The Labrador Networks Project Research Team would like to thank the residents of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Community for their hospitality and contribution to the project. Currently working in Goose Bay are Kirk Dombrowski, Joshua Moses, Sarah Rivera, David Marshall, and Emily Channell. New York contributors are Ric Curtis, Bilal Khan, and Katherine McLean.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interpreting Labrador

We spent Sunday afternoon driving around the area and learning a bit about land politics here in Labrador. Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the biggest town in Labrador, and it has a significant Inuit population. Most of the participants in last year’s Nain study were Inuit, a group of Inuktitut speakers who in previous stereotypes would be categorized as “Eskimo.” Many of last year’s interviewees and several people who have come to talk to us in Goose Bay have families who experienced major relocation down the coast of Labrador over the course of the 1900s. From Killiniq, the very northern tip of Labrador (near Cape Chidley on the map above), families were relocated south to Ramah, Hebron, and Okak (around Saglek Bay on this map). These towns are in and around what is now the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve, a long expanse of land covering the majority of the northernmost part of the province. From these towns, Inuit families were later again relocated further south to places like Nain and Hopedale, and from there many came further south to Rigolet, Makkovik, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, often in search of work. One reason HV-GB was attractive because of the military base that was already here, a huge contributor to the job market. However, a significant problem – for non-Inuit-identified people as well as for relocated Inuit – with living here is its distance from good land on which to hunt and fish, which makes obtaining “country foods” (caribou, rabbit, partridge, seal, char, rock cod, etc.) much more difficult and much less common than in the coastal towns.

Hamilton River Road, the main street in HV-GB
The Inuit in Labrador were recently given reparation money and a land claims agreements with the Canadian government. Such land claims revolve largely around mineral deposits – for example, around Nain, an enormous nickel mine opened operation under the new settlement, and a recent large uranium deposit near Rigolet is likely to soon open as well.  Without much exaggeration, one can say that it was the mineral deposites of Labrador prompted the Canadian government to come to agreements with the Inuit, largely in order to develop mining in the area.
      Much money has traded hands as well, as a result of a "Impact Benefit Agreement" signed between the Inuit and Vale-Inco, the developer of the Voisey's Bay Nickel Mine. The new Inuit government chose to invest this money in stocks, with the hope of creating a sustainable community development fund.  Their timing was bad, though, and a significant portion of the investment was lost in the recent international market crash, which has led to strain in the community. Despite this setback, HV-GB is home to numerous Inuit-focused support groups, in which central agencies help people access food and jobs as well as provide classes on traditional crafts and opportunities for people to get together to tell stories and spend time as a community.
Innu Band Council building in Sheshatshiu

Just an hour away by a beautiful car ride resides another Native group, the Innu. Innu are Cree speakers and therefore what are, in the US, typically called “Indians” – distinct from Inuit. The towns of Sheshatshiu (pronounced ‘sheh-sha-shee) and Natuashish (between Nain and Hopedale) are both populated almost entirely by Innu. There is a different sort of wealth visible in Sheshatshiu. Whereas the Inuit invested their reparation money collectively in stocks, the Innu leaders divided it among the community to give them a few thousand dollars per person per year. This has been the base of considerable change among Innu, and the source of some jealously among the ordinary Inuit. The Innu in Sheshatshiu are not lacking in contentious political issues, either: a hydroelectric dam will be built in the area, and, as with most development projects, there is not a consensus on whether this will harm or benefit the community. This dam and other such development projects will certainly have a much broader impact than just on Innu communities, potentially influencing the whole of Labrador.

The town of North West River offers the Labrador Interpretation Centre, a beautiful and beautifully situated museum depicting traditional native arts and crafts. Its trilingual displays not only allow observers to see and hear both Innu and Inuit languages but also describe the lengthy history of the region to include traditional myths as well as settler colonial perspectives provided by the history of the Hudson Bay trading and trapping developments in Labrador. The Centre is informative – albeit a bit remote and difficult to access – and was an excellent way to visualize some of the stories people have told us about traditional activities in the North.
Labrador Interpretation Centre 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Welcome to Goose Bay!

The 2011 Labrador Networks Project continues the social network research begun in Nain in 2010, expanding on the same questions about people's networks and connections to include the larger community of Goose Bay, located in southern Labrador. Goose Bay is a community of about 8,000 people and the self-proclaimed hub of Labrador. It is also the home to an Canadian Forces Base, formerly a refueling site for fighter planes on their way to Europe during World War II and currently privately owned and operated. Monday, February 14 was our first full day of interviews, and Tuesday promises to be just as full! Check back for updates on our travels around the area to Sheshatshiu and North West River.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

End of March

It is late March and we are working away. We finished our 280th interview today, and have given out over 800 referral vouchers. We usually expect about a third (or sometimes one half) of the referrals to result in interviews, so we are pretty close to what we expected. With almost 300 done, we are breathing a sigh of relief. The method worked, more or less, and we are starting to feel like the minimum threshold has been crossed.
I took much of the day off thursday, just to catch up on things and to stay out of the office. Josh is back from Montreal, where he want for a couple of days to give a paper at McGill and get a little R and R. The husky dog (above) is Uppik, the dog that Josh is planning to adopt. Uppik means "bake apple", a kind of berry like fruit that grows low to the ground that folks here like for jams and sauces. On my day off I went out walking for a couple take some pictures and get a bit of exercise. In town, quite a few people are back from caribou hunting. The folks above got 7, which they were butcher when I walked by. They will freeze some, eat some, and give alot away....which is one of the things we are tracking in the interviews: who shares hunted meats with whom.

I walked up the hill behind town, and got up above the tree line, which is less than 100 meters above sea level here. Even though we are at a low lattitude, the geography of eastern Canada makes this a sub-arctic zone. The actually tree-line...the lattitude beyond which no trees will grow, is about 12 miles north and east of here, meaning that the climate is about the equivalent of the northern Coast of Canada around the Mackenzie Delta on the Arctic Ocean. Today, walking to work, the wind chill was still around -30 degrees. So much for March going "out like a lamb".

This last picture is looking down on the village from the hill, about 100 meters above the tree line. you can still make out the houses if you click on the picture and blow it up to a larger size. The wind up there was pretty strong, which made the snow a kind of ice sheet, and hard as a rock. The under packing is actually still pretty fresh, the surface has a harness that seems more the result of pressure than temperature. I have quite a few photos from the walk, but this seemed about enough for the moment. Today we are finishing up interviews for the week, and taking tomorrow off. If it gets a bit warmer, we may go for a ski...if not, I will find a book to hide out with. No gardening on the schedule for a while yet.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring is here?

Well, it turns out I'm not very good at blogging. I had meant to keep up more regularly, but the time goes by pretty quickly.

It's spring here, sort of. It was still -15 C last night, and is quite crisp still this morning. But we have had alot of sun, and folks here are glad for stretch of cold, clear weather. The caribou have come a bit closer to town, and the ice is still pretty good for folks who want/need to go off hunting. Four skidoos have been lost so far...all to poor ice conditions, but it looks like the ice will hold a while yet--which is good for the food situation. And the mood is upbeat. A friend told me that he got more than 100 partridges on his last outing, which he spread around his extended family. This seems to be a big year for partridge, with lots of folks getting them close to town, usually while out "woodin". The picture above is of caribou ribs hanging out to dry--resulting in "niku", caribou jerky. I've had it a couple of times, and its good. The recipe is simple...leave it out until it is dry, the result of a freezer-burning process that "cooks" the meat with cold dry air.

One thing that is probably different than in the past is that there is a market for self-produced foods and resources here these days. Some folks sell meat and wood, more of the latter than the former. My sense is that there has been some sale of meat here for a while, though usually to outsiders (I've been offered to buy country foods many times since I've been here). But these days there is more of a market even for those who live here full time and grew up here. This upsets folks, but is usually chalked up to the fact that there are jobs here now and people can't "go off on the land" as often as in the past, and those with jobs can afford to pay. More troubling to many people is the fact that money has entered into family exchanges. Here it is less a question of selling openly, but more a growing expectation that even family exchanges often involve expectations of cash for gas and bullets in return for meat. There are lots of social science terms for this process, most of which imagine a pre-captilist era when kinship dominated the logic of exchange. I'm not sure about this, though. Kinship works so differently here than anywhere I've been in the past. But at this point I can't really say how.

The upside of the good spring weather is that we are starting to put together plans for a trip....3 or 4 days out on the ice and up north to the Hebron area for some hunting. It will have to be soon, maybe later this week, while the ice is good. More on that soon too.

Friday, February 5, 2010


I thought I better put up some pictures...the last few posts have been especially boring for people who aren't as hooked on the micro/macro politics of indigeneity in North America. So....

Here is a shot of the sun setting on the mountains across the bay. The sun is actually behind me as I took the picture...we are in shadow, but the mountains are high enough to still be catching the last of the light.

Josh arrived this week, and I put him to work right away....not a moment to catch his breath. But he has been getting up and skiing in the pre-dawn hours, much more dedicated than I. This weekend it is supposed to get mild, though, so we may go off into the hills for a long ski on Sunday.

The harbor feezes over solid, but the coming and going of the tide lifts the ice on and off of the rocks, creating a field of ruptures and holes.
The rest of the harbor, beyond the reach of shore rocks, is smooth, and provides access to the outer islands. Many people have cabins out there, and come spring, people visit to hunt and fish in the channels that form between the "land fast ice" and the "sea ice".

Along the water here are some older buildings...I think they are old Hudson Bay Company buildings, as they look exactly like the HBC trading posts in other towns. The HBC took over trading here from the Moravians in the early 20th Century, but quit trading after the war when the price of furs was low...leaving Nain without a regular source of Winter supply.

Here I am (so my children remember what I look like!). Behind me on the right is the government store that opened in the 50s (people here still call it "Labrador investments") to take the place of the HBC store. It sells groceries and hardware and just about everything else. It is now privately owned, I think (correction Brian?), and has to compete with the Northern which is down by the old HBC store.

Lastly, here is Siutik, the dog at the house where we are staying, who was my pal until Josh arrived...then she dropped me like an old shirt. I put her up here so Elly could see a beautiful Inuit husky.

One more day of interviewing and then we are taking Sunday off to catch our breath. More later this weekend.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Voisey's Bay (part 1)

Vale Inco announced last week that they were reopening the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine near here, so I thought I should provide a bit of background and a timeline, as I will likely be referring to this in future postings.

The mine and ore concentrator at VB was completed in November 2005 by Inco, a Canadian company with nickel mines and operations already in Sudbury, Ontario, and New Caledonia. The VB facility cost a company estimated $950 million, which is quite a sum by Labrador standards, but which, given the proximity to existing processing facilities in Sudbury made it an easy decision—and the mine can produce gross nickel and copper proceeds at two or three times that amount every year. To give one example, the year before the strike (2008), VB produced 77,500 tons of “contained” nickel, and 55,400 tons of “contained” copper, which (in refined form) would be worth $1.43 billion and $562 million, respectively at today’s prices. At the height of the market in 2006-07, the value of this amount of nickel alone (once refined) would be $4.5 billion—produced in a single year. The mine is located about 20 miles south of Nain, along the coast. At capacity it employs roughly 450 people, though only a handful from Nain.

In 2007, Inco was purchased by Vale Inc, a Brazilian mining conglomerate (and now the world’s 2nd largest mining company), becoming a subsidiary called Vale Inco. Vale’s short term planning was poor, though, as less than a year after the purchase, the price of zinc fell sharply, largely as a result of the decline in world manufacturing—zinc is a key ingredient in the manufacturing of stainless steel, but not much good outside of that. As a result, last summer (2009) Vale Inco suspended work in its Sudbury processing plant which serves all of its North American operations, starting on June 1 and lasting for 8 weeks. This happened directly after several weeks of scheduled operation shut down for maintenance, and, perhaps more importantly (though never mentioned by the company) amid discussions with main processor union in Sudbury over contract alterations and desire by the company to remain profitable “in all of the price cycle”. The union (a local of the United Steel Workers) contract expired July 12, in the middle of the shutdown, and without an agreement on a new contract.

Actually the union contract had been set to expire May 31 but had been extended for negotiations by both sides, and negotiations had been going on since May. Again, while never state as such, the shutdown was likely aimed at imposing strike-like hardship on the furloughed workers even before a strike could begin. The USW contract covers 3300 of 4700 workers at the Sudbury site, and is one of the largest employers in the Sudbury area. Price declines were likely the backdrop of the contract negotiations as well. Nickel had fallen from $24/lb in 2007 (when Vale bought Inco) to $4/lb in early 2009. As a result, Vale Inco had wanted to cut 428 jobs and reduce pension, bonuses (previously tied to the price of nickel), and other benefits. USW Local 6500 rejected these cuts, and voted to strike, starting July 13. Voisey’s Bay USW workers followed, and went on strike August 1st. In total, 135 workers at VB mine walked off the job, and as of today have not returned.

Sudbury is actually sort of a mess in general these days. The slowdown at Vale Inco affected FNX mining, another large employer, because their nickel, copper, and other precious metal ore are processed at the Vale Sudbury facility. FNX shut down nickel mining (in 2008) but was still mining copper and precious metals. In the past, it might have been possible for them to shift processing to X-Strata, also in Sudbury, but X-Strata was also planning to shut down (“care-and-maintenance” phase) and cut 638 jobs as well. Sudbury produces 30% of the world’s nickel (with other concentrations in Russia and New Caledonia), and is located about 225 miles north of Toronto, 250 northwest of Ottawa, just above Georgian Bay. The smelter brags of being the tallest smokestack in North America, but seldom mentions the fact that it is world’s largest producer of sulfuric acid laced pollution.

In mid 2009, nickel prices began to recover a bit, and in August Vale-Inco announced it will reopen Sudbury concentrator operation without striking workers, and started “retraining” management and non-striking staff in late August to run the mill. Vale Inco also runs a precious metal refinery in Port Colburn Ontario, not far from Sudbury, that was out on strike too, with 125 workers having walked off in support of the Sudbury strike. Because that plant dealt mainly in copper and platinum (whose prices had remained high), that plant remained running, though at reduced capacity. In September, Vale Inco informed FNX to begin shipments to Sudbury once again, concentrating on copper and platinum there as well. The mill started operations in mid-September. The rationale was clear: in 2009, copper prices were up 140%. Earlier this month (January 2010), Vale announced its intention to reopen Voisey’s Bay nickel mine, and shortly afterward sent a new proposal to striking workers there. Negotiations were short, however, and three days after presenting their proposal, Vale officials called off talks and announced plans to use non-union staff and management to replace strikers at the VB mine. In the same week, they announce plans to reopen the smelter plant (where “concentrate” is refined into commodity level nickel, zinc, cobalt, or copper) in Sudbury.

That is where things stand now, though there are other elements not quite directly related that I don’t have room to go into here. I will try to get some of that up in the next week. As I mentioned in an earlier post…there aren’t many workers here affected directly by the strike. Perhaps two dozen total, though many are not in the union. As is widely recognized throughout the north, Aboriginal hiring quotas are almost always met in the “service” side operations—cafeteria workers, dormitory cleaners, security guards, and so on. These aren’t the high salary mining jobs normally advertised. Many of these positions, while not strike positions, are obviously dependent on operations at the mine, and have been out of work since the strike began in August. In a community where jobs are so scarce, that actually means a lot. In addition, as I wrote about in an earlier entry, a portion of the Provincial royalties from the mine go to support the Nunatsiavut Government here—the new Inuit government that followed the land claims, which in turn had followed the discovery of large nickel deposits at Voisey’s Bay.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First Interviews

Today was our first day of formal interviewing....five interviews, which took up most of the day. A picture of our office at the OK society is below. Today's folks were primarily those from the elder's focus group we did last Tuesday. They all went well, with one very kind compliment from a long time Nain resident saying that he had done many of research interviews over the years, and this was the best he'd done. I'm not sure, but my sense was that he appreciated that we were taking time to talk to people about what was happening in Nain, and what they thought about it. Usually, he said, the interviews were very rushed and only looking for one or two things--without getting very far into things. So it looks like we are off to good start. We also had one respondent ask if we had any time to talk more, and listen to some old stories. That would be great, of course, and I asked if we could call her in a couple of weeks, once things were running and Josh was here, to make a time come and talk....she said yes, so we have a good lead for stories.

The story part of the project is actually very simple: we are hoping to be able to collect as many stories as we can here, record them, and produce a series of texts that we can analyze. Of course the texts are very valuable in their own right, and have all of the obvious connections to what anthropologists usually do. And they can show us alot about what has happened the ethnohistorical (rather than conventional historical) sense. But we are also hoping to be able do some new text analysis on them, and do some cognitive mapping of the ideas they contain and deploy. This sounds more complex than it really is...the real point is to use the stories to see the relationships between the ideas contain, and to produce a map of the clustering and interdependency of those ideas. The idea that underlies this (from C.S. Peirce originally) is that it takes at least three independent items to make what people usually call "meaning"...a sign, the thing that it stands for (the object, often another idea), and the thing that connects them (still another idea that connects them (the relation or, as Peirce referred to it, the "interpretant"...which is still yet another idea). Put another way, any sort of thing that might qualify as "meaningful" is usually, minimally a triangle of ideas.

We do alot of interpreting with tone and gesture and lots and syntax and lots of other things that are difficult to capture in a text, of course. But alot of the time we do it with words...using a word that can point to alot of things, and using other words to do the pointing, picking out which of the many things it might refer to. In the maps we make, we try to find the clusters and interdependencies of clusters of ideas, where a group of ideas partly points to one another, and partly also supplies the pointing. In effect it is a mapping exercise, but of ideas.

In effect the maps look alot like the social network maps we make, except they show dependencies between ideas instead of people. So we are going to try to collect as many stories as we can...of any sort: stories about the old time, funny stories, short stories, long stories. I really have no idea how this part of the project will turn out (hope our funder isn't reading this section), but I am excited to see how it turns out.

News on the weather front: we are supposed to get up into the single (negative) digits, and perhaps even up to +2C this week. More weird weather, people are nervous.