Joan Kuyek has been involved for decades in struggles related to mining, including serving as the first national co-ordinator of MiningWatch Canada from 1999 to 2008. Scott Neigh interviews her about her lifetime of activism and organizing, and about her new book, Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community from the Mining Industry.
Mining is big business, especially in Canada. About half of the world’s mining companies are headquartered here, which in 2017 amounted to 1,364 companies holding $260 billion in assets, and they work in more than 100 countries. An interview in the Halifax Examiner quoted today’s guest as saying, “Mining — the extraction of copper, gold, and other metals — was one of the major reasons why Canada got settled in the first place. … This was a colony that was there to extract. And our laws, our regulations, and policies are all shaped by facilitating extraction.”
As past episodes of Talking Radical Radio have discussed over the years, the mining sector has an awful record when it comes to the environment and human rights. Profit-driven resource extraction is a constant threat to Indigenous peoples, sovereignty and rights. And in an era of climate crisis, it’s relevant that more than a quarter of global climate emissions can be traced to mining — and to be clear, traced not to fossil fuel extraction, but to extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals.
Joan Kuyek has been involved in grassroots activism and organizing since the 1960s. For five years, she worked as a community organizer in Kingston, Ontario. Then in 1970, she moved to Sudbury, a small city in Ontario’s near north known for nickel mining. Through most of the three decades that she lived there, though she worked many different day jobs, Kuyek was involved in organizing one way or another. Her grassroots work often centred women, and the exact form and focus varied, but it was all done in a community in which the mines and the power of the companies loomed over everything. In the late ’70s, the miners waged and won an eight-month strike, and part of what made that victory possible was the organizing of women in the community through a group called Wives Supporting the Strike, which Kuyek chaired. Over her years living in Sudbury, Kuyek came to deeply appreciate the impacts of mining on people and the environment, and particularly on the Indigenous communities in and around the city.
Starting in the mid 1990s, people involved in three strands of struggle against Canadian mining companies started talking — Indigenous groups within Canada, prominently including the Innu Nation and its fight against the proposed mine at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador; environmental groups opposed to mining projects in British Columbia and elsewhere; and international NGOs that had run up against Canadian mining companies doing destructive things in a bunch of different countries. Together, they founded an organization called MiningWatch to act as a resource in all of these different kinds of struggles. And they hired Kuyek, who moved to Ottawa in 1999 to work as the organization’s national co-ordinator. Since 2008, she has done similar work on a freelance basis.
Both with MiningWatch and on her own, this work has involved research and policy advocacy oriented primarily to supporting front-line communities and struggles on the ground. It often involves helping communities develop knowledge about how the industry and regulatory frameworks operate, and how different tactics and approaches to struggle have worked in other places. Centrally, it involves doing everything in coalition, and working hard to bring people facing similar things together to support and learn from each other.
A few years ago, Kuyek decided that she wanted to share what she had learned over these many years of work in a different way — by writing a book. Unearthing Justice was published by Between the Lines in September 2019. It deals with various facets of how the industry works, from the mining process itself to things like regulation, finance and taxation. It talks about the impacts of mining — its intimate relationship with colonization, what it does to the environment, its impact on workers and communities, and Canada’s predatory role on the global scene. And it provides practical lessons about organizing against mining projects, drawn from Kuyek’s experience.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.
Image: Tony Webster/Wikimedia
Theme music: “It Is the Hour (Get Up)” by Snowflake, via CCMixter