GN tour shines light on smallest region in Nunavut
Kitikmeot residents welcome premier, three ministers
In an effort to reconnect with the Kitikmeot region, Premier Eva Aariak and ministers Keith Petersen, Peter Taptuna and Daniel Shewchuk recently spent five days touring its five communities — the first time that many elected Government of Nunavut officials have done so since 2001.
”Finally, it looks like the GN is paying some attention to the Kitikmeot,” said Charlie Lyall, president of the Kitikmeot Corp. and mayor of Taloyoak.
Lyall has often said people in the Kitikmeot would be better off in their own “republic” than as part of Nunavut, what he’s called the “Government of Baffinland,” because Iqaluit and the Baffin region appear to reap most of the infrastructure money.
But Lyall now says the Kitikmeot’s situation has improved due to the presence of two MLAs in the cabinet— Peterson of Cambridge Bay, the GN’s finance minister; and Taptuna of Kugluktuk, the GN’s economic development and transportation minister.
“We now have people who care about this region, two ministers who understand what it’s like to be neglected,” Lyall said in a May 7 interview.
Apart from the tour that took place earlier this month, top elected officials from GN have never showed up in such force in Cambridge Bay and the other Kitikmeot communities since the 2001 Nunavut legislative sitting in Cambridge Bay.
“Let’s see what happens this time next year,” Lyall said. “Are they still going to be concerned about us or is it just a flash in the pan? Hopefully, things are going to start moving after this.”
Lyall took the GN visitors on a tour of Taloyoak to show them its aging infrastructure, which includes an overcrowded school whose doors have been broken for years, despite repeated promises to fix them.
“They’re still not fixed. Apparently they’re on the other side of the river in Fort Providence,” Lyall said. “It’s so pathetic how government people think they can fool us. It’s now a joke. It’s no longer a concern, it’s a joke.”
In all the Kitikmeot communities, the GN leaders met hamlet councils and the public.
If there was a common message from those at the gatherings, it’s that the hamlets all want more money and that the every community wants its own MLA.
Aariak said the tour was all about building more communication with people in the Kitikmeot.
“They always feel that they do not get enough attention from the East,” she acknowledged in a recent interview.
Aariak said people in the Kitikmeot now feel more comfortable in Nunavut. She said that she and the ministers repeatedly told people that in her government “we hear their concerns, we are listening to the people.”
People can “just pick up the phone and call us” if they want to raise an issue, Aariak said.
With so many common goals, the Kitikmeot hamlets and GN have many reasons to work more closely together, she said.
In Cambridge Bay the GN visitors spent several hours with the hamlet council, followed by a public meeting at the Luke Novoligak community centre.
“What really stood out to me was their willingness to cooperate,” Cambridge Bay mayor Syd Glawson said in a May 4 interview.
“They seemed to be most interested in the Kitikmeot, and that we got out fair share. They said they’re going to make sure Cambridge Bay and the Kitikmeot become a full partner in all ways in Nunavut — it’s coming.”
The meetings, Glawson said, offered a chance for councillors and members of the public to nail the GN on a number of issues: the financing of the community’s wellness centre, which faces the loss of programs funded by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation; the chronic lack of social housing; the need for more economic development money; more access to health care services for the community’s non-beneficiaries; and a general lack of infrastructure.
In an interview following his return from the Kitikmeot, Peterson promised to bring everyone’s concerns back to his fellow ministers.
For Peterson, the tour was a chance to show his constituents that he’s working on their behalf and reconnect with others in the Kitikmeot.
“People were pretty pleased with the idea of meeting with ministers face-to-face, eye-to-eye. In Kugaaruk and Taloyoak, it was unheard of,” he said.
Jeannie Ugyuk of Taloyoak, who was recently elected as MLA for Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak, was also able to visit the Nattilik riding’s two communities with the GN group.