2020 in Nunavut dominated by COVID-19

Isolation hubs, social distancing, PPE and CERB part of new vocabulary

Sharon Akammak, a graduate of Arviat’s John Arnalikjuak High School, celebrates receiving her diploma on June 19 in a socially distanced ceremony as she heads off to take part in a community parade, accompanied by her chauffeur, Aaron Ivuniryuk. (Photo by Daniel Nipisar)

By Patricia Lightfoot

Nunavummiut learned a new language in 2020, the language of COVID-19, featuring the novel coronavirus, social distancing, isolation hubs, PPE, Zoom and CERB.

Thanks to the decisions made by the Government of Nunavut early in the year to restrict entry to the territory, to set up isolation hubs in Yellowknife, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa for returning Nunavummiut, and to arrange travel bubbles with the Northwest Territories and Churchill, Man., the territory held the virus at bay until early November. This was a significant achievement.

Some cases of COVID-19 had previously popped up at mine sites, brought in by workers from the south, but there was no contact with the communities. This is because mining companies had sent their Nunavut-based workers home in March to prevent potential spread of the virus.

COVID-19 was not the only news story in the territory this year, although it sometimes felt like it. Concerns about how RCMP officers interact with Inuit were heightened after three shootings involving police in the territory in the first five months of the year, resulting in two deaths.

In early June, an RCMP officer in Kinngait was removed from the community and “placed on administrative duties,” after a video circulated online that appeared to show the officer knocking a man down with the open door of his vehicle. That arrest was later deemed lawful by the Ottawa Police Service, which had investigated the incident.

There were renewed calls improve oversight of the RCMP in the territory. To that end, the Nunavut government expects Bill 53, an Act to Amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Agreement Act, to be passed in the legislative assembly’s winter session, which is scheduled for February 2021.

Nunavummiut were also affected by police brutality in the United States, including the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., this summer. In response, the Nunavut Black History Society organized a Black Lives Matter rally in Iqaluit in June, to show solidarity with Black people in the territory.

The saga of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed phase-two expansion of the Mary River mine continued. A technical meeting in March was cancelled due to the pandemic, then a proposed technical meeting by teleconference failed to go ahead in April. In July the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland signed a new multimillion-dollar benefit agreement, called the Inuit Certainty Agreement, related to the operation of the Mary River mine, but northern Baffin communities seemed considerably less enthusiastic about the proposed expansion. The much-delayed technical meeting took place in September, and an in-person hearing is now scheduled to start next month in Pond Inlet.

TMAC Resources Inc., which owns the Hope Bay gold mine complex in western Nunavut, announced in May that it was poised to be bought up by a Chinese gold-mining giant, the Shandong Gold Mining Co. Ltd., better known as SD Gold. Shareholders approved the deal, as did the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, but it is still subject to a national security review.

Here is the Nunatsiaq News list of our most memorable Nunavut stories from 2020.



Parks Canada employee Despoina Kavousanaki points out a detail on an epaulette found during the 2019 excavation of the HMS Erebus to Stanley Anablak, president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, and Pamela Gross, president of the Inuit Heritage Trust, at Parks Canada’s conservation laboratories in Ottawa on Feb. 20. (Photo by Patricia Lightfoot)


Arctic Ventures in Iqaluit has installed plexiglass shields at its registers to help protect its workers from COVID-19. “For the safety of the community and our hardworking staff we’ve taken safety to the next level!” the store said in a social media posting. (Photo courtesy of Arctic Ventures)


David Kakuktinniq spotted these muskox — or umingmak in Inuktitut — between Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake on April 28. “These beasts are awesome,” he wrote. (Photo by David Kakuktinniq)


Andrew Tagak took this spectacular photo of qamutiks on the sea ice at Pond Inlet, on May 31 at 1:58 a.m., set against the early morning sun over Bylot Island. (Photo by A. Tagak)


Qapik Attagutsiak holds a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 27, sending her birthday greetings and wishing her well for the year ahead. Arctic Bay resident and regular Nunatsiaq News contributor Clare Kines delivered the letter to Attagutsiak, who was making bannock when he arrived. (Photo by C. Kines)

  • On June 1, there was some relief from restrictions in Nunavut when territorial parks and municipal playgrounds reopened, daycares were allowed to operate, and groups of up to 25 people were allowed to gather outside.
  • Rates of communicable diseases in Nunavut dropped “significantly” since the territory went into lockdown against COVID-19. “Bronchiolitis is down, pneumonia is down, the flu pretty much wasn’t a thing this year,” said Dr. François de Wet, the Department of Health’s chief of staff. Social distancing measures taken to guard against the pandemic seemed to have also stopped the spread of those diseases.
  • An RCMP officer in Kinngait was removed from the community and “placed on administrative duties,” after a video circulated online that appears to show the officer knocking a man down with the open door of his vehicle.
  • June 3 marked the one-year anniversary of the release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which issued 231 calls for justice. A national action plan being drafted to respond to those calls, which was to be released on that day, had been postponed.
  • More than 200 people joined a Black Lives Matter rally in Iqaluit on June 5 to show solidarity for Black people in the territory. The event was organized by the Nunavut Black History Society.
  • Western Nunavut’s Kaapittiaq coffee venture, run by Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society in Cambridge Bay, launched its online storefront to expand its sales across Canada and the United States.
  • Northwestel announced that it would make data increases to Nunavut internet packages permanent, though dissatisfaction with the service continued.
  • Nellie Kusugak finished her five-year term as commissioner of Nunavut at the end of June. Her message to young Nunavummiut was to “be proud of who you are and where you come from.”


  • The Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland signed a new multimillion-dollar benefit agreement, called the Inuit Certainty Agreement, related to the operation of the Mary River mine. The new benefits included Inuit oversight of the project, funding for daycares in the affected communities, a new child benefit for Inuit working at the mine, and increased royalty payments, if phase two of the mine’s expansion goes ahead.
  • Nunavut’s Representative for Children and Youth’s Office called the Government of Nunavut’s proposed actions to address the mental health needs of young Nunavummiut “entirely unacceptable.” Representative Jane Bates said, “the proposed actions lack substance, commitment, collaboration, and a sense of urgency that the mental health of young Nunavummiut deserve.” In October, Bates called out the territorial government for its failure to acknowledge and address the abuse that some children face, meaning in her words “that the abuse is condoned.”
  • Statistics Canada released data showing that, as of June 28, 8,800 Nunavut residents had received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. At a May 19 news conference, Premier Joe Savikataaq had cautioned Nunavummiut that the CERB is not “free money” and is considered income. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. passed a resolution on Oct. 21 at its annual general meeting calling on the federal government to forgive any debts incurred by Inuit who collected CERB benefits when they were ineligible to do so.
  • Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, announced on July 13 that people travelling between Nunavut and Churchill, Man., for non-medical reasons no longer had to go into isolation for two weeks. This would allow people who live in communities such as Arviat and Whale Cove to travel to Churchill to pick up supplies that had been brought there by rail.
  • The CFL’s Edmonton team made it official: after months of consultation and public pressure, the franchise announced on July 21 that it would change its name. Until a new name is chosen, the club said it would use the names EE Football Team and Edmonton Football Team.
  • August byelections planned for two ridings were both won by acclamation on July 24. Craig Atangalaaq Simailak became Baker Lake’s new member of the legislative assembly, replacing outgoing MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, who resigned for family reasons earlier in the year. In Kugluktuk, Calvin Aivgak Pedersen was acclaimed as that community’s MLA. He replaced Mila Kamingoak, who resigned from the position of MLA in the spring.
  • The Government of Nunavut opened a new isolation hub in Winnipeg on July 27 for those travelling for medical reasons. Previously, the wait for medical travellers to get into the isolation hub in Winnipeg was up to three weeks.
  • Sometime between July 29 and 31, nearly half of the 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island broke off. The calving of the ice sheet resulted in an ice island roughly 50 per cent larger than Manhattan.


Elisapee Nowdluk of Iqaluit took this photo of the fin of an Arctic char after net fishing at Nungarut, or Bay of Two Rivers, across Frobisher Bay, on Aug. 23. “It was a beautiful day,” she said. (Photo by Elisapee Nowdluk)

  • Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory’s chief public health officer, announced on Aug. 4 that Nunavut MLAs were now exempt from mandatory isolation requirements put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nunavut’s member of Parliament, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, and Senator Dennis Patterson were already exempt from isolation requirements.
  • Birthing services for expectant mothers in the Kivalliq region were “temporarily suspended” due to staffing shortages, according to the Government of Nunavut. The GN said on Dec. 1 that they have yet to hire new midwives and continue to send expectant mothers to Winnipeg to deliver.
  • The mayors and hunters in communities affected by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed expansion of its Mary River mine said that they were not in favour of resuming regulatory meetings until face-to-face meetings could take place. “It remains our position that proceeding now, when full face-to-face meetings [are] impossible, will be a breach of procedural fairness owed to our residents and members,” they wrote in a letter submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
  • Nunavut elder Mina Inuktaluk, 89, was honoured in Sanikiluaq after serving 45 years as a member of the hamlet council. Although set to retire as councillor, Inuktaluk will still act as an adviser to council as needed.
  • Nunavut Arctic College cancelled the intake of first-year students into its Nunavut Teacher Education Program scheduled for the fall, because of challenges caused by the spring shutdown.
  • Although Rankin Inlet resident Gabriel Karlik had always been a big movie fan, he’d never been to a traditional drive-in movie theatre until he organized his own this summer. The screening on Aug. 14 was a 1968 National Film Board of Canada two-part documentary called “Stalking Seal on the Spring Ice.”
  • For the first time ever, Pangnirtung processed a summer landing of turbot, otherwise known as Greenland halibut. Up until then, Pangnirtung’s fish plant had only processed turbot caught in the winter by local fishermen often using nets and long lines strung under the sea ice.
  • Eric Lawlor was elected the new mayor of Pangnirtung on Aug. 24 in a byelection prompted by the death of the previous mayor, Hezakiah Oshutapik, who died in April.


Charlie Audlakiak, the Nunavut legislature’s sergeant-at-arms, carries the mace of Nunavut into the assembly at the start of a special sitting on Sept. 21. It was the first time Nunavut’s MLAs have gathered for a legislative sitting since March 12, when the winter sitting ended. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring sitting. In addition to extra physical distancing, some in the chamber, like Audlakiak, wore masks. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

  • The Government of Nunavut moved to restrict the hunting of the Kitkmeot region’s Dolphin and Union caribou herd through an interim total allowable harvest of 42, due to what the GN called “a recent steep decline in the population” of the herd.
  • More than 60 years after a group of Kivalliq Inuit, the Ahiarmiut, were relocated to the shores of western Hudson Bay, a new plaque has been erected to mark their story. The plaque was finally installed beside the Arviat RCMP detachment, facing the harbour where the Ahiarmiut first landed in the community in February 1958.
  • Staff in Sanikiluaq had to look for temporary workspace after winds of up to 98 km/h tore the roof off the hamlet office on Sept. 1 and torrential rain flooded their offices.
  • Gjoa Haven’s Ellie Tungilik is Nunavut’s regional winner of this year’s BMO 1st Art! Competition. Tungilik, 27, was awarded the prize for her intricate neckpiece, titled “Finding Hope.” The competition presents emerging artists from 12 regions of the country with cash awards of $7,500, and with one award of $15,000 for the national winner.
  • The old stone church in Kugaaruk was demolished in early September, because it was crumbling and deemed dangerous. Workers used a cherry picker lift to remove the cross and bell from the top of the church, which dated back to 1940, and these items, along with the rocks used in the construction of the church, were saved.
  • Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. announced on Sept. 17 that an employee at its Mary River mine was presumed to have COVID-19, following a positive test result at the mine’s on-site lab. The case was later confirmed. On Sept. 19, Nunavummiut learned that two mine workers at the TMAC Resources Inc.’s Hope Bay gold mine had tested positive for COVID-19. Further cases were identified at mine sites, usually brought in by workers flying in from the South, but there was no transmission into the communities.
  • Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut’s premier and environment minister, told the legislature on Sept. 23 that he was “pleased to report that the Gulf of Boothia and M’Clintock Channel polar bear subpopulations are currently healthy.” Based on the results of the most recent surveys of those polar bear subpopulations, consultations with the hunters and trappers organizations could lead to increases in the total allowable harvests.
  • Paul Quassa, Speaker of the legislative assembly, announced that the next recipient of the Order of Nunavut would be Baker Lake businessman Peter Tapatai.


Polar bear cubs wrestle as their mother rests by the airstrip of the Arviat airport on Oct. 29. (Photo by Gordy Kidlapik)

  • On Oct. 1, Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. said that a COVID-19 case had been confirmed at the Meliadine gold mine near Rankin Inlet. It was the first case at one of that company’s mines in the territory.
  • In welcome news to Nunavummiut, the Government of Nunavut relaxed public health measures related to recreation, leisure and community gatherings in the territory on Oct. 5. For the first time since March, residents of Nunavut could attend fitness classes, church services or meetings.
  • Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq removed Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser’s cabinet portfolios after Netser made an “unacceptable” Facebook post about abortion and the Black Lives Matter movement. Later in the sitting, on Oct. 23, MLAs voted for Netser’s removal from cabinet.
  • A group of hunters on all-terrain vehicles found four dead bowhead whales lying on a beach about 60 kilometres north of the Nunavut community of Kugaaruk. An attack by killer whales, also known as orcas, could be responsible, suggested Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist and killer whale researcher Steve Ferguson.
  • Malaiya Lucassie resigned from Iqaluit city council, after her fellow councillors unanimously called on her to do so for breaching the councillor code of conduct. Lucassie had supported comments made by her father, Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser, on social media about abortion and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • The federal cabinet ordered a national security review of the proposed sale of TMAC Resources Inc., which owns the Hope Bay gold mine in western Nunavut, to the Chinese state-owned Shandong Mining Co. Ltd.
  • Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the New Democratic Party MP for Nunavut, announced on Oct. 23 that she would take at least eight weeks off work. In her statement, Qaqqaq said that she had been struggling with “some personal health issues.”
  • Margaret Nakashuk, MLA for Pangnirtung, was voted into cabinet during a leadership forum held at the legislative assembly on Oct. 30, following the removal from cabinet of Patterk Netser, MLA for Aivilik. Nakashuk was subsequently appointed as minister of culture and heritage, as well as minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corp.



  • The Ottawa Police Service concluded that the June 1 arrest of a Kinngait man was lawful. The incident sparked national attention after a video showed the man being knocked down by the open door of an RCMP vehicle.
  • A fire destroyed the home of a Cambridge Bay family, five of whom were inside when firefighters got the call just before 8 p.m. on Dec. 1. It was the largest structural fire that the western Nunavut town had seen in years, said Cambridge Bay’s fire chief Keith Morrison — and “the first total loss of a structure in years,” he said.
  • People in Rankin Inlet celebrated after hearing the news everybody with COVID-19 had recovered as of Dec. 3. But leaders in the community warned people aren’t out of the woods yet. Mayor Harry Towtongie warned, “We need to be more careful than happy,” as there were still people in isolation who may have had contact with people who were infected. If the community stays at zero cases as of early January, officials will be able to declare the outbreak in Rankin Inlet over, according to chief medical health officer Dr. Michael Patterson.
  • All Whale Cove residents known to have had COVID-19 had recovered, according to a news release issued on Dec. 8. Similarly, there were no active cases in Sanikiluaq and Rankin Inlet after infections in both communities. As of that date, there were 44 active cases in Arviat, and 176 people had recovered.
  • The Red Cross announced it would offer rapid testing for COVID-19 at Winnipeg’s isolation hubs. That’s where people flying to Nunavut quarantine for two weeks before they are permitted to enter the territory. People at the hubs are offered three tests – one upon checking into the hub, another on day five, and a third on day 12. Results are ready in as little as 15 minutes, and anybody who tests positive will see their test go to the lab for confirmatory results. If confirmed, the guest must remain in isolation for 10 days from when the positive test was collected. Nunavut’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, urged people to participate, saying it will help reduce the risk of bringing COVID-19 into the territory’s communities.
  • And then suddenly, it seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic. Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq announced on Dec. 11 that the territory will receive enough of the Moderna vaccine to innoculate 75 per cent of its population. The territory’s oldest and most vulnerable will be offered the vaccine first, then anybody over 18 years of age will get the opportunity. The Quebec government made a similar announcement for residents of Nunavik, although the health board there said there are people in the region who are hesitant to take the vaccine, which has been thoroughly tested and deemed safe, first.
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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Thank you for this review of a horrendous year. Happy New Year to your readers and to the staff of Nunatsiaq News.

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