It was humble beginnings for Gabriel Ulayok, who started off working as a haul truck driver at a Nunavut gold mine.
But after six years and more than 10,000 hours of training, Ulayok has reached the top of his field, now qualified to operate one of the largest excavator machines in the global mining world — the RH 120.
"If I can go under this [machine], I would be still standing," said 36-year-old Ulayok, the first Inuk miner to operate the massive machine at the Meadowbank gold mine, about 110 kilometres north of Baker Lake, Nunavut.
At about eight metres tall and weighing at around 300 tonnes, the RH 120 is considered to be one of the biggest and most sophisticated heavy equipment to be used in the mines. The bucket, or scoop, of the machine can hold two pick-up trucks stacked on top of one another.
Participated in mine career training program
Ulayok joined Agnico Eagle in 2012, and participated in the company's Mine Career Path program which provides training and support for Inuit employees to reach their career goals. There are other Inuit currently completing this program.
Ulayok, originally from Arviat, says his career path was inspired by his late father.
"My dad was a heavy equipment operator ... I wanted to follow his footprints."
Ulayok says his dream is to become a "good role model" as an auxiliary supervisor — a job that oversees heavy equipment operators at the mine. "I want to help my Inuit fellows. I want to help them and I want to say we can do it. Everybody can do it."
Ulayok has advice for aspiring Inuit who are in the mining industry. "It takes time to become what you want to be," said Ulayok. "So start off with lower jobs … to become what you want."
Ulayok (right) holds up a certificate for completing shovel training with Agnico Eagle. Richard Harvey (left) is the trainer who saw Ulayok through the whole process from beginning to end.