Jessica Metuzals & Myra J. Hird

After nearly eight years of formal environmental review, in July 2016, the Canadian federal government rejected the French multinational AREVA’s proposal to construct a uranium mine 80 kilometers west of Qamani’tuaq/Baker Lake, a small inland and mainly Inuit hamlet in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. The decision not to grant a license for resource development based on a technical uncertainty (AREVA was not able to provide a start-date for the mining project due to a depressed uranium market) underlies a far more complex and ongoing negotiation with uncertainty. Sites of uncertainty are spaces — physical, temporal, emotional, material, discursive and so on—that are occupied by a state of not knowing. Based on recent qualitative fieldwork in Baker Lake, this paper will identify key sites of uncertainty where AREVA, government officials, Inuit organizations, and community residents constructed, negotiated, expressed, transformed, experienced, and responded to uranium mining as a resource development controversy. Our analysis reveals how AREVA understood uncertainty as the “disease that knowledge must cure”, that is, the view that uncertainty is something to be reduced through the acquisition of increased expertise (Jasanoff, 2007: 33). This paper will demonstrate how this epistemological approach resulted in claims to certainty that were deeply contested and deconstructed when positioned against the contextual and relational knowledge of local residents. It will conclude by detailing how local residents’ calls for improvements in education can be understood as a strategic intervention, one that is reflective of an intermeshing of Inuit and western epistemologies.

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