Department of Mining Engineering
University of British Columbia
I have long called myself, not without a tinge of professional regret, an anthropological firefighter. Why? Because for too many years now, I have been responding to community health problems too late, only once the fire is started. Assisting communities to enhance their wellness is extremely difficult in such circumstances — damage control is not the best way to plan, implement, or monitor long-term community health strategies.
All too often these fires have been fueled by a nearby mining project. The staff in mining companies and governments rarely has training in social sciences, and yet they are expected to produce countless reports on the projected impacts of mineral development on the health, wellness, and lives of the people who act as labourers, wives, bystanders, and participants in the surrounding areas. It is rare that these local people see themselves, their fears and worries, or their hopes reflected in these reports.
Only planning ahead and being involved in community-based research will permit more effective long-range planning. When communities do their own research, they learn about the themes most important to them, they ask the questions about what they see to be changing and what they expect is yet to come, and they employ the methods and the people that they trust.
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