Nunavut in 2016: a look back at the year’s biggest stories
A year of discoveries, battles on land and in the air, inquests, court cases, failure and success
The Inuit-led discovery of Sir John Franklin’s second sunken ship, the HMS Terror, in Nunavut waters was big news in 2016 as was the resignation of our Nunavut cabinet minister, Hunter Tootoo. But they certainly weren’t the only stories to define this past year.
It was a year when Nunavummiut debated the pace of natural resource development and were consumed by environmental controversies, such as the battles over seismic testing in Baffin Bay and how to protect the territory’s dwindling caribou herds.
It was also a year of tragic loss. Nunavummiut observed the passing of such diverse figures as James Arvaluk, John Ningark, Bryan Pearson and Annie Pootoogook.
• Nunavut’s new year begins with a tragedy: a 20-year-old man, originally from Clyde River, died in a motor vehicle accident in Iqaluit early on the morning of Jan. 1 after he had lain down in the middle of the road.
• Elections Nunavut on Jan. 4 issues a writ for a by-election to fill the vacant legislative assembly seat of Netsilik, which comprises Taloyoak and Kugaaruk. Jeannie Ugyuk resigned the seat, and her cabinet job, after failing a vote of confidence.
• Cape Dorset mourns the loss of two prominent artists: sculptor Jutai Toonoo, 56, and sculptor and master printer Pitseolak Niviaqsi, 68, both of whom died in late December 2015.
• Agreeing that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder is the “new face of Nunavut,” Justice Neil Sharkey, orders that an 18-year-old who committed two robberies in Iqaluit spend three years at a residential treatment centre outside Nunavut.
• The death toll continues: Nunavut’s chief coroner, Padma Suramala, releases numbers that show 32 people died by suicide in Nunavut in 2015.
• Nunavut’s chief coroner announces an inquest will be held in Igloolik Nov. 1 to Nov. 10 in the death of Felix Taqqaugaq, a mentally ill man who was fatally shot by police in 2012.
• Ben Kovic resigns as chair of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. But he denies it’s because of a conflict of interest created by his work with the Iqaluit hunters and trappers organization and his position on the board of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition.
• The Inuit Circumpolar Council launches a three-person commission to consult Inuit on how to best manage the North Water polynya.
• The Hamlet of Clyde River and the Chippewas of the Thames River First Nation join together to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on whether the federal government can delegate its duty to consult to the National Energy Board.
• Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. comes up with a name for its $175-million training organization: Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corp. and appoints a seven-member board, made up of five Inuit org politicians, plus the Nunavut premier and education minister, to run the new entity. They had issued no other information.
• Duane Smith leaves the helm of Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada to become chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. where he replaces the now-retired Nellie Cournoyea.
• Fly Sarvaq, an arrangement between Nolinor and Iqaluit’s Sarvaq Aviation, run by Iqaluit business owner Adamie Itorcheak, announces a plan to offer a low-cost jet service connecting Iqaluit, Ottawa and Halifax. But after months of hiccups and a price war launched by Canadian North and First Air, the service never gets off the ground.
• Justice Bonnie Tulloch finds that Peter Kingwatsiak of Cape Dorset is guilty of first degree murder in the 2010 shooting death of his step-brother, Mappaluk Adla. Kingwatsiak later receives a mandatory life sentence with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
• The Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center records the lowest level of Arctic ice extent ever for the month of January 2016.
• Chris Cousins, a former employee of the Qulliq Energy Corp., is awarded nearly $153,000 after Justice Paul Bychok of the Nunavut Court of Justice finds Cousins was the victim of a constructive dismissal by the territory’s power utility.
• Emiliano Qirngnuq, 66, a co-op employee from Kugaaruk, is elected as MLA for Netsilik in a by-election held Feb. 8 to fill the spot vacated by Jeannie Ugyuk in 2015.
• The Mamisarvik Healing Centre in Ottawa, one of only two Inuit-specific residential substance abuse treatment centres in Canada, decides to close its doors March 31 after its funding runs out.
• The beloved Inuktitut country-gospel singer, Etulu Aningmiuq, dies of cancer.
• Justice Neil Sharkey finds Peter Angutimarik guilty of second degree murder in the Feb. 28, 2009 killing of his roommate, Esa Angutiqjuaq. In March, Sharkey sentences Angutimarik to a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with no chance of parole for 16 years.
• Catching the Qikiqtani Inuit Association by surprise, the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. reveals that a railway to Milne Inlet from the Mary River mine is part of its Phase 2 expansion proposal.
• Nunavut Finance Minister Keith Peterson tables the Government of Nunavut’s 2016-17 budget, in which the territorial government expects to receive more than $1.7 billion in revenues and to spend roughly the same amount. With a tiny projected deficit of only $3.9 million, it’s basically a break-even budget.
• The Canadian Coast Guard, the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax and the Danish navy help the crew of the Saputi, a 75-metre, factory-freezer trawler owned by Qikiqtaaluk Fisheries Corp., make it to the port at Nuuk, Greenland after the vessel begins taking on water. All 30 crew members, including seven Inuit workers aboard the vessel, arrive safely and are flown back to Iqaluit.
• Nunavut sends about 180 participants, including athletes and mission staff, to the Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland, which started March 6.
• The premiers of Canada’s three northern territories issue a joint statement saying they’re all opposed to a carbon tax. But they do want more money for climate change adaptation.
• Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik, who held the health and justice portfolios, resigns from the Nunavut cabinet March 3, saying he’s opposed to the opening of an experimental beer and wine store in Iqaluit. Premier Peter Taptuna gives the justice portfolio to Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson and the health portfolio to Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Monica Ell-Kanayuk.
• The GN reveals that it’s opposed to the blanket protection of caribou calving areas within the Nunavut Planning Commission’s draft land use plan.
• After a March 10 meeting in Washington, D.C., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Barack Obama say they’ll make climate change and the long-term health of the Arctic environment and its people a priority.
• Nunavut Premier Taptuna lashes out at what he called “false” and “uncalled for” statements about the GN’s position on the NPC’s draft land use plan and demands an apology. Okalik had accused Taptuna of making a “backroom deal.”
• On March 10, the Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear an appeal launched on behalf of Jerry Natanine and others in Clyde River who seek to overturn a seismic testing permit that National Energy Board agreed to give to a group from Norway.
• Nunavut Education Minister Paul Quassa announces that a law school program, aimed at training Inuit beneficiaries who want to become lawyers, will start in September 2017. The four-year law program, run jointly by the GN and Nunavut Arctic College, will accept up to 25 students.
• Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Health Canada contribute $1.3 million to the financially crippled Mamisarvik Healing Centre in Ottawa, allowing it to operate for at least one more year.
• Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami releases a three-year strategic plan with seven objectives. The first three are suicide prevention, housing and reconciliation.
• Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon issues a blank version of his controversial 74-minute film, Of the North. This version consists of 74 minutes of total blackness and silence.
• In its March 22 budget, the Liberal government announces $76.7 million over two years for new social housing in Nunavut, and hikes the value of the northern resident tax deduction. That tax benefit now allows northern tax-filers to reduce their taxable income by up to $8,030 per year.
• Search and rescue aircraft find Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak, his son and nephew near Cyrus Field Bay off the Hall Peninsula. The trio went missing for five days after they tried to get to Pangnirtung from Iqaluit but travelled way off course.
• Justice Neil Sharkey finds that Jeffery Salomonie, 49, is guilty of first degree murder in the death of Daisy Curley of Iqaluit. Sharkey found that Salomonie raped and killed Curley after a drinking spree at the Storehouse bar in May 2009.
• The heads of Canada’s four regional land claim organizations choose Nancy Karetak-Lindell to serve as president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Canadian wing.
• Veteran civil servant Gunther Abrahamson dies April 8 in Ottawa.
• Susan Aglukark wins the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
• The Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto announces that, because of funding shortfalls, it will close its doors for good May 30.
• Working with Canada Post, Nunavut RCMP seize, over a two-month period, 46 pounds of weed and 137 litres of illegal liquor bound for Nunavut.
• The Go Sarvaq air travel service, which hoped to launch its inaugural flight May 20, faces impossible competition for its $499 Iqaluit-Ottawa fares. Canadian North and First Air offer $399 fares on the same route, and Go Sarvaq folds before it can get off the ground. That incident is now the subject of a predatory pricing probe launched later in the year by the Competition Bureau.
• Gabriel Nirlungayuk suddenly quits his job as the GN’s deputy minister of Environment April 25. Nunavut Premier Taptuna appoints Simon Awa as acting DM of the department.
• At an April public hearing in Cambridge Bay on Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s Back River gold project, many participants say they fear that the mine may damage valuable caribou calving grounds. The NIRB eventually rejects Sabina’s $695-million proposal.
• The veteran Nunavut leader, James Arvaluk, a former MLA and cabinet minister, dies April 27 at a Winnipeg hospital.
• The U.S, government quietly drops plans to ask CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Fauna) for a global ban on the sale of polar bear products.
• Groaning under an enormous pile of debt, the Northern Transportation Co. Ltd. runs to an Alberta court to stave off bankruptcy. Until 2014, NTCL had been owned 50-50 by the Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories and the Inuit of Nunavut. But Nunasi Corp. unloaded its 5o per cent share in that and other companies in 2014.
• A six-member coroner’s jury that sat through an inquest held May 2 to May 5 in Hall Beach concludes that Tommy Anguilianuk, 18, died by suicide after escaping police custody on Jan. 21, 2013.
• Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, says May 9 in a speech at the United Nations that Canada now accepts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “without reservation.” But later in the year, it becomes clear that the federal government and some Indigenous groups still disagree on the meaning of “free, prior and informed consent.”
• The Nunavut Court of Appeal tosses out Adrian Van Eindhoven’s second conviction for murder in the September 2004 death of Leanne Irkotee in Rankin Inlet.
• In a set of referenda held simultaneously in every Nunavut community, voters say no to fee simple land ownership within municipalities which means homeowners and small business will continue to lease lots from municipal governments.
• The GN announces a new version of its NNI (Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti) policy for helping Inuit owned businesses win GN contracts. In this version, the degree of preferential treatment increases with the degree of Inuit ownership.
• A whooping cough outbreak hits Pond Inlet and Iqaluit, then settles in for a long, annoying visit to the territory that stretches until the end of the year.
• A report by Nunavut languages commissioner Sandra Inutiq finds Inuktitut and French-speaking patients at Iqaluit’s Qikiqtani General Hospital face language barriers that could put their health at risk.
• A company based in Anchorage, Alaska called Quintillion purchases Arctic Fibre, the company proposed to link Nunavut and Nunavik to a high-speed undersea cable between New York City and Tokyo through the Northwest Territories. The company will now focus first on the Alaskan leg of the proposal.
• A veteran senior administrator at the Hamlet of Baker Lake, Dennis Zettler, is charged with fraud and theft after police find a large amount of cash at his residence.
• In a stunning announcement that is remarkably free of detail, Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo quits his cabinet job and quits the Liberal caucus in the House of Commons, saying he needs to enter treatment for alcoholism.
• A 28-year-old Coral Harbour mother, Shepa Jar, is charged with one count of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with an incident in the community that claimed the life of a six-year old girl. Her case is still before the courts.
• Nunavut’s Office of the Fire Marshal reports that 2015 was the worst year for fire damage since 2011. In 2015, fires caused more than $44 million in damages and claimed the lives of five people.
• In the legislative assembly, Finance Minister Keith Peterson defends the GN’s record on human resources against pointed questions from Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak and others.
• Shell Canada gives up its oil and gas exploration leases on a block of marine territory adjacent to Lancaster Sound, removing an impediment to the creation of a marine protected area.
• Nunavut MLAs pass a motion asking the GN to create an arms-length Public Service Commission. All eight cabinet ministers vote against the motion, and it’s not clear if it will ever be implemented.
• Education Minister Paul Quassa decides that Nunavut is not ready for its own university and announces that, instead, Nunavut will pursue a joint-venture partner ship with an established university in the South.
• The NIRB says no to Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s Back River gold mine proposal, saying the mine would do damage to caribou that cannot be mitigated. The NIRB, however, says yes to TMAC’s Doris North proposal.
• Premier Taptuna shakes up his cabinet, assigning the health portfolio to George Hickes, the economic development and transportation portfolio to Monica Ell-Kanayuk, the justice portfolio to Keith Peterson and the family services portfolio to Johnny Mike.
• Chris D’Arcy becomes the GN’s top bureaucrat: deputy minister of the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs and secretary to cabinet.
• Nunavut’s favourite hockey player, homegrown talent Jordin Tootoo, signs a one-year deal with the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks, Tootoo’s fourth NHL team in his 12-year career.
• Whooping cough spreads to a third Nunavut community, Hall Beach, after cases reported earlier in Pond Inlet and Iqaluit.
• Ottawa appoints a new negotiator, Fred Caron, to lead stalled devolution talks with Nunavut. Premier Taptuna and NTI welcome the news.
• Serial sex offender and former Nunavut priest Eric Dejaeger is denied legal aid in his bid to appeal some of his convictions on sex crimes against Inuit children, which number in the dozens. The former Belgian Oblate is now serving 19 years in prison.
• Two Rankin Inlet men convicted of killing their partners are sentenced. Adrian van Eindhoven gets 12 years in jail for killing Leanne Irkootee in 2004 and is released because of the many years of prison time he has already served. Dwayne Sateana is sentenced to 13 years in prison for beating Edith Angalik to death in 2014.
• Warm, wacky weather: American scientists declare the first six months of 2016 to be the warmest on record since 1880, while five of the first six months also broke records for the smallest Arctic sea ice extent since 1979. Kugluktuk residents take to the beach as temperatures reach nearly 30 C.
• Share the shrimp: the Nunavut Wildlife Board says the Baffin Fisheries Coalition must share the shrimp fishing quota for waters beside the Nunavut Settlement Area with the Qikiqtaaluk Corp. BFC gets 70 per cent of the quota, down from 100 per cent, while QC gets 30 per cent.
• Canada’s national Inuit organization releases a national suicide prevention plan, a first for a Canadian Aboriginal body.
• Areva Resources Canada Inc. suspends its controversial Kiggavik uranium project near Baker Lake after the NIRB recommends the project not proceed due to the lack of a firm start date.
• Hunter Tootoo’s problems continue: after returning from treatment for substance abuse, the beleaguered MP admits to a “consensual but inappropriate relationship” with a staffer, but offers no other details.
• Health Canada steps in to help Nunavut provide vaccination clinics in a number of Baffin-region communities aimed at responding to the territory’s growing whooping cough outbreak.
• The GN and the Nunavut Employees Union reach a tentative wage-benefit deal following protracted negotiations towards a new collective agreement that will replace the agreement that expired in December 2014.
• The bowhead whale season launches with five communities granted licenses for 2016. Igloolik lands the first successful hunt.
• The largest cruise ship yet to pass through the Northwest Passage, the 900-bed Crystal Serenity, stops off at Cambridge Bay, while Nunavut artists set up vending stalls in hopes of capitalizing on sales to the guests of the luxury vessel.
• The search for a young Cape Dorset man, Saali Toonoo, is downgraded to a recovery operation after crews discover the 18-year-old’s kayak, paddle and one boot.
• The Qikiqtani Inuit Association names retired Aboriginal rights lawyer, Thomas Berger, 83, to a three-person panel to resolve disagreements on benefits between the organization and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., owner of the Mary River iron mine on north Baffin Island.
• Ottawa announces $68-million to improve Nunavut’s leaky water and sewage infrastructure, with facilities in Iqaluit, Arviat and Chesterfield Inlet to get facelifts.
• The second of two lost ships, the HMS Terror, the doomed voyage of 19th-century explorer Sir John Franklin is discovered after nearly 170 years off the southwest shore of King William Island in western Nunavut in a bay aptly called Terror Bay.
• The former owners of Jericho diamond mine, near the western community of Kugluktuk, owe about two dozen former employees money after closing its doors abruptly in 2012, court documents show. But senior executives received hefty raises just before the mine shut down, according to those documents.
• Nunavut’s only care home for youth in Iqaluit shuts down because the government’s attempts to find a new service provider fail. The government says the facility will open in four to six months.
• Ottawa police launch an investigation into the death of renowned Nunavut artist Annie Pootoogook after the artist’s body was found in the Rideau River Sept. 19. Then, one Ottawa police officer’s racist remarks about that investigation provokes fury among Inuit.
• The QIA accuses Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., owner of the Mary River iron mine, of not holding up its end of their Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, especially around lost benefits such as jobs and Inuit company contracts. Baffinland responds: each side has not met expectations.
• After establishing the first Nunavut-based recording label, the territory’s popular musical group The Jerry Cans release their third album, Inuusiq/Life, which offers lively reflections on the beauty and hardship of life in the North.
• Bryan Pearson, man of many titles—Iqaluit’s first mayor, founder of Toonik Tyme, Arctic entrepreneur—dies of cancer at his home in Iqaluit. The outspoken, controversial figure forged his own place in the history of the eastern Arctic during his 60 years in Iqaluit.
• Following racist comments made by an Ottawa police officer in relation to the death investigation of Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, Inuit denounce police racism and Nunavut MLA Paul Okalik calls for independent, civilian oversight of the Nunavut RCMP, whose external investigations are routinely conducted by the Ottawa Police Service.
• World-famous Inuk artist, the late Kenojuak Ashevak, receives her own Heritage Minute from Historica Canada, which releases a short film on Ashevak, one of the founding members of the Cape Dorset West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative.
• Nunavut MLAs pass a bill to build and partly finance a new corrections facility in Iqaluit to replace the notorious Baffin Correctional Centre. The GN will spend about $800,000 in the next fiscal year and about $15.4 million on the 140-bed facility, scheduled to open in 2022. Ottawa will pick up most of the bill by chipping in $57 million.
• The GN announces that expectant mothers will receive “baby boxes,” full of reading material and tools to help prepare them for parenthood and to provide the baby’s first, safe bed: a cardboard box. Borrowed from the Finnish government, the move is aimed at reducing infant mortality rates in Nunavut.
• An early morning fire Oct. 30 claims a four-unit apartment complex in Rankin Inlet, displacing at least six people, costing more than $1 million and leaving the local fire chief frustrated with low building code standards that, if raised, could have saved most of the building.
• The Competition Bureau takes Nunavut’s unpopular airlines, First Air and Canadian North, to court to obtain more information in the bureau’s investigation into allegations of their anti-competitive behaviour, including predatory pricing.
• Four Nunavut Inuit throw their hats into the ring to run for the next president of NTI: Levinia Brown, Aluki Kotierk, Joe Adla Kunuk and incumbent Cathy Towtongie. Meanwhile, two veteran bureaucrats vie to become the QIA’s next vice-president: Olayuk Akesuk and incumbent Larry Audlaluk.
• Nunavut’s commissioner announces a long list of award recipients, including three new members for the Order of Nunavut: Louie Kamookak, Ellen Hamilton and Red Pederson. Singer-songwriter Charlie Panigoniak receives the commissioner’s Performing Arts Award.
• The GN admits losing out on $14 million in insurance money after Peter Pitseolak school in Cape Dorset burnt down in 2015 because of a “communication error.”
• The first of two coroner’s inquests this month wraps up in Igloolik, after a jury returns with 25 recommendations aimed at avoiding similar deaths to that suffered by Felix Taqqaugaq, a local man with severe mental health problems shot dead by police in 2012.
• Former longtime Nunavut political leader John Ningark succumbs to cancer at the age of 72 as condolences from across the territory pour in.
• The friendly relationship between Nunavut’s two major airlines dissolves as First Air stabs Canadian North in the back with a surprise announcement that they’ll pull out of their unpopular code share agreement.
• Ottawa names 15 new deputy judges for the Nunavut Court of Justice, helping to fill a gap created by two empty seats on the Nunavut bench.
• An INAC report reveals that Victor Tootoo, who served as the NPC’s part-time senior finance officer through an arrangement with his consulting firm, performed the job at the same time that the NPC was doing business with a travel agency that he owns.
• A coroner’s inquest into the 2012 death of three-month-old Baby Makibi in Cape Dorset answers some questions for the baby’s parents but still leaves them suspicious of government incompetence and cover-ups.
• Jerry Natanine and other Inuit get their day in the Supreme Court as they test the Crown’s duty to consult with Inuit on the National Energy Board’s approval for seismic testing near Natanine’s hometown Clyde River. The Supreme Court judges reserve their decision, likely for sometime mid-2017.
• Baffinland unveils a detailed plan to build a railway from Mary River to Milne Inlet, where they now propose to bring huge cape class ore-carrying vessels within a shipping season that would run from July to about December.
• Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar of the Ottawa Police Service is demoted to first-class constable for three months, and is ordered to participate in cultural-sensitivity training for racist remarks he made earlier this year about Indigenous people in the wake of Annie Pootoogook’s death.
• Pond Inlet hunters say they’re opposed to a proposal from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to reduce narwhal quota for Eclipse Sound.
• With one of every three votes cast, Aluki Kotierk becomes president of NTI in a Dec. 12 election that saw her beat out incumbent Cathy Towgongie and two other rivals, Joe Kunuk and Levinia Brown.
• The B.C.-based subcontractor Arctic Construction Ltd. sues Baffinlandfor $6.2 million in what they allege are unpaid fees. Baffinland countersues for $7.7 million in what they describe as “contract violations.”