The big question: Will voters choose change or continuity?
Kaludjak faces three challengers for NTI's top job
When Nunavut beneficiaries go to the polls March 18 to elect a president for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., they'll choose between an incumbent who stresses continuity and three strong challengers who all promise change.
The incumbent president, Paul Kaludjak, first won the job in 2004 by defeating Cathy Towtongie in a closely-fought contest.
In his quest for a second four-year term, Kaludjak says that now is not the time for beneficiaries to choose a new NTI president.
"I feel Nunavut Tunngavik is not ready for change. We need continuity," Kaludjak said in an interview.
He said that's because he wants to carry through with two big projects that started under his watch: NTI's billion-dollar lawsuit against the federal government over the failure to reach a new implementation contract for the land claims agreement, and a big plan aimed at restructuring and re-organizing NTI.
"The main focus is the lawsuit… I want to maintain that pressure," Kaludjak said.
As for the restructuring of NTI, Kaludjak says the plan, distributed at the organization's annual meeting this past fall, would make the organization more "cost-effective and streamlined."
He also listed a number of NTI measures, started under his watch, that he considers to be examples of success:
- the signing of the 2004 Iqqanaijaqatigiit agreement with the GN, a follow-up to the Clyde River Protocol agreement signed in 1999;
- regular meetings between NTI's board and the Nunavut cabinet, and regular meetings between NTI and GN officials;
- a cost control effort that resulted in the Nunavut Trust's original capital being restored;
- the creation of a more "user-friendly" NTI.
"Everyone saw NTI as the enemy. I wanted to make NTI a user-friendly organization," Kaludjak said.
Like the other two challengers, Abraham Tagalik, a former broadcaster and senior government manager, does not share this perception.
"I think people feel in general that they are not included. A lot of people in the communities feel they need to be heard. It's not about me, it's about them," Tagalik said.
Tagalik is well-known throughout Nunavut for his work in the 1980s as a broadcaster with CBC and the Inuit Broadcasting Corp.
In the early 1990s, he moved from broadcasting into management work, serving as chair of Television Northern Canada and then CEO of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. At the Government of Nunavut, Tagalik served as an assistant deputy minister within the Department of Health and Social Services and as vice-president of the Nunavut Housing Corp.
"I think I've been building up for this for quite a while now," Tagalik said. "People approached me who are not happy with what they are seeing."
Tagalik also served as a member of the Nunavut Arbitration Board, an experience that provided him with good knowledge of all aspects of the Nunavut land claim agreement and issues related to implementation.
To get beneficiaries more involved in NTI, Tagalik has a number of suggestions, such as taking a second look at the Wildlife Harvesters' Program.
The program disburses money to individual hunters, helping them to buy snowmobiles, boats and other pieces of hunting equipment.
But Tagalik thinks NTI should consider using the money for collective purposes, such as special hunts aimed at getting meat to feed the entire community.
He also says NTI should make a major effort to reach out to youth, given that about 60 per cent of Nunavut's population is under the age of 25.
Mikidjuk Akavak, also well-known by his nickname "Mickey," is a former mayor and hamlet councillor from Kimmirut who now lives in Ottawa.
"I hope I will be a fresh voice, making a bit of a difference out there," Akavak said.
A journeyman electrician who has worked as an electrical contractor since 1992, Akavak says he has no problem understanding the Nunavut land claims agreement and other pieces of legislation.
That's because as an electrician, he's mastered the complicated twists and turns of the electrical code.
"I've been dealing with legislation ever since I started dealing with electricity – the electrical code changes every four years," Akavak said.
Akavak served on the board of Canada Post Corp., which he says gave him a good understanding of Nunavut's logistical challenges.
And for the past seven and a half years, he has served on the board of the Atuqtuarvik Corp., an experience that helped him understand Nunavut's banking needs and the difficulties faced by Inuit-owned companies and small businesses.
Akavak said NTI needs a fresh leader with a vision who can "empower" beneficiaries, especially those who feel most left out: the residents of Nunavut's smaller communities.
One way to do that, Akavak said, is to create "value-added" development projects in the smaller communities.
He also said that NTI needs to look at "strategic investments" in the economy, in areas such as the fishery.
As for the language issue, Akavak says the Inuit language thrives in places where the entire community makes an effort to use the language. That tells him that legislation alone is not enough to preserve the language.
"We have to take control of the language issue," Akavak said.
Another candidate who believes that NTI needs a new leader and a new vision is Jack Anawak, the former MP and Nunavut cabinet minister.
"I think there's a real leadership vacuum in Nunavut organizations. We need visionaries, we need dreamers who can look at the big picture," Anawak said.
Anawak, a former president of the Keewatin Inuit Association, served as the Liberal MP for the old Nunatsiaq riding between 1988 and 1997. After spending two years as interim commissioner, Anawak served as a minister in Nunavut's first government.
He says that the Nunavut project has not lived up to what Inuit expected and that poor leadership is part of the reason.
"I know there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with the way NTI is run," Anawak said.
He said he decided to run after a series of tragedies last fall – suicides, a homicide, and a fatal accident – that shook his family.
"No one is crying out and saying, ‘what's happening here?" Anawak said. "It's not good enough to say ‘it's too bad.'"
He said NTI should exert more influence on the Government of Nunavut, especially in the area of health and social services.
And, like other candidates, he said that NTI must make a major effort to reach out to youth. He suggests that NTI create a position on its board for a youth representative.
"My generation has to understand that the youth are going through things that we have no idea of," Anawak said.
He also said NTI should do more to provide funding for young beneficiaries who want to go to college or university, pointing out that First Nations groups like the Dogrib "go all out" to help their young people get educated.
The 2008 NTI election at a glance
President: Paul Kaludjak (incumbent), Abraham Tagalik, Mikidjuk Akavak, Jack Anawak
Vice president of finance: Raymond Ningocheak (incumbent), James T. Arreak, Jayko Aloolloo
Who's eligible to vote?
Any Inuk beneficiary aged 16 or older who is enrolled or eligible to be enrolled in the Nunavut land claims agreement may cast a ballot.
When do I vote?
Election Day is March 18. Polling stations are open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.
An advance poll will be conducted March 11.
Where do I vote?
There will be a polling station in each Nunavut community, as well as in Ottawa and Yellowknife.
Beneficiaries may request proxy forms from Adamie Itorcheak, the chief returning officer, or from community liaison officers.
The chief returning officer may be reached at 1-866-979-2111. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.