Simonie Michael served on territorial council, helped launch Project Surname
First elected Inuk legislator dead at 75
Even in death, the man who paved the way for Inuit representation in territorial government was still affecting political events.
Simonie Michael died last week in Iqaluit's Qikiqtani General Hospital. He was 75.
In 1966, he became the first Inuk elected to represent the eastern Arctic in what was then the Territorial Council of the Northwest Territories.
This week, Nunavut's premier, Eva Aariak, postponed the swearing-in ceremony for members of Nunavut's third legislative assembly from Tuesday to Wednesday to honour Michael's legacy and to allow MLAs and government officials to pay their respects.
In a news release announcing the date change, Aariak called Michael's election 1n 1966 "an important step forward in the evolution of our territory and its democratic institutions. It is appropriate that we recognize his service to Nunavut by taking the time to reflect on his legacy."
Michael's funeral was to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 18, at Iqaluit's Cadet Hall, to accommodate the expected crowds. Weather problems led the funeral to be postponed to Wednesday.
While serving in the territorial council, Michael played a key role in pushing for the elimination of disk numbers to identify Inuit, an initiative that led to the development of Project Surname.
Michael also served his community on the Iqaluit municipal council, as president of the Apex Recreational Council, and on the vestry council of St. Simon's church in Apex, where he lived.
"Simonie was one of the first Inuit I ever met when I came here in 1956," said Astro Theatre proprietor Bryan Pearson.
Michael often served as a translator in those days, Pearson said, because he was the only Inuk who could speak English at the time.
They later formed a business together called Inuk Ltd., that ran a taxi and a bus service, and a cleaning business that employed up to 50 people.
Pearson described Michael as "a real doer and a good friend," even though the two were sometimes political opponents.
"He was very cheerful and welcoming," said Rev. Mike Gardner. "And always a good friend."