“Never Until Now” – LAWS Mining Report

Press Release

Never Until Now: Indigenous and Racialized Women’s Experiences Working in Yukon and Northern British Columbia Mine Camps was initiated by Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS). LAWS is a non-profit, charitable, Aboriginal women’s organization that amplifies the voices of Kaska and Indigenous Yukon women. Foundational to this study is the Indigenous value of reciprocity and Kaska law ‘Dene A’Nezen’ which “opposes violence against the land and against each other, calling on us to be mindful of our words and actions, to uphold fairness, care and harmony in our relationship with all of Creation, and to know our place”. Reclaiming Power and Place, the final report from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry (MMIWG 2019), has drawn a clear connection between the ‘man camps’ that emerge from extractive industry activity and the increased dangers posed to Indigenous women at the camps and in neighbouring communities. Kaska Elders, advocates, community members, service providers and women mine workers also identified these concerns, and in particular the connections between the destruction of the land and of Indigenous cultures, as impetus to instigate this study.

This mixed methods research study used both qualitative and quantitative data to understand Indigenous and racialized women’s mining camp experiences. The survey and interview format, content, and interview questions were collaboratively developed during training sessions with Kaska women and facilitated by the project team (LAWS, Yukon Status of Women Council, Centre for Response-Based Practice and CCSG Associates). Using a Community-Based Participatory Action Research model (CBPAR), Kaska women’s participation in developing questions and interviewing other Indigenous and racialized mineworkers helped establish a cultural rapport that provided rich data to contribute to the current body of knowledge and assess working conditions in the mining sector. Counselling support was offered for anyone participating in the study (interviewees and interviewers).

Questions focused on women’s health and safety in diverse mining sector workplaces (hard rock, exploration, placer, reclamation and field monitoring camps); inquired about their personal safety and whether they had experienced any discrimination based on sex, race, or Indigeneity; and knowledge of environmental safety, Indigenous safety and their economic safety. In-depth interviews combined Survey Monkey quantitative data collection along with semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions and probing enquiry to capture qualitative data. Interviews were transcribed and coded using the broad coding scheme developed in a participatory manner which categorized the study questions into themes of personal safety, family and community connection, economic safety, Indigenous safety, environmental safety, and workplace safety, with the goal of identifying trends, common experiences both positive and negative, and sub-themes.

A total of 22 respondents were interviewed in this study, a robust number that indicated they had hopes for the study results to gain positive outcomes, for example; “Well, hopefully something that they can gather all the data and know, and work and learn from it,” (R5); “Truth and justice in relation to women’s issues, women of our community” (R9); and “More awareness to what Indigenous women have to suffer through in the mines because it’s never OK” (R18).

The key findings from the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society’s Never Until Now study are that women’s jobs, across all age groups, education levels, racial background, experience in mining seasons, job type categories and camp type, are concentrated in typically low-paying and gendered roles, and that working conditions often compromise their personal safety. The findings reveal:

Limited job opportunity (55% cook or cleaning as compared to higher paying jobs) and pay equity (18% reported men were paid more than women, 64% did not know if there was a difference);

Limited longevity of employment (1/4 worked 1-2 seasons, 1/5 worked 8 or more seasons), desirable employment (68% no longer working in mining), and financial security (32% were not financially secure while working in mine camp);

Inadequate pay scale for hours worked (2/3 daily pay did not reflect hours worked) and overtime wages (1/4 paid overtime, 3/4 flat daily rate for long hours worked – 18.2% worked 60-70 hours/week and over 3/4 worked more than 70 hours/week);

Unequal work expectations for women and men (3/4 higher expectations for women); Limited opportunities to advance in training, job status (55% had not received promotions) and increased pay (41% gained somewhat higher paying jobs, 18% had jobs paying substantially lower than their first job, the majority received little or no change in pay scale);

Ineffective prevention of harm from harassment, discrimination, and assault based on race, Indigeneity, gender and/or sexual orientation in workplace and living conditions at mine camps (36% experienced both gender & race harassment or discrimination, 63% by gender or sexual orientation, 45% by race or Indigeneity, and 27% had experienced no harassment or discrimination);

One or both forms of gender or race harassment or discrimination were experienced by 80% of those in hard rock mining, 75% in placer mining, and 70% in exploration camps; Absence of safe grievance mechanisms to report incidents of harassment, discrimination, and violence (43% no safe process, fear of being fired, 9% were fired and many quit in response);

Poor environmental record of mine practices, over half of the respondents (54.5%) rated the mine company environmental practices poor (13.6% rated as none, 40.9% in scale range ‘1-3’ ), 9.1% mid range, 31.8% upper range ‘7-9′, and 4.5% rated excellent ’10’);

Limited economic benefit to Indigenous people (45.5% rated scale range ‘0-3’, mid range ‘4-6’ rate by 18.2%, and 36.4% upper range (27.3% rated ‘7-9’, 9.1% rated excellent ‘10’); and

A predominantly masculine culture in the work environment (half the camps had less than 5% women, and over 3/4 of the camps had less than 20% women).

Context for these findings confirm that Indigenous and racialized women working in the mining industry experience high levels of harassment, discrimination, and violence in northern mining work camps. They are uninformed about both legal standards that apply and how to safely report unequal pay, unsafe working conditions, harassment, discriminatory behaviours, and violence. Indigenous and racialized women isolated in a masculine working environment are undervalued, and have limited opportunity for advancement, scholarship and training. This results in precarious economic security and job retention.

All of these conditions contribute to the difficulty of protecting workers and holding employers accountable for women’s health and safety in northern mining camps. Swift, effective action in response to reports of sexual harassment, racism, and violence is difficult to achieve. A reluctance to call the police and the remote nature of mining work camps contribute to unsafe working conditions for women in the industry.

“Being on the land as part of their family and practicing traditional cultural activities creates a sense of belonging, whereas being out on the land with a masculine work camp crew creates a sense of fear, you’re remote and isolated and don’t know if you will be safe.” (Kaska Elder, 2021).

Therefore, it is critical that Indigenous and racialized women be invited to provide leadership and oversight in developing future gender and racial equality policies, legislation, and training initiatives in order to fulfill Indigenous and racialized women’s economic and social rights. Establishing women’s support groups at mine camps might create a safe space to discuss and problem-solve concerns specific to women, and identify improved management responses with clear timelines and procedures to report, investigate and respond to complaints of harassment, discrimination, and violence.

Never Until Now documents Indigenous and racialized women’s experiences of harassment, discrimination, abuse of authority, and violence in mine camps. These experiences are relevant to the contemporary policy and legislative initiatives of updating Yukon’s mining legislation, and implementing the Yukon Government MMIWG2S+ Strategy and Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board 2020 Violence and Harassment Prevention Regulation. In addition, assessing mine proposals for worker health and safety plans that ensure the protection of women from harassment and discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation in the workplace and work camp living conditions, should become a priority for Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board’s assessments of the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of proposed resource extraction projects.

The study demonstrates the mining industry’s colonial ethic of exploitation by revealing the degrading ways that Indigenous and racialized women mine workers are treated, both in the workplace and in their camp living conditions. This harassment and discrimination thwarts dignified working conditions, and jeopardizes women’s personal safety and longevity of work security. The impunity for perpetrators of gender and race-based harassment, discrimination and violence as reported in this study is deeply rooted in systemic structures of oppression, misogyny, and male privilege that harm women in their daily lives in mine camps. Never Until Now amplifies Indigenous and racialized women’s voices, acknowledging that their strength and resistance can lead the way to improving the safety, health and working conditions for all women working in the northern mining sector.

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