Curious about how the mining industry's rebranding mission was panning out, so to speak, I headed down to the Mining For Society show May 2 to 4, aimed primarily at students and teachers.
The three-day extraction celebration hosted by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum billed itself as "highlighting the abundance of career opportunities and dispelling the myths.'' When I ask show director Lise Bujold what myths need dispelling, she says, "People don't realize, outside of the myth of the damage that some mining activity does, that mining has such an impact on our lives."
I've followed the extraction sector for more than a decade, and indeed, companies are beginning to acknowledge the need to consult early with aboriginal communities, and some preliminary efforts are under way to deal with pollution. But having said that, there's a long way to go.
Some of the same companies that are here touting the schools and hospitals they've built have come under fire for seeming to tolerate forced evictions and physical harm to locals.
And the industry continues to resist the right recognized under the United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples to veto projects on traditional lands.
The atmosphere is decidedly feel-good as more than 3,000 elementary and secondary school children parade through the displays. At one exhibit, a bearded Yukon Dan shows youngsters how to pan for gold. "Shake it," he bellows with gold-rush enthusiasm, explaining that gold is 19 times heavier than water and will sink to the bottom.
With this dash of science, Dan says he wants young people to understand that mining is vital. He hands his cellphone to a bemused preteen and reminds him emphatically that "Without mining and minerals these cellphones are gone!"
One hands-on activity has children using toothpicks and paper clips to dislodge chocolate chips from cookies while keeping the crumbly dough as intact as possible.
"It teaches responsible mining," explains booth attendant Saad Ali. "The crumbs represent earth or even uranium. If they're allowed to spread, they can cause contamination."
It's heartwarming to see the industry promote good stewardship. But let's be frank: you don't pluck minerals from the ground and leave the surrounding earth intact.
And with no acknowledgement of ongoing pollution, or violence against mine opponents in poor countries, the experience here feels decidedly propagandistic.
Nonetheless, as youngsters peer through a lens at microscopic diamond fragments at a De Beers booth, a staffer insists, "We want to show the kids what mining's all about."
Too bad the students aren't there on Saturday, the last day of the show, when a small group of activists hand out leaflets outside. "Stop buying diamonds until De Beers agrees to honour Treaty 9 by granting Attawapiskat co-ownership of the [Victor] mine and a truly fair share of its revenue," their statement reads.
Let's hope that back in the classrooms, teachers take it upon themselves to fill in the gaps.