM is also expected to meet with its Nunavut contractors to discuss similar measures involving their Nunavummiut workers.

AEM chief executive officer Sean Boyd said the company values its relationship with the people of Nunavut and is committed to do what is best for the health, safety and well-being of all its employees and the communities.

“This precautionary measure is being implemented in order to eliminate the potential risk of transmission of COVID-19 from a southern worker to a Nunavut worker, with the risk of it moving into the communities,” said Boyd.

AEM plans to continue operations at both Meliadine and Meadowbank with the remaining workforce and will reassess the situation on an ongoing basis.

Noel Kaludjak of Rankin Inlet, who observed the blockade, said he agreed with the action in principle.

He said Rankin Inlet Mayor Harry Towtongie and Kivalliq Inuit Association president Kono Tattuinee paid a visit to the blockade to update the protesters on the situation following the meeting with AEM.

“They blocked the road hoping to encourage AEM to take some action before the virus hits us, if it hasn’t already,” said Kaludjak.

“The attitude in the community is, hopefully, the virus doesn’t make it into Rankin Inlet and we expect everyone to do what they can to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“But, with Rankin being the transportation hub of the region, it is going to be hard.”

Kaludjak said rumours circulating around the community of some level of sickness takng place at Meliadine, whether true or unfounded, were worrisome to many in the community.

He said COVID-19 is no joke. It’s the real thing.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s scary, worrisome and concerning. It’s surreal. This is really happening.

“Hopefully everyone’s happy with AEM’s announcement, but, at the same time, it’s still scary because these bigwig workers who will still be coming to town might carry the virus.

“This announcement should have been made two or three weeks ago, not on March 19.

“They didn’t seem to take it seriously at all and it shouldn’t have taken a protest to make them do it.”

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Darrell Greer

Darrell Greer is Editor of Kivalliq News