Ottawa event celebrates 10th anniversary of territory

A look back and ahead ” at Nunavut”


OTTAWA – Remember those rainbow-coloured fireworks that lit up the Iqaluit sky on April 1, 1999, the day of Nunavut's birth?

That party is history.

What many people now want to know is how Nunavut is doing at the age of 10 and what its future may hold, questions put to members of a panel Jan. 29 in Ottawa who were asked "Nunavut at 10: what's working, what's not and what's next?"

Panel members included Jim Bell, editor of Nunatsiaq News, Ed Picco, Nunavut's former health and education minister, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, MP for Nunavut from 1997 to 2008, and Jose Kusugak, president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association (and former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami).

The greatest challenge for Nunavut's future will be to work on human development, Bell said – that is, to place a new focus on the people of Nunavut.

This means paying more attention to public health and the justice system so Nunavummiut stay away from addictions and crime and head instead into higher education and jobs. The result may be that more of the GN's 900 now-vacant jobs will be held by Nunavummiut, Bell said.

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Continuing to offer Nunavummiut hope for the future is what Karetak-Lindell wants. "Our challenge as residents of Nunavut is how to sustain that," she said.

Looking back, Kusugak pointed out the errors of the past 10 years, which, in his opinion, included the dissolution of the former regional health and education boards and the hiring of too many new civil servants from the South.

"We thought Nunavut was going to be the Inuit and northerners' homeland," Kusugak said.

But Nunavut was "created in a bad situation," following budget cuts and job cuts in the Northwest Territories, Picco said. Today there are more high school graduates and more lawyers, nurses and other post-secondary students, he said, urging everyone to "start celebrating our successes."

The panel capped off a day-long bash at the National Library and Archives of Canada, which was organized by Library and Archives Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs.

The agenda for this 10th anniversary celebration didn't have a theme, although discussions about the past and future of Nunavut marked the day, reminding everyone that life has changed a lot in Nunavut and will probably change even more in the future.

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The event started with the lighting of the qulliq by elder Suzanne Singuuri, an Ottawa resident originally from Cape Dorset, who talked about the importance of the fat-fueled lamp for heat and light only a few generations ago.

About 200 people turned out in snowy weather to attend the event, where Nunavut Sivuniksavut students and Ottawamiut mingled with former Nunavut and Northwest Territories government leaders and MPs, leaders of Inuit organizations, civil servants and academics.

Picco, Kowesa Etitiq, a former Nunavut Tungavvik staffer, and Peter Irniq, the first commissioner of Nunavut, met up with their old friend Robert Williamson, 77, who lived, worked and studied in the Kivalliq region during the 1950s and 60s.

Williamson, a former member of the NWT territorial council, said he felt proud to see Nunavut reach the age of 10.

Paul Okalik, the first premier of Nunavut, recalled the 10 "wonderful years" he served as premier, calling his former position "the job of a lifetime."

Okalik also gave a talk called "A Vision of Canada from the North" to the Carleton University Alumni Association, an event that also took place Jan. 29 at the national library and archives, but as an invitation-only affair.

Okalik, a Carleton grad, wiped away tears while recalling his older brother's troubles with the law and his subsequent suicide.

Screening of materials from Canada's archives at the event managed to shed light on some moments from the not-so-distant past.

A snippet of film taken in Igloolik in 1937 by the late archeologist Graham Rowley showed a young boy with a large grin mugging for the camera.

He was quickly identified by members of the audience as Aipilik, the father of Rhoda Innuksuk, president of the Pauktuutit national Inuit women's association, who was also there.

Archivists also showed old photos of unidentified Inuit- who are now being identified thanks in part to the efforts of Nunavut Sivuniksavut students.

And a talk on early maps made by Europeans revealed how they viewed the Arctic in totally imaginary ways, with the land fading off into nothingness where they thought explorers would find a route to China.

The screening of an excerpt from a film scheduled for release next month shows how technology can be a vehicle for old ways.

"Before Tomorrow," an Arnait Video production that has already received several major film festival awards, tells the story of a grandmother and a grandson who fend for themselves after tragedy strikes their camp.

And a new exhibit on a sad chapter in the recent past also opened at the library and archives Jan. 29.

It's called "We Were So Far Away: The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools." The display features the stories of eight former students who shared their stories with the "The Legacy for Hope Foundation" and will be showing inside the National Library and Archives building at 395 Wellington St. until Sept. 7.

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