There were only a few constants at the Hope Bay gold property over the past 12 years.
One was the precious metals in the ground – now being extracted. Another has been Alex Buchan.
Buchan, director of community and external relations for gold miner TMAC Resources, has witnessed Hope Bay under different ownership three times.
He left a job with the Hamlet of Kugluktuk in 2005 to work for Miramar when that company owned the gold project, located 125 km south of Cambridge Bay. Then global mining giant Newmont bought Hope Bay for $1.5 billion in 2007 and Buchan stuck with it. Newmont invested several hundred million dollars in the property but shocked many in the Kitikmeot when it mothballed Hope Bay in early 2012. Buchan admits pessimism crept in at that point, but he still believed in the project’s viability.
“I thought it would be many years before all the right factors would coincide to allow for gold production at Hope Bay,” he says. “Because of our remote location and high cost, it seems to take much longer for Arctic mining to be realized. However, gold has always been considered valuable and useful to many civilizations. (It) has seemed to retain its value even within an electronically-based finance system, so I always had confidence in the basic resource at Hope Bay.”
TMAC Resources, a junior miner, reached an agreement to purchase the site in January 2013, but Newmont retained a stake as a major shareholder. TMAC brought aboard Buchan, who was born in Iqaluit and grew up in Pond Inlet and Taloyoak, as part of the deal.
He says his role with all three companies has always involved community relations, with economic and environmental aspects being at the forefront. Due to a decade’s worth of studies, the public generally accepts that environmental hazards at Hope Bay have been identified and are being managed, according to Buchan.
“I have seen some evolution in the way in which the public views the environmental risk of us mining in the region,” he says. “As literally hundreds of Kitikmeot residents working over the years at Hope Bay have seen and participated in a high level of environmental management, I think our communities may be a little less worried about our environmental impact.”
He adds that the Doris North mine at Hope Bay poses a minor environmental footprint due to its high-grade nature and “compact and tidy” geography.
Some Kitikmeot elders previously worked at the Lupin mine, 400 km north of Yellowknife, so “the level of mining awareness in especially the west Kitikmeot is very high,” he says.
Residents are also aware that mining, at its heart, is a business and needs to be economically viable, says Buchan. One of the ongoing issues throughout his tenure has been addressing the ways in which Inuit employment is being maximized.
“Employment is the primary concern that I keep hearing,” he adds.
There are approximately100 young new people entering the labour force in the Kitikmeot each year. Recruitment is limited to those who can accommodate the mining lifestyle, which usually demands two weeks on site followed by a couple of weeks off. There can be periods when competition makes vying for workers more challenging – such as Sabina Gold & Silver’s activities at its Back River site and the construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay.
“But it evens out because any large boost to employment in our region overall may temporarily shrink the labour pool, but overall (it) increases skills levels and abilities,” Buchan notes. “It always comes down to who is available in the region with the skills we need, coupled with ability to do remote camp rotational work.”
He adds that better attendance at schools would help produce more graduates, which is what companies like TMAC are seeking. The responsibility of improving turnout in classrooms across the region rests with the communities, the Department of Education and industry, which, he says, all play roles in reinforcing the benefits of learning.
Buchan has become a veteran attendee of the Nunavut Mining Symposium, which takes place April 9-12 this year. He says the event has become much more “businesslike” over the years. He preferred when there were was a greater community focus with more delegates from the hamlets across the territory on hand.
“There used to be more talk about the rocks. I think this is important,” he says. “Community awareness should be recognized as the backbone of our industry here.”