Toxic Legacies, Slow Violence, and Environmental Injustice at Giant Mine, Northwest Territories
The Northern Review 42 (2016): 7–21
For fifty years (1949–99) the now-abandoned Giant Mine in Yellowknife emitted arsenic air and water pollution into the surrounding environment. Arsenic pollution from Giant Mine had particularly acute health impacts on the nearby Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), who were reliant on local lakes, rivers, and streams for their drinking water, in addition to frequent use of local berries, garden produce, and medicine plants. Currently, the Canadian government is undertaking a remediation project at Giant Mine to clean up contaminated soils and tailings on the surface and contain 237,000 tonnes of arsenic dust that are stored underground at the Giant Mine. Using documentary sources and statements of Yellowknives Dene members before various public hearings on the arsenic issue, this paper examines the history of arsenic pollution at Giant Mine as a form of “slow violence,” a concept that reconfigures the arsenic issue not simply as a technical problem, but as a historical agent of colonial dispossession that alienated an Indigenous group from their traditional territory. The long-term storage of arsenic at the former mine site means the effects of this slow violence are not merely historical, but extend to the potentially far distant future.
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