Listening to the Land: the Naskapi Nation Invests in Mining


Funding Program:

SSHRC Insight Grant

Funding Amount:


This research addresses the question: What is the role of the school as a First Nation community works to reconcile participation in economic development with commitment to traditional language and culture? The Naskapi nation of what is now called northern Quebec lives within the tensions and contradictions of this question. They have chosen to take on the complex demands of what it means to maximize benefits and minimize detriments of open pit mining in close proximity to their community whose traditional lifestyle and values arise from their relationship to the land where the mines are located. The Naskapis, whose territory extends across a wide expanse of Northern Quebec, have invested in New Millennium Iron Corporation. At the same time, many community members depend on caribou hunting, goose hunting, fishing and other natural resources or what they might call gifts from the land and want their children to do the same. Investment in the mine supplements their traditional livelihood.

In 2007, the Canadian Business Ethics Research Network conducted an extensive Knowledge Needs Assessment in Kawawachikamach, the Naskapis' home community. The focus of the study was an enumeration of their perceived needs in relation to investment in one of the mines re-opening in the area. Clearly expressed concerns include increasing youth involvement in community affairs, the protection of language and culture, the potential for youth to become involved at all levels of employment in the mine and ultimately, the creation of a sustainable community.

The current research focuses on the school where a curriculum project that addresses these needs is in development. Using Indigenous methodologies, critical ethnographic approaches and video ethnography, the research will involve documentation, analysis and critique of the project as a way to address the identified community needs. Interviews with community leaders, teachers and students, and other forms of documentation including film, observations and photography will be the specific approaches taken.

The curriculum itself will continue to be designed by teachers in consultation with community members. It is intended to address the traditional understandings of respect for the land, language and culture within the tensions that lie with major resource development. Research methods will also include circle work and story- telling with those directly involved and those implicitly affected by the development. Both contemporary and historical contextualization will be integral to the work. Bourdieu's notion of habitus and Ermine's Aboriginal epistemology are anticipated to be useful in regards to a deeper analysis of the findings.

The major outcome of this research, which will include print and photographic resources for the school and a professional quality HD video for wider distribution, will be a model for other First Nation and northern community schools incorporating a critical approach as they work to find a balance between resource extraction and community health. The results have the potential to inform Ontario's Ring of Fire, British Columbia's Tsilhqot'in Nation and a range of others who are working to reconcile the impacts of mining with maintenance of traditional cultural ways down the generations.