Iqaluit council withholds blessing from blessing ceremony
Motion divides councillors, with many abstaining
With more abstentions than any other meeting in Iqaluit council’s history, councillors voted against a motion by Coun. Simon Nattaq to have a clergyman “bless” the city’s lands.
Coun. Simon Nattaq’s motion at the May 11 meeting triggered a discussion on the separation of church and state in which some councillors expressed confusion over why the matter came to council in the first place.
Nattaq said a group of Iqaluit residents are bringing a clergyman from Cape Dorset to bless the lands in and around Iqaluit.
He tabled a motion that would have had city council approve the blessing, which would include lands that belong to the City of Iqaluit.
In the final vote, only two councillors supported Nattaq’s motion: Nattaq and Coun. David Ell, who had seconded it.
Four councillors abstained, but the tally was so quick that neither reporters nor the attending city staff were able to record which ones before it was over.
Nattaq said there are many problems in Iqaluit that require divine intervention, including social problems and environmental contamination of the land.
Nattaq cited the example of a river in Africa – though he did not name which one – which he said had been blessed and miraculously cleansed of its pollution.
Nattaq asked for a letter from the mayor to approve the blessing, which would encourage all religious denominations to take part.
“As elected council, we all hold the key to the city of Iqaluit,” Nattaq said through interpretation.
Nattaq has been working on making this blessing happen since the last council, when he was deputy mayor.
It has appeared on the agenda in recent council meetings, but Nattaq has been absent over personal matters and has not been present to table it until now.
Several city councillors questioned whether the council should have any role in approving religious functions.
Coun. Natsiq Kango argued that the city’s approval for a blessing is unnecessary.
“The blessing comes from God,” she said.
Coun. Mary Wilman is a member of the board of one of the city’s religious congregations, and asked why she had not heard of this blessing before.
“I don’t think a process of religion has to come through council,” she said.
Coun. Mat Knicklebein agreed with Wilman, and expressed his personal discomfort in being asked to decide on the city’s response to a religious observance.
Coun. Romeyn Stevenson said he didn’t want to offend or belittle anyone’s form of worship, but agreed that this was none of council’s business.
Coun. Jimmy Kilabuk pointed out that the councillors are not clergy, and asked for more clarification on Nattaq’s motion.
Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik asked for a written letter from Nattaq’s group so the council would have something concrete to discuss.
Nattaq expressed regret that no-one else from his group was present, but argued the blessing was a “necessity.”