This essay is part of the forum on Social Reproduction

Credit: Tim Cater (big brother), in Iqaluit, Nunavut, summer 2015.



Meehan and Strauss (2015) assert, “For many working class individuals, households, and communities, …the line between work and life becomes sharpened, not blurred, as people are forced to navigate different, sometimes conflicting, geographies and temporalities embedded in the social organization of employment…” (105).  My research explores how Inuit (northern Indigenous) fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers and their families in the central Canadian subarctic are constantly negotiating and making manifest, in spatial and temporal terms, the daily activities required for participation in fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) work practices at remote mine sites. FIFO as a form of employment-related mobility is defined as “circumstances of work where the place of work is sufficiently isolated from the workers’ place of residence to make daily commute impractical” (Watts, 2004: 26). Participation in FIFO work requires cyclical periods of mobility and multilocality that are dependent on social institutions and networks in sending communities.

In Northern studies literature, wage employment—such as participation in FIFO work practices, is often regarded in opposition to subsistence work—such as harvesting wildlife. This largely has to do with the different temporal orientations of the two kinds of work (Stern, 2003). Subsistence work depends on unpredictable weather conditions and animal movements, which are difficult to schedule and thus require flexibility and engagement with more-than-human time, whereas industrial time is thought of as “a homogenous empty time that can be minutely managed” (Stevenson, 2014: 136). In this paper, I will critique this separation between wage work at FIFO mine sites and subsistence activities by exploring the multiple temporalities that exist for FIFO workers, their families, and communities focusing on three local temporalities: industrial time, shared social times, and caribou/more-than-human time. My objective is to illustrate the multiplicity of these local temporalities and to show how they are partially connected, and not fully separate. I argue that it is through the needs and practices of social reproduction of FIFO workers and their families that these three temporalities are partially connected, in the context of the large-scale economic restructuring of everyday life by mining projects in the area.

Ethnographic context

I conducted my doctoral fieldwork (2013-2017) in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut—a community located on the northwestern corner of the Hudson Bay in the central Canadian subarctic which is currently at the center of two multinational gold mining operations, one which began in 2010, and the other one that is currently in exploration phase with a proposed operation date of 2020 (Figure 1). Approximately 30 people in the community of 2,500 work as FIFO workers commuting into remote mine sites for 2-week on/2-week off work terms.

In the summer of 2015, my community research partner Pallulaaq Friesen and I were conducting interviews with Inuit mine workers, their spouses, government officials, and community organizations in Rankin Inlet. A territorial government official told us about a wildlife harvesting program that was being proposed in the community. He explained that he was organizing the program around certain worker rotations at the local mine site, saying:

We specifically want to time [the course] properly with people who work at the mine because some of them come back and they have the ability…to really carry that on. Whereas some of the people in the community might take the course but they don’t have a snowmobile or a kammatik, [Inuktitut word for sled]…training is good if you can practice it, implement it, apply it…in particular we want to focus on those who have the ability to practice it. And if it means we have to wait a week for that mine worker to come back so he and his family can participate, then let’s do that (Interview with a territorial government official, August 2015).


Locations of Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet, and associated mine sites. Map by Quinn Dekking.


While at the mine site, Inuit FIFO workers clock in twelve-hour days, 7 days a week, for two weeks straight. Upon returning to their homes FIFO workers are expected by the mining company to recover their body and minds and reacquaint themselves with family and community needs and activities. The company assumes that workers are using their time off to get ready to return to work for their next rotation, thus always contributing to industrial time across the spaces of home, work, and travel.

The scheduling requirements of the mine are often at odds with expectations of local times in Rankin Inlet, for example, attending an event such as a funeral, or assisting with child or elder care needs. When emergencies in a worker’s home community happen, such as a spouse or child getting sick and needing care, FIFO workers struggle to negotiate their presence and absence in the household and community within the strict schedule of industrial time.

My community research assistant, Pudge, posing in the Inukshuk landmark in the centre of Rankin Inlet. Credit: Tara Cater, summer 2016.


Settlement time  

The community of Rankin Inlet (Kangiqiniq, meaning ‘deep inlet’ in Inuktitut) is the second-largest settlement in Nunavut and regional center for the Kivalliq (formerly the Keewatin) region. Many Inuit families migrated to Rankin Inlet in the 1950s to work at the North Rankin Nickel Mine (1957-1962), moving from a semi-nomadic subsistence way of life, to an industry-based settlement life. Employment at the NRNM site was considered by federal agencies as an experiment in integrating Inuit workers into a time regime associated with industrial wage labour (Cater & Keeling, 2014).

A key part of adapting to new settlement life in Rankin Inlet for Inuit families was learning Qablunaaq[1] or ‘settlement time.’ Settlement time was shaped around working regular hours at the mine site, and following a weekly schedule, which suited the needs of the mining operation. Yet, the effects of settlement time exceeded the needs of the mine, shaping new ways of being in time for Inuit families. Christie and Halpern (1990) define settlement time as “mathematically based, mechanically, electronically, or geophysically regulated” (741). Lisa Stevenson (2014) argues that the purpose of this time discipline was to, “produce these disciplined bodies able to contribute to the accumulation of capital” (133). Such work involved regulating when workers could go out on the land, and challenging the flexibility of Inuit subsistence patterns (Stern, 2003).

Inuit mine workers often failed to participate in becoming disciplined bodies living in settlement time. Workers would often fail to show up for work if there was an opportunity to go hunting, or would hunt through the night in the summer during the twenty-four hours of sunlight. Workers stated that while they appreciated the opportunity to work in the mine for wages and in good working conditions, they needed to hunt to feed their families for their economic and cultural well-being (Keeling & Boulter, 2015).

Heterogeneous times

Spatially, living in administrative settlements, such as Rankin Inlet, created two worlds and temporal orientations: that of settlement time and time on the land. Brody (2000) beautifully explains, “Most people told me of the confinement and inactivity that came with living in a settlement. They could not hunt or fish or trap without making a journey that was almost from town to country, from one way of life to another” (28). Time became doubled—but not separate. These worlds were lived at the same time.

Local times are shaped by work that exceeds industrial reason. Cindi Katz (2001) calls this, the “fleshy, messy, and indeterminate stuff of everyday life” (711). This includes the acquisition and use of environmental knowledge, harvesting for food and as a cultural practice, and other forms of care and connection that revive social relationships. Local times are not just remnants of a pre-modern past; they are reactions to the changing grounds of daily life due to encounters with industrialization (Glennie & Thrift, 1996). Local times and industrial time intersect and are altered by the demands of each other. They have the potential to frustrate or further each other’s aims. These encounters are not solely about resisting or reacting to employment within mining economies, but about continuing the (re)production of ‘life itself’ (Mitchell, Marston, & Katz, 2004) amid an increase in mining in the area.

Caribou/ More-than-human time

In my research activities in Rankin Inlet, caribou (tuktu in Inuktitut) actively reshape the social organization of the community. Caribou actively reshape local and industrial times by making humans wait. There is this anticipation for the annual caribou migration within the community every summer. Residents put everything else on hold to go watch the migration. This is an exciting time for people to get food for their families and communities and to be part of this important event where caribou take over the land around the territorial park near the community and mine site (Edwards, 2012).

In tracing the movements and practices of caribou as they migrate through the territorial park, caribou are not solely objects or resources, but are subjects whose action produce political effects. I call this ‘caribou/more-than-human time.’ Hunters are expected to wait for the first migration of caribou to pass through before they are able to shoot an animal. The first group is usually made up of pregnant and weaker caribou. The second herd is usually the stronger, male caribou. These two migrations happen a week or a couple weeks apart from each other or there may just be one. We can see here the ways in which the caribou migration re-makes human actions including making people wait to hunt. This temporal flexibility means that hunters must re-shape their schedules (both industrial and community) to account for caribou/ more-than-human time.

Similarly, mining projects in the region are legally required by Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreements (IIBAs) and other environmental monitoring regulations to stop all work activities if groups of 50 caribou or more are spotted within one kilometre of the road to the mine site. The road must be closed to public cars and trucks, but all-terrain vehicles are allowed (NUNATSIAQ NEWS, 2014). This example points to caribou as not simply the objects of residents, hunters, and mining company employees in Rankin Inlet, but active in reworking the social framework of the community and wider Kivalliq region. If the caribou did not migrate through the territorial park so close to the community and the mine site, or if their migrations happened at the same time and place every year, such a radical stop to capitalist production schedules at the mine site would be unlikely (cf. Robbins & Marks, 2010).  It is the flexibility of caribou/ more-than-human time that reshapes human schedules and activities, mostly by forcing people to pay attention to more-than-human temporalities.

Exploring up the all-weather road built to connect Rankin Inlet to the Meliadine gold project with a long-term community member. Credit: Tara Cater, Summer 2016



Residents in Rankin Inlet continue to practice subsistence activities as a source of cultural and economic well-being amid the boom/ bust presence of mining economies in the region (Bowman 2011). Practicing subsistence activities is central to Inuit culture, and a significant part of everyday life in Nunavut. Stevenson (2006) argues, “Longing for traditional activities—hunting, fishing, camping—is what one does to become an Inuk” (cited in Stevenson, 2014: 136). Yet, current heterogeneous economies present in Nunavut create a paradox where the wage economy now drives subsistence economies. Inuit harvesters use and distribute the wages from working at remote mine sites to continue subsistence practices. The spatial division between settlements and harvesting grounds requires modes of transportation, such as snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles to access land. Harvesters require hunting fuel and equipment to continue their acquisition and use of environmental knowledge (Bowman, 2011). Mines also build infrastructure, including all-weather roads, across the fragile tundra in areas that previously did not have trucks pass through (though people travelled to cabins and hunting grounds at the Meliadine river using all-terrain vehicles or other traditional forms of transportation). Increased infrastructure development creates new paths and opportunities for hunters, while polluting and disturbing landscapes.

Time and Social Reproduction

I argue that social reproduction practices provide a lens through which partial connections between these three temporalities can be made visible. Participation in FIFO work and industrial time is dependent on local times, and the networks and social relations within Rankin Inlet. These temporalities co-exist for mine workers and they live in both times. Sometimes these times clash such as when workers need to leave their jobs in order to care for a family member or harvest caribou during the migration. Caribou/more-than-human time becomes relevant to mine workers and community members through practices of social reproduction. Their migration has social and political outcomes for the reproduction of local and industrial times. Workers and community members acknowledge both industrial time and multiple local temporalities that exceed industrial reason—including more-than-human temporalities.

‘Nothing to do with the mine’

As previously discussed, accessing the land from the community requires resources that take money, and not everyone in Rankin Inlet can regularly participate in subsistence practices. A closer examination of the everyday lives of FIFO workers reveals a complex pattern of weaving and constituting different temporal patterns. The excerpt I presented at the beginning of this paper really grabbed me as an instance of a government official observing these multiple temporalities co-existing. The government official points to a key impact of participation in FIFO work on community life: approximately thirty employees are away from the community for two weeks each month. Running the program when these workers were not in the community would not only affect the workers who missed this opportunity to train with elders and acquire important harvesting training and land skills, but future generations who would not be able to acquire this knowledge from their parents. The official asks us to think of the ramifications of thirty extended families in a community of 2,500 people not having access to harvesting training. Further, he argues that FIFO workers are the people best suited to regularly and continuously practice the skills learned in this course given that they have the wages to purchase the necessary equipment needed.

He also brought up a key point about the need for “…an active group of people maintaining a subsistence-orientated temporal regime” (Stern, 2003: 155). It is through ongoing practice that these multiple temporalities remain partially connected and not separate, even if they can only be expressed to a certain degree within industrial time. Haunting the singular view of industrial time expressed by the mining company are other local times that have “…something to do not only with clocks or timing but also with the sequential ordering according to priorities…” (Adam, 1995: 1943). These time spaces for FIFO workers are constituted through messy relations– of people, things, and more-than-humans, including caribou. These local times emerge from on-the-ground encounters, not (solely) regulated by economic concepts of value: such as through the work of scheduling a community harvesting course during the annual caribou migration.

Traveling on planes with FIFO workers. Arriving in Val D’Or, Quebec from the Meadowbank gold mine located near Baker Lake, Nunavut. Credit: Tara Cater, summer 2016.



In this paper I have traced social reproduction as one way in which multiple temporalities are connected, specifically for Inuit mine workers. I argued that workers and community members acknowledge both industrial time and multiple local temporalities that exceed industrial reason— including more-than-human temporalities. The example used throughout this paper of the community harvesting course being scheduled around FIFO work schedules at the mine site, shows one moment in which local times, industrial time, and caribou/more-than-human times intersect and are altered by the demands of each other.  Industrial, local, and caribou/more-than-human times require certain everyday practices, and are inseparable yet lived together—quoting Marisol de la Cadena (2015), “…each emerges in the other albeit with different degrees of visibility, depending on the place, people, and season” (22). I argue that recognizing partial-connectedness rather than distinct ‘otherness’ of wage labor and subsistence activities reveals the entangled connections between actors and acknowledges more than human agency in discussing the impacts of mining in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.




[1] In Inuktitut, Qallunaat (singular, Qallunaaq) is the word used for white or non-Inuit people.


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Tara Cater is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, with a specialization in Political Economy, at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Currently, She is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) visiting scholar in the Department of Geography and Planning at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia working with Dr. Richie Howitt and Dr. Sandie Suchet- Pearson. Her research interests focus on the multiple temporalities of Fly-in-Fly-out work (FIFO) practices and social reproduction in the Canadian Arctic. In particular, my doctoral research investigates the impacts of participation in FIFO work practices on northern Indigenous (Inuit) workers and their families in Nunavut, Canada. More information about her work is available on her personal webpage: