Mark Pitseolak started working for Agnico Eagle in 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and caused significant disruptions to the mining company’s Nunavut operations, including sending Nunavummiut miners home for lengthy periods for the safety of the communities.
“It was a very interesting time to start. My career was uncertain,” said Pitseolak. “It was pretty hard. I have three kids and a common law back home (in Ottawa) and it was pretty hard to leave them for a period of time — at that time we were doing longer rotations than normal.”
During part of the pandemic, workers were putting in 28 days at the mine site, followed by 28 days off, up from the usual two weeks in/two weeks out, because the company wanted to reduce travel due to the risk of Covid.
“It was very difficult for my family,” Pitseolak recalled.
While at the mine site, he stays in contact with his loved ones through FaceTime after his 12-hour shifts are over.
“My kids, if they’re still awake, I get to talk to them almost every day,” he said. “It helps a lot.”
Pitseolak draws an analogy of a hunter.
“A long time ago, the Inuit would go hunting for up to a month at a time and come back with food. Like a modern Inuk, I go to work for two weeks and come back with a pay cheque,” he said. “The first thing (when I get home), I hug my kids. They’re so happy. Everyone’s happy that I’m home. My other half, I can almost see her shoulders drop when I get home, from joy. I can take over the parenting.”
Despite the additional challenges posed by the pandemic, Pitseolak persevered. He started out as a fuel truck operator at the Meliadine gold mine, north of Rankin Inlet, and he was taught to operate other equipment, such as a telehandler, which has a telescopic boom and a service loader for snow removal and transporting materials.
“I hadn’t operated any heavy equipment until I came here,” said Pitseolak, who was in the construction industry — primarily roofing — for several years in Ottawa prior to starting with Agnico Eagle.
One day a little over a year ago, his boss in the environment and infrastructure department announced that he would soon be retiring. He said he was looking for someone to step up and take his job. Pitseolak considered the possibility, but first he wanted to ensure he wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes. Nobody immediately jumped at the opportunity.
“So I decided to take the role on,” he said. “My supervisor at the time took me under his wing.”
He admitted that taking the promotion took him out of his “comfort zone.” Addressing a group of workers during meetings, for example, is not something he had done previously, so he practised his public speaking skills in church.
He started learning his new duties and responsibilities in 2022 but he anticipates that he will continue absorbing knowledge for a long time to come.
“I think the training will be a lifetime. There’s many things to learn working with other departments. You never stop learning,” he said.
Pitseolak said safety is always at the forefront in the mining industry and it’s his primary concern. He puts emphasis on operating equipment properly and following established procedures. He oversees heavy equipment operation on the surface at Meliadine, such as maintaining the road, haul trucks carrying tailings and loaders removing snow. He leads a crew ranging from 12 to 19 workers.
Josh Bazar, Pitseolak’s boss, said Pitseolak is fit to be a supervisor due to his “dedication, professionalism and personal drive.”
“His leadership and promotion of the company’s values will be influential to future employees as they grow within the department and company,” said Bazar. “We are excited and proud to be part of Mark’s development and will continue to give him the tools and mentorship required to realize his full potential.”
Pitseolak envisions himself continuing to grow in the job.
“Hopefully I’ll be here for many years,” he said.
Find more stories from Nunavut Mining here: https://www.nunavutnews.com/nunavut-news/mining-2023/