Inuk woman says she is being harassed at Nunavut mine site

An Inuk heavy equipment operator says she is being harassed at a Nunavut mine by non-Indigenous men working at the site 900 kilometres north of Iqaluit.

(The isolated Mary River mine camp shown here in 2014, sits 900 kilometres north of Iqaluit. Photo courtesy: Baffinland Iron Mine Corp)

An Inuk heavy equipment operator says she is being sexually harassed at a Nunavut mine.

Billie Jo Barnes shared a copy with APTN News of her handwritten allegations about life at the Mary River Mine.

“I have not been physically assaulted just physically intimidated where a guy came towards me and one other who blocked my way so I could pass him in the hallway,” Barnes said.

She also alleged that non-Indigenous male co-workers have made lewd comments and used offensive terminology to describe Inuit workers like her.

She says one described the Inuktitut language as “gibberish.”

“It feels like it’s me fighting people who cover up for each other and I feel I am the bad one and made to feel like I’m crazy,” she said.

Barnes is at a remote, fly-in camp where workers sleep in tents and work 12-hour shifts.

She said she is relying on her internet connection to stay in contact with her husband and sons, who, she said, are encouraging and supporting her in her fight for better treatment.

“Since I complained the men gather and talk about me and say the ‘little bitch’ won’t be happy till someone is fired.”

The large open-pit iron mine is located about 900 kilometres northwest of Iqaluit and is being run by the Baffinland Iron Mine Corp., of Oakville, Ont.

The private company says it takes the accusations “very seriously” but won’t comment publicly.

“As per company policy, we do not discuss these types of matters externally,” spokesman Jason Leite said in an email.

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern posted on Twitter that she was aware of the accusations and had notified the company.

”I reported this to senior management and they responded immediately,” she said. “They say they take such breaches seriously and (are) looking into it immediately.”

The situation concerns Janet Brewster of Iqaluit, who testified in February about violence against women at the Nunavut hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“Meanwhile at Baffinland #maryrivermine supervisors are branding #Inuit women as ‘cock stars’ placing them at higher risk for sexual assault and exploitation, rather than inspiring a safe workplace for them,” Brewster posted on Twitter.

Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada wasn’t surprised by the allegation.

He said racial and sexual harassment made it difficult to attract more Inuit and women into the mine’s workforce.

“It’s very disturbing,” he said.

However, he was pleased to see the company respond immediately.

“That’s what you hope for; that they would say, ‘Holy shit, we’ve got to deal with this.’”

Barnes said she was taking some comfort from the #metoo movement that has recently exposed bad and criminal behaviour against women in several arenas.

She said she has been moved to a different workplace at the site and is still waiting to hear from the company’s human resources personnel.

“Right now, I’m just afraid of the backlash from the men here,” she said.

Barnes said there are only a few other females in non-traditional roles there.

Most work as cleaners or dishwashers.

She said she started the job in March and filed her complaint in April – first verbally and then in writing.

“I am afraid to lose my job and the reaction from the men here,” she said.

Kneen said there was no union protection for employees at the mine so it was up to the company to do the right thing.

“It’s up to management to have those policies in place and make sure there’s no repercussions for reporting,” he said.

He said steps should be taken to protect the complainant and correct the attitudes of her co-workers.

“It’s up to the company … and it’s up to fellow workers to say, ‘This is not how we treat women.’”

The sexualization of Indigenous women contributes to this attitude/behaviour. In case you’re wondering why we don’t like the ‘sexy Pocahontas’ trope. It has scary real life impacts.

 

Online Journalist / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.

10 thoughts on “Inuk woman says she is being harassed at Nunavut mine site

  1. Once a co-worker in fuel delivery…..told me that the ‘INUIT ARE ARE GOOD FOR (edited)’ My wife works up there in Weather Haven…..sometime I wonder….one time from Baffinland employee told her once…that he wanted to have sex with her…..and I was in Milne Inlet working. and got worried……

  2. Kneen said there was no union protection for employees at the mine so it was up to the company to do the right thing. Uncode. This statement doesn’t sit well with me, first if it is “up to company to do the right thing” then what is the point of having workplace harassment law?… 2nd why are non indigenous men allowed to make such sexiest, racial statement and be left for company’s in discretion weather or not to do the right thing? Finally this isn’t the end of it until our policy/law makers step up to do away with slap on the wrist fir those who come up north to work and have mentality that this is ok…

  3. Once a co-worker in fuel delivery…..told me that the ‘INUIT ARE ARE GOOD FOR (edited)’ My wife works up there in Weather Haven…..sometime I wonder….one time from Baffinland employee told her once…that he wanted to have sex with her…..and I was in Milne Inlet working. and got worried……

  4. Sorry for what you have been thru
    They are not men
    A man would not act like this
    Stay strong you are right to stand up and be heard

  5. Kneen said there was no union protection for employees at the mine so it was up to the company to do the right thing. Uncode. This statement doesn’t sit well with me, first if it is “up to company to do the right thing” then what is the point of having workplace harassment law?… 2nd why are non indigenous men allowed to make such sexiest, racial statement and be left for company’s in discretion weather or not to do the right thing? Finally this isn’t the end of it until our policy/law makers step up to do away with slap on the wrist fir those who come up north to work and have mentality that this is ok…

  6. Billie Jo you have worked very hard to get where you are; and you are a leader for our Inuit women and girls, and you are a role model.

    The company has entrusted you to operate their equipment, and you meet the same operational standards as the men.

    I believe in you. I’ve also been a minority amongst the men when I was a pilot. There aren’t many women pilots still to this day. Stay strong. Upigivagit.

  7. This is so disgusting how do men still have this mentality to treat women so barbarically. Wow.

  8. Sorry for what you have been thru
    They are not men
    A man would not act like this
    Stay strong you are right to stand up and be heard

  9. Billie Jo you have worked very hard to get where you are; and you are a leader for our Inuit women and girls, and you are a role model.

    The company has entrusted you to operate their equipment, and you meet the same operational standards as the men.

    I believe in you. I’ve also been a minority amongst the men when I was a pilot. There aren’t many women pilots still to this day. Stay strong. Upigivagit.

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