Special Report on Work in Nunavut

Introduction: Traditional ways of being – new ways of working

By JIM BELL

By the time you’ve opened up your newspaper to read this, delegates from all over Nunavut will have arrived in Iqaluit to talk about better ways of organizing work in our new territory.

They’ll talk about how Nunavut’s shrinking stockpile of government jobs might be shared among the greatest possible number of people, and about how more jobs might be redefined to make them more suitable for Nunavut residents.

They’ll talk about recognizing the value of work that’s not paid – essential work performed by hunters, housewives and community volunteers – and how to give more people more time to do that kind of work.

Above all, they’ll talk about how to create a more harmonious relationship between work and life in Nunavut.

The Nunavut Implementation Commission, who recommended in their Footprints 2 report that such a conference be held, remind us in Chapter 4 of Footprints 2 that the Inuit of Nunavut have always sought harmony between work and life.

“In more traditional times, distinctions between work and the contributions of individuals to society were not made. ‘Work,’ and carrying out responsibilities to the collective good were considered one and the same thing,” the commission says in its report.

That means a major task facing conference delegates next week will be to find new ways of re-asserting traditional values.

One new way of accomplishing that return to traditional values is now coming at us from what at first might seem to be a most unlikely source – new computer and satellite based communication technologies. These include the Internet, and other ways of distributing sound, text, pictures, and other information at lightening speeds – from anyone in the world to anywhere in the world.

Of all these new tools, it’s face-to-face videoconferencing that promises to have the greatest impact on our lives.

These new tools are not as alien as they might seem. Yes, the technologies may be new and bewildering, but the ways of thinking and being that they encourage are as ancient as the culture of the Inuit.

For example, there’s the face-to-face oral and visual communication that videoconferencing makes possible. When Inuit gain universal access to this wonderful new tool, once gain Inuit will be able to communicate with each other and with their government in their own language and in their own way.

Just as Captain Picard of Star Trek is able to sit on the bridge of the Enterprise and use a video screen to talk to the commander of a Klingon Bird of Prey sitting many miles away, one day you too will you be able to talk to your aunts, grandparents, and friends – from within your own homes.

Inside this supplement, you’ll find a lengthy article on a new idea that the Nunavut Implementation Commission has done a lot of work on – community teleservice centres.

However, none of the three parties to the Nunavut Accord has shown much support for this idea.

That’s unfortunate, because in doing so they’re ignoring what could be an essential tool for sharing the benefits of new communications technologies among all Nunavut residents. And they’re also ignoring what could be an essential tool in harmonizing the relationship between work and life in Nunavut.

Perhaps delegates at next week’s conference will use the gathering as a chance to press for adoption of the community teleservice center idea.

Nunavut’s people are already linked to one another through intangible, organic ties of culture, language and family. Some day soon, that web of sacred relationships will be mirrored by a Nunavut wide web made up of digital particles and radio waves.

And like people in the industrial South, we in Nunavut won’t have to rewire our brains to learn how to use these new technologies.

Our overly cautious leaders needn’t worry if we’re ready for them or not. We’ve always been ready – and now is the time to act.

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