Canada's Mining Industry from a First-Person, Indigenous Viewpoint

Since the first week of May is mining week in Canada, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about mining. I am a heavy equipment operator in an open-pit mine in Northern Alberta, so I guess that makes me a miner too.

Canada's Vast Resources...

Did you know that Canada is rich in minerals and metals? Canada is a major producer and exporter of the following: cobalt, diamonds, gold, nickel, platinum, uranium, potash, indium, niobium, and silver to name a few. We also export massive quantities of salt, coal, iron ore, and crude oil, the last of which is for the most part extracted from the oil sands.

Mines in Canada - Mining Association of CanadaMines in Canada - Mining Association of Canada

This is not all that we mine in Canada either, but this list is just more so to give you an idea of the variety of resources we have in our country. According to Natural Resources Canada, our nation is currently home to more than 200 mines, and that figure is continuing to grow as more exploration and development occurs.

Open-Pit vs. Underground

open pit mining trucks

Example of an open-pit mine

Open-pit mining is performed under the open sky and exposes workers to the weather. As we know in Canada, our weather can be very harsh at times, with winds that kick up dust into the air. The potential exposure for mining workers to breathe in microparticles of dust and other elements is something to consider before working in such an environment.

Working in an open-pit mine allows the use of large heavy machinery and increases the overall workspace and mobility of operations. I currently work in an open-pit mine and enjoy seeing the development of the mine over its lifetime.

On the other hand, underground mining requires employees to work in a much harsher environment with confined spaces, extreme humidity, and venting challenges. I’ve never worked underground, nor do I want to. After being in an underground potash mine, that was enough adventure for me. It takes a really determined person in my opinion to work in an underground mine.

We Need the Mining Industry

circuitboards made from mined materials

Circuit boards are made with copper

First and foremost, countless products we use on a daily basis are made using raw materials that have been mined from the earth. Computers, smartphones, electric vehicles, satellites, generators, solar panels, and home furnaces are just the start of a long list of such products.

I believe we all want to be environmentally ethical when it comes to our use and consumption of these products, but in reality, resources are mined because of supply and demand. If humans demand it, the mining companies will extract it.

We can choose to point the finger at these companies for supplying the demand that we create, or we can choose to be conscientious that almost everything we do in our contemporary lifestyle has an environmental impact and start taking personal responsibility for our consumption habits. Whatever that change in consumption may look like is up to you.

Mining & the Environment

mining workers at a quarry mine

Mining today is much more responsible than it was years ago. I have personally been part of different phases of the reclamation process in the mine and have seen how operations have changed, especially when it concerns the environment.

We have an obligation by law - and from our respect for the environment - to restore the land back to, or better than its natural state after an area has been mined. The footprint our mining companies have is hardly comparable to those in other countries because Canadian operators are required to extract and produce natural resources under one of the strictest, most environmentally conscious regulatory regimes in the world.

Canada’s oil companies are also doing their part by moving towards more sustainable practices through new innovation and the use of clean technologies. Climate change seems to be on everyone’s agenda.

Natural Resources Support Our Families

i love canadian mining energy banner

Equally as important are the people who work for these mining companies in Canada. Those I’ve spoken to over the past several months who have kept their jobs in the natural resources sector despite the pandemic just want to provide for their families.

The negative image people have of miners being uneducated and dirty is extremely unfair; it is a tough job and you have to be skilled both physically and mentally to succeed. You get your hands dirty for sure, but having the proper safety gear - which we are required to wear - helps out with that.

Mining is a great way to make a living if you come with an open mind and have thick skin. I’m certain mining is one of the oldest occupations in Canada and I’m proud to be part of it!

About the Author

Estella Petersen - Heavy Equipment Operator & Indigenous Woman in the Oil SandsEstella Petersen is a heavy machinery operator in the oil sands out of Fort McMurray. Estella is from the Cowessess Reserve and is passionate about Canada and supporting Canadian natural resources.

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