In transition: Cambridge Bay hoping for economic boom



As the tundra bursts with life under the summer sun, so, too, does the entrepreneurial spirit along the streets of Cambridge Bay.

Already a bustling community, Cambridge Bay is experiencing a mini-boom as it prepares to house a department of the decentralized Nunavut government, as well as some of its boards and agencies.

And people hope growth will continue long after the flowers have withered and died in the cold northern winter.

“People realize there will be more opportunties arising out of the whole decentralization,” said Joe Ohokannoak, a commissioner with the Nunavut Implementation Commission in Cambridge Bay. “People are getting more interested in home ownership and there are more homes being built.”

About 1,400 people live in Cambridge Bay, along the southeastern coast of Victoria Island. That’s an increase of about 400 during the past 10 years. And that number is set to jump another 150-200 by 1999.

Cambridge Bay grew up around a Distant Early Warning (DEW) line in the early 1950s. Many Inuit moved into the community from the western Northwest Territories and many still have close ties to those who stayed behind.

Most prosperous in the Kitikmeot

By far the most financially prosperous Kitikmeot community, Cambridge Bay residents brought home an average income of nearly $34,500 in 1994, according to statistics released by the government of the Northwest Territories.

And though news of a decentralized government may have sparked the private industry, some people in the business community are cautious about any windfall expected from a new government.

“I don’t think with the change in government you’re going to see any more than what’s already started,” said Bill Lyall, president of the Cambridge Bay Co-op as well as Arctic Co-operatives Ltd.

He added retail businesses are still feeling the effects of territorial government cutbacks.

Hit by cut-backs

“There are a lot less government people here since the layoffs,” he said. “We’re hit very hard with the GNWT cutbacks.”

Lyall added more people are spending their money in nearby Yellowknife, which means less money flowing back into the community.

“If they support those stores, all the monetary benefits that should come back into the settlement flow into Toronto, Detroit or wherever.”

Direct flight from Iqaluit?

Fewer people may travel though Yellowknife, however, if First Air follows through on a promise it made in 1995 to provide a direct air link between Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit.

Although Cambridge Bay is the regional centre for the Kitikmeot and a hub for travelling activity, there are no direct flights to Iqaluit.

“People are looking forward to a direct air link between Rankin and Iqaluit, the other two regional centres,” Ohokannoak said. “They (First Air) made that verbal commitment and people are still waiting for something to come through.”

First Air passengers must now travel through Yellowknife, and generally overnight, on the way to Iqaluit.

NWT Air, recently purchased by First Air, offers a one-way direct flight from Iqaluit to Cambridge Bay twice a week, with a stop in Rankin Inlet.

When challenged by Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco at the Baffin Leaders’ Summit in Pangnirtung earlier this month, a representative for the airline said there hasn’t been a need to offer the service.

He said only about five people a week are taking advantage of NWT Air’s service.

“What we’re finding is that the traffic volume in numbers of people actually taking advantage of the direct flight are quite minimal,” said Gilbert Normandeau, Arctic communities services manager.

“The commitment on the part of First Air during the capital debate was that we’d certainly look at providing it (direct service). When it was indicated to First Air there was a requirement for it, we would analyse it and begin it. We just haven’t had any data to support the argument that there’s a requirement for Cambridge Bay direct to Iqaluit.”

Language a concern

Language is an issue residents of the Kitikmeot community are beginning to think about.

Although 75 per cent of the community is Inuit, the majority of Cambridge Bay residents speak, work and learn in English.

With the advent of Nunavut and the push to use Inuktitut as the working language of the new territory, residents in the community will have some language hurdles to overcome.

These may be especially difficult for the younger population, said Attima Hadlari, an interpreter-translator with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

“For about two generations now people have been talking to their kids in English,” Hadlari said. “Now the teenagers don’t speak Innuinaqtun.”

He added very few elders in the area speak the traditional Innuinaqtun, a dialect of Inuktitut. Innuinaqtuq differs from most other Inuktitut dialects because it uses Roman orthography in its written form instead of syllabics, which is used in most regions of Nunavut.

Struggle between old and new

And within Cambridge Bay, there’s a struggle between old and new as schools try to adapt a standardized form of Roman orthography, a form the elders refuse to accept.

Hadlari, who also teaches Inuktitut, said he sees some interest in reviving the spoken language, but people need to be more active if they want to keep it alive.

“It’s not too late,” he said. “I believe it can come back. But I believe people really have to recognize for themselves what’s happening.”

Hadlari said people must start speaking the language at home.

“If they lose their language, they lose their culture.”

He said he’d like to see KIA take the lead in promoting the use of traditional language in Cambridge Bay, but so far the association hasn’t moved in that direction.

Info highway

Cambridge Bay will find itself on the fringe of Nunavut, but Ohokannoak said modern technology will bring the community and its concerns closer to the capital, about 1,600 kilometres away.

“We’re in a perfect position to take advantage of the new information highway that’s coming on stream,” he said.

And as more people pour into the community during the next several years, local RCMP Sergeant Jim MacDougall isn’t expecting a strain on the detachment.

“There won’t be that many changes that will affect us in the way we do our policing,” he said.

Five RCMP officers, including one Inuit constable, patrol the community.

The Cambridge Bay detachment, as well as all other Kitikmeot detachments, now reports to the Nunavut heaquarters in Iqaluit rather than the Yellowknife centre, as in the past.

“If the population went up to any extent and our files went up it could result in an increase in staff, but I can’t see that happening in the forseeable future.”

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