'What they'd like is recognition as communities'
Stop the neglect, two small settlements say
The only thing that the people of Bathurst Inlet and Umingmaktok want, says Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson, is a little recognition.
Nunavut's two smallest settlements, with a combined, year-round population of about 25, according to Peterson, want to be legally recognized as communities by the Department of Community and Government Services so they can qualify for funding.
The problem is that the GN treats the settlements as outpost camps, not communities, a distinction that leaves Bathurst Inlet and Umingmaktok unable to qualify for funding to pay for repairs to their landing strips, houses and tiny health centres.
"What they'd like is recognition as communities," Peterson said in an interview. "They absolutely don't consider themselves outpost camps."
Services in the two settlements are spartan at best. While the Department of Health and Social Services periodically sends them nurses or doctors, day-to-day health care is limited to a "lay-dispenser" who has access to a stash of medicine.
Umingmaktok used to have a combined store and health centre that's still in good shape and could be reopened, Peterson said.
Peterson, whose Cambridge Bay riding includes the two settlements, said he met an elder who took sick in Umingmaktok and had to be transported by snowmobile to the health centre in Cambridge Bay.
"That's like a 14-hour ride on the back of a sled," he said.
They used to have schools, but youth from Bathurst Inlet and Umingmaktok now spend the school year in Cambridge Bay and return during the summer.
That creates a draw to Cambridge for parents who miss their children. They sometimes get stuck in Cambridge Bay, and must wait months before they're eligible for public housing, which has a waiting list of two to three years, Peterson said.
CGS may not consider the two places communities, but Bathurst Inlet and Umingmaktok each have seats on the board of the Kitkimeot Inuit Association. And the Nunavut Impact Review Board plans to hold hearings on the proposed Bathurst Inlet Port and Road project in both settlements next week.
In the legislature, Peterson accused the department of fostering a "benign policy of neglect."
"People are moving away from these two communities because the government won't support them," he said.
Peterson pressed Levinia Brown, the minister of CGS, to revive a pre-division fund that the Government of the Northwest Territories made available to unincorporated communities.
Brown said CGS provides fuel "to the outpost camps" and the Department of Economic Development and Transportation makes some money available for outpost camps.
But she said there is a growing number of outpost camps competing for money from a government that's already strapped for cash.
"We would like to provide for the outpost camps, but if we help one, we have to provide assistance to everyone…" Brown said. "We cannot keep up with the larger communities and even the smaller communities in Nunavut because they keep requesting additional dollars for capital projects when our budget is inadequate."