The Mountain of Everything Keeps on Giving
Matt Hern & Sobhi al-Zobaidi
Friday, April 27, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre
Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities
There is a specter haunting the landscape of extractive industry: the specter of abandoned community. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, commentators, consultants and demagogues alike have rushed into once-humming company towns to pronounce a restoration: the second coming of roaring industrial prosperity. The structural logic of this vision is strikingly similar to prophetic and messianic movements across the globe that have sought cultural and spiritual revival: a miraculous return to a lost era and the vanquishing of enemies. The Trump era with its upsurge of ethno-nationalist and “populist” reactionary movements promises the revival of vanished industrial Golden Age against the putative threat of nonwhites and nonChristians who are to be banished from the scene in a burst of exceptionalist righteousness. And in an economic landscape traumatized with so much pain and loss – and one so seemingly bereft of believable economic counter-narratives – such siren songs can be fatally alluring.
To get a closer look at what happens when the future-horizon of extractive industry grinds to a halt, my friend Sobhi Al-Zobaidi and I repaired to the desolate interior of the Yukon Territory, to the once-thriving mining community of Faro. We were trying to understand what becomes of an industry town when the industry leaves town, and how a community might respond. In October 2017, we made our first trip to the town of Faro in the Yukon, home to Canada’s largest open pit lead-zinc mine. Established in 1968, the mine brought many economic benefits to Faro and the territories in general. The mine was the largest private sector employer, and represented over third of the economy of the Yukon. The community of Faro thrived with all the newly built infrastructure, water, sewage, shopping mall, hotels, restaurants, schools, ski-hill and golf courses. But the collapse of the global metal market in the 1980s, led to the closure and permanent shutdown of the mine in 1998, leaving behind a man-made natural catastrophe that is costing the Yukon around 40 million dollars annually just to contain the damage. The once thriving community of Faro was instantly transformed into a ghost town, the population dropped from few thousand residents to few dozens, most businesses closed down, most buildings left vacant.
And all of this is on the traditional territory of the Kaska Dena First Nation and just upstream from the Selkirk First Nation. When that mine went in and the town of Faro popped up, it was not unoccupied territory—anything but, in fact. People had been traveling, trapping, fishing, hunting and camping all over that mountain forever. Indeed, this is generally the rule for bio-catastrophes across the globe: they overwhelmingly take place on Indigenous land. When researchers with the World Wildlife Fund listed the top 200 areas with the most threatened biodiversity across the globe, they found that 95 percent are on Indigenous territories. About 40 miles down the road from Faro is the Dena community of Ross River, a town of 313 people, desperately mired in poverty, with no running water, no infrastructure and no prospect for improvement. . Faro and Ross are two little towns bound to the legacy of the mine: they should be in this together, but nothing could be further from the truth. From the main road that leads to to those two towns, when you make the turn towards Ross River, the road literally turns from pavement to dirt, a metaphor that marks the difference between the two towns.
Prior to our first visit to Faro and Ross River, we didn’t know what the outcome would be, for now we know that we have a photo-essay that illustrates our thoughts and articulates the problem. For the future, we are planning on producing a documentary film that focuses on these issues.
Matt Hern is the co-director of Stay Solid Industries in Surrey BC. He is the author of many books, including the new Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life (MIT, 2018).
Sobhi al-Zobeidi is an independent Palestinian filmmaker, artist and scholar. He studied economics at Birzeit University and Cinema at NYU.