Joan Kuyek

How to Protect your community
from the Mining Industry

How to Protect your community from the Mining Industry

Reviews & Opinions


John Cutfeet, First Nation Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Canadá

December, 2018

Finally, a long overdue book that shines a light into the oftentimes dark, murky world of mining, exposing a tradition that has always been cloaked under economic prosperity without taking into consideration the real costs to human health and the environment. This book brings to the surface the process of mining and its very real impacts on people who live close to the land.

In a world often far removed from the view of mainstream soci- ety, and as mining companies and shareholders celebrate the financial gains reaped by operating mines, communities, and particularly Indig- enous communities, are faced with the potential destruction of lands and waters that have sustained their cultures for centuries, leaving them with what is referred to as a “culture of contamination.”

From the effects of the Mount Polley disaster—and it was a disas- ter, not only for the millions of salmon that use those waterways to reach their spawning grounds, but also for the people and communities that use the salmon to sustain life—to the struggle of both settler and Indigenous communities dispossessed of lands and waters, Joan Kuyek shines truth onto the fallacies perpetuated by government and industry that mines are “little holes in the ground” and a “temporary use of land.”

There is nothing “temporary” about the impacts of mining on eco- systems, many of which have been used for generations by people who live close to and survive off these lands.

I first met Joan in her role as national coordinator of MiningWatch Canada during a difficult period in the history of my home community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI, to those who cannot pronounce the official title for our community). A junior exploration company had come onto Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki (land) in 2006 without the knowledge or authorization of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug as a collective. In the struggle that continued well into 2008, culminating in the courtroom drama of having to release the KI leadership from incar- ceration, Joan’s support and vast knowledge of mining (reflected in this amazing book)—and including other resources at her disposal—were available to KI during this time of great turmoil and conflict in this remote community of just over 1,500 people.

Joan worked tirelessly to assist KI by attending court hearings after we were sued for $10 billion when KI protested a proposed drilling pro- gram. Joan’s support was evident as she brought awareness to the main issue: the need to reform the antiquated Mining Act in Ontario. As Joan has said, “The problem here is the antiquated ‘free-entry’ system that allows mining and exploration without consultation with affected First Nations communities or consideration of other values such as ecolog- ical values, trapping, hunting, clean water or even consideration of cli- mate change impacts.”

When six members of KI (including five members of Chief and Council) were sentenced to six months of incarceration for not allowing the mining company access to KI homelands in contempt of a Superior Court ruling to provide immediate access, Joan continued her support of KI through letter-writing campaigns, media releases, and the mobilization of support networks. Joan came to KI to decipher the technical jargon mostly unheard of at the community level and was able to paint a clear picture of the mining industry to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

She understood the concept of Kanawayandan D’aaki, the spir- itual mandate provided to KI to protect and steward the lands and resources—and the need for alternative economies that are sustainable to ensure the survival of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and its future generations. This book provides the same insight for people who are looking at ways to develop strategies that move beyond the core sam- pling and mine tailings.

As she so generously shared and supported KI in times of strife, Joan shares her fifty-plus years of experience, her knowledge and wis- dom in these pages, allowing us a glimpse into an industry that she has explored for most of her working life. From policies and legisla- tion, boardrooms and stocks markets, to the coal mines of Nova Scotia and the dumping of mine tailings into the Rose Creek, which flows into the Pelly River system in the Yukon, this book paints a picture of the true costs and impacts of the mining industry on the environment and, more importantly, the lives of the people it touches, be they positive or negative, short or long term.

Joan breaks down the impacts of chemicals used in the mining industry and their effects on humans and wildlife. She describes how cyanide, sulphuric acid, ammonia, chlorine, and hydrochloric acid impact humans and the environment. The price of prosperity is mea- sured against the cost of human health, wildlife, the environment, and the future.

This tool developed by Joan will provide many with access to the experience and knowledge that we had during the conflict in KI. If you are facing uncertainties from mining and are looking to gain insight into a complex industry whose impacts are felt in a huge way on the ground, Joan’s unique insight can support the development of strategies that can help you put mining in its place.

With government and industry pushing to mine, mine, and mine, in often impoverished Indigenous and settler communities alike, Joan’s book is a solid rock on which to build to protect what is yours and mine.


Unearthing Justice, How to Protect your community from the Mining Industry is intended to help communities, organizations, and individuals who find themselves defending the land, waters, and people they cherish from the impacts of mining. As Jacinda Mack says in her presentations about the effects of the Mount Polley Mine disaster in 2014, “This is a love story”: a story about how we can protect those places we love “to clear the path so our children don’t have to carry as much.”

Maybe you are defending a watershed against a new mine. You might be trying to deal with the toxic by-products of an existing mine and/or smelter. Maybe your town is facing the closure of a mine that is your major source of income. Your community might be affected by the legacy of waste and unpaid property taxes from an abandoned mine. It might be that you are upset by the tales of murder and pillage linked to Canadian mining companies operating internationally. Maybe you are just curious.

This is a personal story, in which I want to share what I have learned through decades of experience working to limit the damage caused by the mining industry in Canada. I spent thirty years as a community organizer in Sudbury (the largest mining community in Canada), ten years as the founding national coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, and the past ten years (and counting) working as a consultant to communities affected by mining in Canada.

I also developed and taught a course called Mining Law, Policy, and Communities at Algoma University, which I later co taught with a legal practitioner at Queen’s University Law School. In this time, I have been up close and personal with some of the worst and best of mining. The book is anchored in this experience, and in the stories I have been privileged to hear from people and organizations on the front lines.

Daniel Ashini, the chief negotiator for the Innu with the Voisey’s Bay Mine, said in 1999: As I’m sure you all know very well, dealing with industrial developments such as mines involves much more than protesting. It also involves participating in environmental assessments, attending co management meetings, and having big arguments with the governments over things like the definition of consultation.

I have a lot of experience in these matters, but I wish it weren’t so. I wish I had never heard of these things that I am going to talk to you about. I wish I could use my time to try to solve the problems of my community instead of always fighting these developments. This takes up a lot of my time, time that I could be spending with my family and friends in the community or in the country.

Mining is the story of loss. All kinds of loss. Of lives. Of land. Of water. Of livelihoods. Of good governance. Of future possibilities. In Canada, we have created an economy that is dependent on extraction, that creates profits from loss. The powerful mining industry controls information about its costs and benefits; propagates its own myths about its importance and history; shapes government law, regulation, and policy; and ensures that Canadian and Indigenous peoples pay so it may succeed.

Of course, we depend on metals. Of course, mining, smelting, and metal manufacturing create jobs and contribute to Canada’s GDP. I am writing this book with equipment made from petrochemicals and metals, in a home where metals have been used for the stove, the fridge, and the furnace, and I get around with a car, buses, trains, and a bike. That said, we need to treat these metals we take for granted with respect. We need to understand their awesome cost: in terms of workers’ lives, Indigenous displacement and dispossession, environmental degradation and destruction, inequality and political distortions.

Minerals are not inexhaustible. Deposits that we can afford to mine are being depleted, and the environmental and social costs of extracting them are increasing. The waste left behind will burden future generations forever.

For centuries, miners have been proud of the sacrifices they make to produce the minerals on which we depend. Like the rest of us, people who work in the mining industry want to feel that the work they do every day helps not only their families, but also their community, the environment, and the planet.

The owners of mining companies know full well that the willingness of people to work for them is not easily got. These days, most “mining as good citizen” hype is directed as much at workers as at governments.

If we were to respect the full costs of producing metals and diamonds, we would ask: Do we really need this metal or gem? What will it be used for? Can it be obtained by recycling? Can it be reused? What damage will its production do to the environment? To democratic governance? To future generations? Are there less damaging ways in which it may be produced? How dangerous is its production and transport to workers? How will it contribute to healing the earth and to greater equality? How will the benefits and costs from producing it be distributed? How much will taxpayers be required to subsidize it? How long will the benefits last, and what costs and legacy will remain post extraction? What opportunities to do something different now or in the future are lost or overlooked?

Mining is the ultimate expression of the violence of colonialism.

Pillaging the earth for minerals and gems in order to build our industrial and unequal society, mining takes place on lands that are being stolen from Indigenous people both directly and indirectly through a flawed treaty negotiation, interpretation, and enforcement process. Dispossessed by the Canadian state of their lands and resources, many Indigenous people are deeply impoverished and forced to take what jobs and revenues the corporate masters are willing to share. After the minerals and gems are gone, the land remains despoiled, home to toxic wastes that will have to be managed forever.

The book is organized into five parts:

Part one, What Mining Looks Like, is intended to help understand this complicated industry: the physical footprint of an operating mining camp and the sequence of mining operations through prospecting, development, operations, smelting, and closure, and key environmental impacts on water and air.

Part two, What It Costs, opens with a brief overview of mining’s colonial context and discusses the key social impacts. Within this part, there are chapters on working for the mining industry and what happens after the mine is closed.

Part three, Profits from Loss, provides an overview of the structure of the industry and its relationship to financial markets and discusses mining as an externalizing machine.

Part four, Justice or Just Us, describes the relationships among the mining lobby, the regulatory system, and the tax regime in Canada, and provides a synopsis of Canada’s role in mining internationally. A chapter on uranium mining in Canada provides a case study.

Part five, How to Put Mining in Its Place, is all about organizing for change. It provides stories and some learnings from community struggles at each stage of the mining sequence. There are chapters on effective international solidarity work, corporate research and campaigns, and discussions of what it takes to change law, regulation, and policy. The concluding chapter, Creating a New Story: Putting Mining in Its Place, summarizes key strategies to limit the power of the mining industry in Canada, and to respect the awesome cost of the minerals we take for granted.

The endnotes to each chapter offer a few key resources for those wanting more information.

In order to keep this book “user friendly,” I have had to limit stories and explanations that could be much more detailed. I am well aware that there are many other stories that could be told, many more activists that could be celebrated, many other aspects of mining that could be explored. The book is also largely limited to metal and diamond mining and does not have space to talk about the differences in the mining and processing of industrial minerals such as potash, coal, and asbestos.

Sections of this book are based on materials that have been previously published by MiningWatch Canada. Although I have tried to tell the reader where this is the case, my history is so bound up with that organization that I may have missed some instances. I am deeply indebted to the board and staff at MiningWatch for the permission they have given me. In addition, I acknowledge that some parts of Unearthing Justice incorporate analysis from two previous books I wrote on community organizing: Fighting for Hope, published by Black Rose in 1990, and Community Organizing published by Fernwood in 2011.

I also want to thank those who read early drafts of the book and made helpful suggestions, including Jen Moore, Sakura Saunders, Donna Ashamock, David Peerla, Susan Kennedy, John Cutfeet, and Bessa Whitmore. Opinions and mistakes in this book are entirely mine. Thank you to Nicole Marie Burton for her wonderful drawings. I owe a huge debt to my editor and others at Between the Lines. I also want to recognize the support I received from the Ontario Arts Council for this work.

Of course, this book would not have been written without the stories, activism, and analysis of dedicated people all over Canada and around the world who spend their lives putting mining in its place. Thank you.


Prologue to Unearthing Justice by John Cutfeet, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Canada, December 2018.

Book Introduction: Mining and community resistance in Canada, 2019

GroundWire News on the Ottawa book launch held in November 15 2019

CFRC 101.9 FM, Putting Mining in its Place: Mining and Community Resistance in Canada, November 21, 2019

iHeartRadio, How to protect your community when the mining industry comes to town, October 25 2020

Daraja Press, Unearthing Justice in the time of covid-19, April 23 2020

Daraja Press · Unearthing Justice In The Time Of COVID - 19


Joan Kuyek

Joan Kuyek is a community-focused mining analyst and organizer living in Ottawa. She was the founding national coordinator of MiningWatch Canada from 1999 to 2009 and continues to do work for MiningWatch and for a number of communities affected by mining. Other books by Joan Kuyek are "Community Organizing. A Holistic Approach" (Fernwood Publishing, 2011) and "Fighting for Hope: Organizing to Realize Our Dreams" (Black Rose Books, 1990).


Luis Manuel Claps

Spanish translator

Luis Manuel Claps has a degree in Communication Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires. As Mines & Communities Latin America editor, he contributed to communication campaigns on the social and environmental impacts of mining in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil. He published "Dirtigol en la ruta del oro sucio" (Remitente Patagonia, 2019).

Jamila Maia

Portuguese translator

Jamila Maia has been an English teacher since 2000, graduated from Paulista University. She has been a freelance translator for over 15 years. Former pedagogical coordinator, she worked in the selection, hiring and training of teachers for language schools. She prepared translations and versions for clients such as National Geographic, Greenpeace, HuffPost Brasil and the Institute for National Socioeconomic Studies (Inesc), among others. Member of the Regional Forum of Mulheres Zona Oeste SP.


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