Toxic Legacies: Community Perspectives on Arsenic Pollution at Yellowknife's Giant Mine

Regions: North Slave Region

Tags: contaminants, social sciences, arsenic, environmental damage, remediation

Principal Investigator: Sandlos, John K (10)
Licence Number: 15606
Organization: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Issued: Feb 15, 2015

Objective(s): To examine how the incorporation of historical memories of Giant Mines' impacts into site remediation can broaden the notion of ecological restoration to address past, and future environmental injustices.

Project Description: This project will take on the challenge of using academic and non-academic media to examine and communicate community perspectives on the history, and current problem, of arsenic deposition in Yellowknife. The research team will not only ask how these historical memories have influenced the current controversy over the Giant Mine Remediation Project, but will also examine the challenges of communicating the extreme hazard the arsenic stored in the mine presents to future generations. Working with partners that include the Goyatiko Language Society (a Yellowknives Dene non-profit organization dedicated to language and cultural preservation) and Alternatives North (a Yellowknife-based environmental and social justice coalition), the research team will answer the following questions: •How can alternative media and public history approaches to research and dissemination (film, oral history, museum displays, and community workshops) on Giant Mine give voice to First Nations perspectives that have been marginalized in archival records and remediation planning?
•How can historical sources (from archives and ex1stmg oral history repositories) be mobilized through the dissemination of historical and contemporary research products that are meaningful, understandable, and useful both to local residents of Yellowknife, and to the Canadian public?
•How have non-Native residents of Yellowknife responded to the issue of arsenic in the local environment? How can the production of public history material on the arsenic issue promote dialogue and engagement on this topic between non native Yellowknifers and First Nations?
•How should today's society communicate with people in the deep future about the toxic legacy of Giant Mine's massive underground arsenic deposits?
•How can universities and community-based organizations work together on Giant Mine site remediation issues, and how might this approach be used by other communities facing similar challenges around perpetual care situations (e.g. nuclear waste and toxic site planning)?

The overall goal is to collaborate with partners to develop and disseminate publicly accessible information and scholarly research material on the historical and contemporary issues surrounding arsenic deposition and storage in Yellowknife.

Through four carefully designed sub-projects, the research team will harness the expertise of the project team members and partners in archival research, Aboriginal languages (Weledeh), oral history research, public communication on environmental issues, and film direction and production.

This research and public dissemination activities will offer an important public venue for community perceptions on toxic contamination due to gold mining in Yellowknife. Timed to occur just after the environmental assessment and final development of the Giant Mine Remediation Plan, the research will provide critical perspectives on how local perceptions of risk and have shaped people's relationships to local environments, and landscapes, over time. This project will also examine how the incorporation of historical memories of toxic harms into site remediation can broaden the notion of ecological restoration to address past, and future, environmental injustices.

In practical terms, partners and community representatives will have a high degree of autonomy within the project, and will co-design research methods and protocols, organize and lead workshops (as a primary means to engage with community members), and conduct oral history interviews. In all research involving community participants, the research team will adhere to the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, and seek ethics approval from Memorial University and Lakehead University. The research team will also adhere strictly to all relevant territorial and community-based research protocols.

The specific methodological approaches to this research are best outlined in description so of the four specific sub-projects:
1) The first project is an oral history and community mapping project on Giant Mine and arsenic poisoning with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. The Goyatiko Language Society will transcribe and translate the mining-related source material for inclusion in an illustrated oral history that documents the impact of gold mining and arsenic on the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Goyatiko will also produce a companion multi-media web display and web-based curriculum supplement (a short booklet of lesson plans built out of the website and oral history) for senior elementary students in the NWT. They will use existing collections held locally at Yellowknives Dene First Nation and oral history interviews conducted in partnership with principal investigators. Sources for this project will include aerial photographs, historical maps, satellite data, and interviews with elders in the community (map biographies).

2) For this section of the project, Alternatives North will produce publicly accessible research reports on the best means to communicate with future generations about the hazards of underground arsenic at the Giant Mine site. To achieve this goal, they will draw upon similar, publicly available research documents. The research results will be communicated at two regional workshops.

3) Documenting Giant Mine’s history and the remediation project in film will result in a series of instructional video clips on the long term communication issue and current controversy surrounding the Giant Mine Remediation Project. Working closely with Goyatiko Language Society, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and Alternatives North, the filmmakers will conduct two workshops to introduce the films to this group and also develop contacts for potential on-screen interviewees or those who can provide background information.

4) The final part of the project will look at the history of the Giant Mine Remediation Project. The primary goal is to examine how local histories of toxic contamination shape and define contemporary responses to contaminated sites by government, industry, and local people. Documents and interviews will be used to explore this topic.

A major outcome of the research will be the cross-sector and interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge surrounding Giant Mine. The project’s academics, First Nations, and environmental advocates will form a research alliance that benefits from the expertise and research experience of each participant. The documentary film that is produced on the current controversy and long-term communication issues surrounding the Giant Mine Remediation Once will be presented in Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndilo.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from February 16, 2015 to December 31, 2015.