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: 16040
Organization: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Issued: Feb 10, 2017

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

Project Description: The objective is to use 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), we will answer the following questions:

1) 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?

2) How can historical sources (from archives and existing 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?

3) How have non-Native residents of Yellowknife responded to the issue of arsenic in the local environment?

4) 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?

5) How should today’s society communicate with people in the deep future about the toxic legacy of Giant Mine’s massive underground arsenic deposits?

6) 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 the 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 project will adopt a mixed-methods approach that combines intensive archival study and scholarly research, with oral history and map biography research methods that are sensitive to the importance of narrative, storytelling, symbolism, and values of Aboriginal knowledge systems. 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.

A major outcome of our research will be the cross-sector and interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge surrounding Giant Mine. In this projects, academics, First Nations, and environmental advocates will form a research alliance that benefits from the expertise and research experience of each participant. Among the partners, trainees at the Goyatiko Language Society will learn to translate the Weledeh language and produce oral history collections, while members of Alternatives North and Yellowknives Dene Nation will be enabled to manage long term toxic waste sites, and to communicate hazards to future generations.

A major outcome will be a documentary film on the current controversy and long-term communication issues surrounding the Giant Mine Remediation Project. Working with professional filmmakers, will produce the film with support from the other project partners. The film project represents a valuable opportunity to document local experiences with toxic contamination, and to broadly disseminate the project’s findings.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from May 1, 2017 to August 1, 2017.