The distant blast of a side of a rocky hill being blown away and the resulting ground tremor woke me from my deep office think mode.
Explosions? Up here? Is Al Qaeda around?
Then I remembered that it was our blasting crew, busy at extracting nothing but money out of the ground. What, mining for money, I say? Then the blast brought out the past, three decades earlier…
The grinding and sounds of 20 drills working in unison, drilling out blast holes to lay fresh dynamite, continued all day and night. The siren would blow, warning everyone that they should be safely at lunch break (even at midnight for the night crew) while hundreds of thousands of tons of hard granite were pulverized in seconds. The rock was cleared off, hauled away 85 tons at a time and used elsewhere in the massive James Bay project.
Thinking further back, building this project was entirely based on turning “nothing but a barren land where no one lives” into a pile of money and jobs.
Going further back, the fur traders showed up on these barren lands and the first thing they noticed was the health of the people and the clothes they wore. “Such healthy people and such fine furs they wear,“ thought the lost navigator. “This must be the land of abundance and must be worth something. I should take advantage of this and make some money. “
But how? Four hundred years later, the exploits of the Hudson Bay Company and the people who supplied them with furs drove the entire movement of business into high gear. The North was worth a lot to many people around the world. Everything was exploited.
A documentary of an Inuk who kept notes of the environment and the life of the Inuit at that time, “I, Nuligak,” showed us early attempts to negotiate with the people of the North. A government representative arrived in the summer months to convince people to accept payment in exchange of monthly welfare and education for the kids. The offer was five dollars for everyone who looked old enough to spend money.
The people conferred and discussed this offer… why should they accept a measly five bucks for everything they had when they could get an arctic fox fur traded for 40 bucks?
Nuligak quickly dispatched the message to the waiting official with a gruff, “We don’t have anything to do with your offer,” and went back to the land. Years later, the attraction of town and benefits of having money when a fox was worthless to anyone, Nuligak settled down and got into the boating business and eventually passed on remembered by family and his memoirs.
In our land of plenty, it becomes obvious what drives men to go to the Far North, to risk everything and the land they call barren and lifeless. It’s money, money, money. Facing the same dilemma as Nuligak, we accepted the offers and went into the business of becoming independent, or so we thought. Today, we face the same challenges our forefathers faced, living off the land and surviving with what it has to offer. Up in Whapmagoostui, we face the same challenge as Nuligak did when the bottom dropped in the fur market, what do we do next.
We looked around and saw the barren rock jutting out of the ground, the small trees in the background, the river running by and the Hudson Bay to the west. We took that nothing but rock and turned the rock into money and jobs by blasting and crushing and hauling. There is still a worth to the land, it’s just how you use it. Another blast goes off in the hills….