Bracing for change: Nunavut’s emerging workforce

People across northern Canada tuned in to TVNC this week not just to watch ­ but to take part in a conference about the future of work and the quality of life in Nunavut.



Organizers of this week’s Future of Work conference in Iqaluit planned for just about everything.

From a tiny storage room at the back of Iqaluit’s cadet hall, a crew from Inuit Communication Systems Limited dragged in a ton of video and communication equipment and strung miles of cable.

They tested and retested their videoconference links from Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet and Yellowknife, and set up teleconference links to a half dozen more Nunavut communities.

They set up modems so that trained caption typists in New York, Detroit and Toronto could send English captions so that hearing impaired people across northern Canada could understand what was being said in Inuktitut.

Organizers admit it was an ambitious project, and concede they forgot one thing.

“We checked everything except the alignment of the planets,” said one organizer, frustrated at the technical glitches that kept people from communities outside Iqaluit from fully participating in the conference on Monday.

Sun spots interfered with satellite transmissions at key times during the opening day knocking out video links and the captioning system for the hearing impaired.

But the planets cooperated Tuesday and people cheered when a jittery image of Cambridge Bay Mayor Wilf Wilcox appeared on the huge screen at Iqaluit’s cadet hall.

“Every job is a good job,” Wilcox said, urging young people to prepare for jobs in Nunavut.

Having someone from the oft-forgotten Kitikmeot region join Iqaluit, Baffin, the Keewatin and the rest of Nunavut proved that distance doesn’t have to be a barrier to good communication.

Shrinking Nunavut

Beating the planets and overcoming the technical glitches was part of what the conference, sponsored by the Nunavut Implementation Commission was about ­ proving that it can be done.

People in Nunavut’s 26 communities spread thousands of miles apart from one another came together in living rooms, schools and offices to share their ideas about how they expect work and life to change in Nunavut.

Leaders, politicians and ordinary people from all walks of life took part in the three day conference, most of which was broadcast live across the Television Northern Canada network.

Panelists gathered at Iqaluit’s cadet hall in Iqaluit took to the podium to share their views, and similar groups met in other Nunavut communities. They joined in by videoconference or teleconference to present their summaries of their discussions.

Often delegates and community participants strayed off topic, but many expressed their appreciation for just being included in the conference.

People from the smallest Nunavut communities urged others to listen to their views and not to forget that they need jobs there too.

On the opening day, youth were invited to share their views on their place in Nunavut’s future workforce.

Youth delegate Jimi Onalik said the hardest thing he has had to do in his brief political career was to tell young people in Repulse Bay that there were no plans for new jobs in their community.

And Sandra Inutiq said young people now expect more from themselves and from their educators.

“We are starting to recognize the power of our voice,” Inutiq said.

Nunavut is the future

During his speech, economist Michael McCracken of the Infometrica consulting firm, told the audience that there were no answers or solutions in southern Canada for the people of Nunavut to follow.

“In many ways you are already in the future and can move quickly,” McCracken said, adding that the people of Nunavut could have much to teach to people in the rest of the world about work patterns, and work sharing.

Rankin Inlet Mayor John Hickes delivered a passionate address in which he stressed optimism and the need to do things differently.

Hickes quoted Helen Keller who said, “the greatest tragedy is people with sight but no vision.”

In his remarks, NTI President Jose Kusugak said that Inuit leaders can fight to implement Article 23 and fight for jobs for Inuit, but Inuit have to also help out by proving they are willing to work hard once those doors are opened.

Amagoalik: End the rat race

In his closing remarks, John Amagoalik said Inuit don’t want to just follow the work patterns of people in southern Canada.

“Perhaps what is wrong with this world is that there are too many people who behave like rats and dogs. Humans were meant to rise above this sort of thing, and we want this to happen up here,” Amagoalik said.

Amagoalik said people need to take time to enjoy life, have confidence in themselves, and cooperate and not always compete against one another.

Many people noticed, however, that there were several name tags on tables with no faces sitting behind them.

GNWT a no-show

Conference organizers and other leaders pointed out that no elected leaders from the GNWT attended the conference.

They also said they were disappointed that Nunatsiaq MP Jack Anawak, the man touted as the front runner for the interim commissioner’s job for Nunavut, didn’t respond to an invitation to attend the conference.

The NIC’s chief commissioner John Amagoalik made reference to the GNWT’s absence in his closing remarks.

“I’m sorry that our government leaders were not able to be here. We asked them ­ we had asked, we had invited them, and they said they would arrive, but they haven’t appeared. I would like to apologize for that,” he said in Inuktitut.

“Perhaps they have too much work to do or maybe they didn’t feel welcome and didn’t appear. But be that as it may, we want them to know that we love you.”

Several Nunavut MLAs apologized in the legislative assembly this week, saying they felt it was important to continue reviewing the territorial budget, which they eventually passed on Tuesday.

The organizers did agree to allow Deputy Premier Goo Arlooktoo to take part by teleconference, in which he delivered a prepared speech.

Arlooktoo reiterated the GNWT’s position supporting Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, and highlighted the training work now going on across Nunavut, and offered his views about the need for work to reflect Inuit values.

But he said Inuit must also learn to accept other values such as punctuality, loyalty, honesty and ambition.

“I do hope that all working in Nunavut keep in mind the reason for the work in the first place ­ we are there to help everyone in our land,” Arlooktoo said. “If this happens, Nunavut will then be an even richer place to live to raise our families.”

Popular with viewers

The three-day live broadcast is a big hit with viewers across Nunavut, say the show’s producers.

Viewers have called and sent in faxes asking for more chances to speak and take part.

“The community reaction to this has been great,” said Patty Billings, a producer of the show for the Inuit Communication Systems Limited, the people responsible for putting the conference on the air.

Unilingual Inuit viewers are also impressed by the simultaneous captioning in English they see on their television screens, and several are now asking how they can get captions in Inuktitut syllabics for English programming.

“It breaks down all the geographic boundaries,” said director Brett Pollock during a rare break in the broadcast Wednesday. “It’s like putting everybody in the same room which is a hard thing to do because it’s such a huge territory.”

“It’s technically a big setup,” says Pollock. “A lot of it was learning as we went.”

It took a microwave dish on the roof of the cadet hall, miles of wires, eight phone lines, two videoconference lines, modems and datalinks, a room full of video equipment and switching boxes, four camera operators, nine more technical operators, and camera operators in other communities to pull it all together. “We did it,” says Billings with a laugh, as both she and Pollock knock on the wooden table for luck before the broadcast of the last session.

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