This article discusses the impact of mining on traditional ways of life. It also discusses the ways in which cultural traditions and local languages are affected by the process of modernization, improved access to formal education, and incorporation into the cash economy.
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The richest uranium ore bodies ever discovered (Cigar Lake and McArthur River) are presently under development in northeastern Saskatchewan. This subarctic region is also home to several operating uranium mines and aboriginal communities, partly dependent upon caribou for subsistence. Because of concerns over mining impacts and the efficient transfer of airborne radionuclides through the lichen-caribou-human food chain, radionuclides were analyzed in tissues from 18 barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus). Radionuclides included uranium (U), radium (226Ra), lead (210Pb), and polonium (210Po) from the uranium decay series; the fission product (137Cs) from fallout; and naturally occurring potassium (40K). Natural background radiation doses average 2-4 mSv/year from cosmic rays, external gamma rays, radon inhalation, and ingestion of food items. The ingestion of 210Po and 137Cs when caribou are consumed adds to these background doses. The dose increment was 0.85 mSv/year for adults who consumed 100 g of caribou meat per day and up to 1.7 mSv/year if one liver and 10 kidneys per year were also consumed. We discuss the cancer risk from these doses. Concentration ratios (CRs), relating caribou tissues to lichens or rumen (stomach) contents, were calculated to estimate food chain transfer. The CRs for caribou muscle ranged from 1 to 16% for U, 6 to 25% for 226Ra, 1 to 2% for 210Pb, 6 to 26% for 210Po, 260 to 370% for 137Cs, and 76 to 130% for 40K, with 137Cs biomagnifying by a factor of 3-4. These CRs are useful in predicting caribou meat concentrations from the lichens, measured in monitoring programs, for the future evaluation of uranium mining impacts on this critical food chain.