Myles Michano was studying to be a nurse in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in late 2009 when his grandmother, who had raised him from infancy, was stricken with cancer. Michano’s grandmother, Myra, was 76 years old at the time and lived on the Pic River First Nation reserve about three hours east of Thunder Bay. She raised Michano on the reserve together with his grandfather, Eli, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and no longer lives at home. When Michano learned of his grandmother’s condition, he left school immediately and returned to Pic River to care for her and help with finances. “She’s my everything,” he says. “My mum, grandmum, my doctor and my nurse.”
Before registering in nursing school, Michano, 29, spent the previous two summers working as a summer student at Barrick’s Hemlo operation, which is about 30 minutes from Pic River. Several months after he returned home, Michano received a call from Roger Souckey, Superintendent of Employee Relations at Hemlo. Souckey had gotten to know Michano during his summer stints at Hemlo and was calling to offer him an environmental monitoring job. “Roger told me he couldn’t think of anyone better to do it,” Michano says. “That made me feel pretty good.”
The job was ideal for Michano, as it allowed him to work two days a week with the environmental department at Hemlo and the other three days at Pic River where he could be close to his grandmother. His work at Pic River involved the development of an environmental-monitoring policy for the reserve, while at Hemlo Michano worked in the field, taking water samples, conducting tailings inspections and monitoring pipelines to ensure there were no leaks.
Michano’s salary was paid by Hemlo as part of a long-standing labor agreement between the mining operation and First Nation communities near the Hemlo operation. “This was a good opportunity for Myles, who certainly deserved it,” Souckey says.
The original labor agreement between Hemlo and local First Nation communities, which was signed in 1992, was updated and broadened in 2009. The current agreement creates new opportunities for First Nation people to develop their skills for present and future mining opportunities, and supports the development of First Nation-led businesses and involvement in environmental stewardship. “The agreement helps build capacity in local First Nation communities to ensure that they benefit from mining,” Souckey says, adding that approximately 50 First Nation people work at Hemlo, about 10 percent of the total workforce. “The mine is a benefit to the area.”
Indeed, the economic impact of Hemlo, which consists of the Williams and David Bell mines, extends well beyond surrounding communities. In 2010, materials and services procured by Hemlo in Ontario and Canada totaled C$35 million and C$182 million, respectively. Royalties and taxes paid by Hemlo last year totaled nearly C$8 million and the site donated nearly C$650,000 to local communities and various causes.
While those numbers are significant, sometimes the impact of mining is best understood by looking at it its effect on individuals, such as Michano or Hannah Desmoulin. Desmoulin, who grew up on the Pic Mobert Reserve near Hemlo, used to drive a shuttle transporting workers between the mine and the reserve. In July, Souckey offered her an environmental-monitoring position similar to Michano’s. “They needed someone right away and Roger told me I had more potential than just driving a shuttle,” Desmoulin says.
A mother of two, the 22-year-old Desmoulin jumped at the chance. “Where else can I get an opportunity like this?” she says.
In September, Desmoulin and Michano both returned to school to earn environmental technician diplomas. Barrick is funding their studies. Desmoulin is taking a correspondence course through Seneca College, which allows her to continue working and caring for her children. Michano is attending Sault College in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., about four hours from Pic River. His grandmother, who is cancer free and being cared for by other family members, fully supports the move.
“I’m so proud of him,” she says. “I always told him, ‘Don’t give up, believe in yourself.’ I think that message sank in. He’s on the right path.”