Social health a priority for Nunavut’s oldest community

In transition: Igloolik mayor Aime Panimera says residents embrace the opportunity that infrastructure development will bring, but are aware that change can’t come without some risk



Igloolik residents pride themselves on their ability to adapt readily to change. They’ll need to rely heavily on that ability as this community of 1,175 residents braces for an influx of 250 people over the next two years.

“It’s going to be quite a difference,” said Mayor Aime Panimera.

Situated on the flat expanse of Melville Peninsula, Igloolik marks the geographic centre of Nunavut. It’s also one of 11 communities chosen as a base for decentralized Nunavut government operations after April 1, 1999.

It’s a challenge, Panimera added, that the hamlet is eager to meet.

That desire was apparent when residents made an unsuccessful bid to be the legislative capital of the new territory, a title Nunavut residents bestowed on Iqaluit in a 1995 plebiscite.

Losing out on the capital was a disappointment, Panimera admits, but it’s made residents more determined to share the spoils of Nunavut.

“Once we found out we’re going to become one of the headquarters, we were satisfied with this and began work for this.”

More than other communities rewarded with government offices, Igloolik considers itself well prepared for the changes.

It’s one of the oldest northern communities with a history, some say, dating back 4,000 years. It’s also one of the fastest growing. Igloolik’s population has risen 27 per cent over the past 10 years, from 857 residents in 1986 to 1,174, according to the 1996 census.

After Iqaluit and Pond Inlet, the increase marks the third largest population jump in the Baffin region.

Social welfare considered

The priority for these residents as they head toward 1999 is the social health of their community. The hamlet has recently taken control of the social services from the territorial government.

“We want to try to minimize the social problems that might and will arise with the population increase.”

Panimera said he’s bracing for an increase in alcohol and drug abuse even though the community is a controlled community. That means anyone wishing to bring in alcohol must apply to a hamlet committee, which is now concentrating on drug-free education.

“It will no longer deal with day-to-day liquor applications,” Panimera said. “It will be promoting alcohol-free (lifestyles).”

Exactly what department of government will move into Igloolik hasn’t been made public, but it’s expected the community will be the seat for cultural affairs.

“We might be advanced in various areas, but we’re also traditional and we live in one of the oldest communities in Nunavut,” Panimera said. “We feel this is a perfect place for the culture department.”

Demographics encouraging

Although it’s one of the oldest communities, Igloolik has a very young population. It’s estimated average age is about 30. Unemployment plagues the community, which can boast little more than 234 full time employees, 68 of which are GNWT positions.

In 1994, 37 per cent of Igloolik residents were out of work, yet only 5.8 per cent, or 274 people, were identified by the GNWT Labour Force Survey as “wanting a job.”

Social assistance funding doubled in the community from $650,000 in 1990 to nearly $1.2 million in 1993.

To Igloolik residents, a decentralized Nunavut government and the construction boom that comes with it is a relief from chronic unemployment.

Fifty per cent of the employees to be hired for the start-up of the Nunavut government will be Inuit. Igloolik residents have been educating themselves through intensive college courses in management and administration to be ready for those jobs.

“I am very confident in the people of the community,” Panimera said.

There will also be plenty of jobs in the area of construction if Nunavut Construction Corporation president Tagak Curley keeps his promise to employ 50 per cent Inuit this year, rising to 85 per cent by 1999. NCC has also promised an intensive apprenticeship training program for Inuit.

The NCC will construct 12 residential units in Igloolik this summer. To ensure the local population is involved in as much of that construction as possible, the hamlet has formed an economic development committee.

“It’s not only the local contractors, but the local people and trying to prepare them to get into the apprenticeships and take advantage of the construction as much as possible.

“I’m confident there will be quite a number of graduates of the apprenticeships that NCC is proposing to implement in the community.

“I don’t see too much of a problem provided NCC will do what they say they will do – such as tendering out as much work as possible.”

Job interviews next week

The NCC training co-ordinator and project organizer will be in Igloolik within the next couple of weeks to interview for the construction jobs.

As well as the NCC construction, the local housing corporation will build six access units and a four-apartment senior’s home is also scheduled for this year’s construction season. Local hotel operators are also planning the construction on a new hotel, however, that hasn’t been confirmed.

Non-Inuit first settled in Igloolik in the 1930s by establishing a Roman Catholic mission. By the late 1950s Hudson’s Bay Company and the RCMP had moved in and a school, nursing station and Anglican mission had all been established.

Igloolik’s Inuit population remains at about 90 per cent of the total.

This will change dramatically when the population surges. Most of the 250 people who will take up residence in the community are expected to be non-Inuit.

“We’ve thought about that, but we feel very strongly that although Igloolik is one of the older communities, we’re one of the communities that adapt to change very easily.”

An increase in population will also put on strain on existing municipal services. That’s not something the hamlet is worried about, though, because the territorial government, through the Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), is providing extra funding.

“I don’t see much of a problem,” Panimera said. “We’ll be getting funding to hire about six more people to help out with municipal services.”

He added the hamlet is adding a water truck, sewage truck and fire truck to its stock. The water resevoir and sewage lagoon will also be expanded to handle the increase.

Jet service to Igloolik?

The hamlet has been pushing MACA to extend its airport to allow jets to land, thus partly reducing the cost of living in the hamlet. A 1991 study of food costs in the Northwest Territories revealed that an average family of four in Igloolik spends about $306 for a basket of food. The only community where families spent more was Arctic Bay at $311.

The territorial government hasn’t budged, but Panimera continues to press the issue. Also on the hamlet’s wish list is a new nursing station to replace its 25-year-old one.

“We feel the existing nursing station is getting too old. We feel we need a bigger nursing station and a doctor in the community.”

Health and Social Services Minister Kelvin Ng told Panimera during the annual meeting of municipalities last month that it isn’t funding that’s the problem; it’s getting doctors to commit to working in small, remote communities.

But Igloolik knows its limit and has rejected an offer by the GWNT to turn over control of its public works and housing association departments to the hamlet.

“They wanted us to take the DPW and housing association over, but we told them because they are so similar, we felt they needed to be amalgamated first. They’re not really priorities on our list. We told them we can wait for them to be working together before we’ll start talking about taking them on.”

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