Joint ventures in Quebec’s Arctic region

Forages Rouillier Drilling and Avataa Explorations and Logistics form a new company, Avataa Rouillier Drilling, in Nunavik

A helicopter is slinging casings for Avataa Rouillier Drilling's current drilling operation south of Kuujjuaq in Nunavik.

A helicopter is slinging casings for Avataa Rouillier Drilling's current drilling operation south of Kuujjuaq in Nunavik. — Photo courtesy Charlie Watt

Avataa Explorations and Logistics is a Nunavik company, family found, owned and operated by Charlie and Christine Watt. Similarly, Forages Rouillier Drilling is family owned and based in Quebec. Together, these mining companies have formed a new company to facilitate exploration in Nunavik and to eliminate the need to outsource for specialized services, equipment and other supplies.

“About five years ago, we saw a spike in the need for camp services and logistics,” said Charlie Watt. For this family, business reconvened to meet the demand. Camp management services, camp mobilization and demobilization, custom services, lodging, catering, equipment rentals and transportation are the majority of what Avataa offers to companies looking to set up camp in Nunavik. However, Watt hopes to draw attention to the Inuit workers in the area. “The competition that we see is southern-based companies,” Watt said. “We are the only locally-owned, Nunavik-owned—Inuit-owned—company based in our area.”

Avataa Explorations’ founders and operators are native to the area of interest in Nunavik, therefore obviously a great choice of supplier for mining and exploration needs. In the past, mining companies have outsourced from southern suppliers, only to face extreme costs and inefficiencies. Not only does the local company of Avataa promote the local job market, but it knows the area inside and out. Plus, its homebase adds reliability. “We react to the needs quickly,” Watt said, a luxury that distant competitors may not have.

Negotiations concerning the joint ventures of Avataa Explorations and Forages Rouillier Drilling first began over a year ago. The result is named Avataa Rouillier Drilling, owned 51 per cent by Avataa Explorations and 49 per cent by Forages Rouillier Drilling.

“We provide mining and exploration diamond drilling services—above and below ground,” Watt said. Forages Rouillier Drilling is the source behind the quality mining equipment and diamond drilling expertise, while Avataa Explorations provides the camp services, logistics services, lodging and other equipment. Watt believes the amalgamation is a great fit: “We both contribute well to the services we provide.”

Avataa Rouillier Drilling aims to facilitate exploration in Nunavik. “Right now, we have three confirmed contracts we started this summer and two small fall contracts to provide drilling services,” said Watt. The Nunavik area is rich with all kinds of minerals. “There’s rare earth minerals, gold, platinum, nickel, copper—all kinds,” said Watt. “Our main clients right now are drilling for platinum, gold and rare earth.”

Complementing experiences brought Avataa Rouillier Drilling together. “We found Forages Rouillier to be a fit partner for Avataa Explorations because of their experience,” said Watt. “We are not experts in exploration drilling, but they are. They are not experts in our territory, but we are.” Avataa Explorations’ first goal in finding a successful partnership was to expand its services but also to utilize the skills and services of both partners with equal involvement. “We saw a perfect fit,” said Watt.

The second goal of Avataa Rouillier Drilling is to bring attention to the potential for local workers on these new mining sites. The past practice of outsourcing all of the supplies and workers from southern provinces completely ignored the potential for local workers who live in the region. “At the moment we are bringing in experienced drillers, but we initiated a drill helper training program in partnership with the Kativik Regional Government, the Kativik School Board and the Nunavik Mineral Exploration Fund,” said Watt. “These Inuit drill helpers that are training right now will become recognized and certified drillers.”

Hopefully the pressure to utilize local workers and suppliers will continue to increase, breathing new life into Quebec’s Arctic region economy. “I would love to see the company grow, and provide employment and contributions to the region wherever possible,” Watt said. Watt predicts that, with the formation of Avataa Rouillier Drilling, the region should see and experience economic growth not only by training local employees, but also by inspiring future Inuit entrepreneurs in Nunavik. “We feel that we are going to provide employment opportunities and positive economic spinoff,” he said.

Another point Watt notes is Avataa Rouillier Drilling’s—and the sister companies’—respect of the environment. “We are always concerned about the environment,” said Watt. They provide plenty of services that respect the potential impact on Nunavik’s environment and local wildlife. Most of their environmental services are through their satellite company, Avataani Environmental. “We provide environmental services throughout all of the communities of Nunavik, as well as to three existing mines in Nunavik,” Watt said. Site and risk assessment, site remediation, hazardous waste management, air quality and training are the primary services.

All around, the formation of Avataa Rouillier Drilling appears innovative and positive for the mining industry and the local communities in Nunavik.

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