Baffin leaders ponder the future
Baffin leaders talked for many hours last weekend about the creation of Nunavut, and passed a motion saying they’re opposed to a GNWT-backed plan to build a new Baffin hospital with private money.
As tourists gazed at the breathtaking view of the mountains around Pangnirtung, Baffin leaders plugged away at business, hour after hour, inside Pangnirtung’s hamlet office last weekend
In marathon meetings, Baffin mayors, MLAs and Inuit organization leaders hashed out concerns ranging from the loss of health care services, rapid population growth and chronic unemployment, to community empowerment, Inuit training programs and the creation of Nunavut.
About two dozen leaders from around the Baffin region attended the semi-annual leaders’ meeting in Pangnirtung.
They wasted no time getting down to business Thursday evening, but the mood was soon dampened by more than the continual rainfall.
Respect for Okpik’s passing
Less than an hour into the session, delegates heard the news of the death of Abe Okpik, a well-known and respected Nunavut elder.
Anne Hanson, the chair of the Baffin Regional Health Board, was one of many delegates who spoke of his contribution to modern Inuit.
“I have known Abe Okpik for many, many years,” she said. “It should be known that because of Abe Okpik we have surnames. If Abe Okpik hadn’t undertaken that project, we’d still have our E-5, E-7 and E-9 numbers.”
In respect to Okpik’s memory, leaders adjourned the meeting for the evening.
Friday’s 14-hour discussion was monopolized by the looming deadline of April, 1999, and the work that must be done before the creation of Nunavut.
“A major reason for creating Nunavut was to give Inuit an opportunity politically to lead their own territory and share in job opportunities,” NWT deputy premier Goo Arlooktoo told leaders.
Anawak: employment goal may not be met
Interim commissioner Jack Anawak said his goal is to have 50 per cent Inuit employment within the Nunavut government at start-up, but the millions of dollars the federal government is spending on training programs won’t speed up the training process.
“These people may not complete their training by 1999 and we may not achieve the 50 per cent objective,” Anawak said, adding that hiring for the Nunavut government will continue after 1999.
More than 200 Inuit have already undergone management and business training.
Arctic Bay mayor Silas Attagutsiak questioned Anawak about long-term Inuit employment within the Nunavut government. Anawak said the ultimate goal is to have an 85 per cent Inuit workforce, but added that may be unrealistic.
“Not all Inuit want to work in an office nine to five and there are some who don’t want to be wage earners.”
Other mayors, such as James Qillaq of Clyde River, weren’t able to get assurances from Arlooktoo that Nunavut isn’t going to inherit a huge portion of the estimated $80 million GWNT deficit.
The erosion of health care service in the Baffin region was also a hot topic of discussion.
Health board chair worried about new hospital
Health board chair Anne Hanson urged delegates to lobby the GNWT to fulfill its promise to construct a new regional hospital in Iqaluit.
The current hospital, which dates back to the early 1960s, lacks proper examination and treatment space. She added patients and staff also risk contracting airborne infectious diseases because of poor ventilation within the hospital.
Hanson said private investors have approached the board with offers, but she fears the repercussions of putting health care into private hands.
“The board feels strongly that health care facilities need to be owned and leased by a government or a not-for-profit body,” she told the delegates. “If we were to lease from a business, essential health services would be at the mercy of private businesses who are in business to make profits.”
The group passed a resolution reinforcing the board’s position and calling on a working group to continue pressing the issue with the GNWT.
In all, the leaders passed 17 resolutions during the three day’s of business. They’ll meet again in Iqaluit in November.