A look back at 2018 in Nunavik

Inuit leadership comes full circle

Nunavik saw the highest number of suicides on record in 2018, with more than 30 before the end of the year. That prompted regional organizations to convene an emergency meeting in late October to draft a response to the crisis. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

By Sarah Rogers

Newly re-elected Makivik Corp. president Charlie Watt is sworn into his role by Makivik governor Eva Deer in March 2018 during the organization’s board meeting in Puvirnituq. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)

2018 in Nunavik was a year when Inuit leadership came full circle, with the re-election of Makivik Corp. founder Charlie Watt as the organization’s president once again. Watt has pledged to pursue an Inuit self-government for the region.

At the Kativik Regional Government, councillors re-elected Jennifer Munick to another term as chair.

But veteran leadership has not eased the region’s struggle with suicide, as Nunavik saw the highest number of suicides on record in 2018. That number sat at more than 30 earlier this winter, prompting regional organizations to convene an emergency meeting.

2018 also marked a year of frustration and delayed negotiations—some with unions and others with regional organizations trying to renew funding agreements with Quebec and Ottawa.

Here are some of Nunavik’s top stories from over the last 12 months.


  • Inuit leadership in Nunavik comes full circle as one of Makivik Corp.’s co-founders, Charlie Watt, is re-elected as the organization’s newest president. Watt helped establish Makivik in 1978 and served as its first president. He was later appointed as a federal Senator, a role he resigned from in order to return as Makivik’s president.
  • Nunavik Inuit ask to be exempted from Quebec’s new firearms registry, which comes into effect on Jan. 29. Makivik Corp. argues Inuit should be excluded from the registry because of their distinct rights as harvesters under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.


  • A newly released coroner’s report confirms that a 21-year-old man from Kangiqsualujjuaq who died the previous summer had died of tuberculosis—the first recorded death from TB in the region in recent history.
  • The Kativik Regional Government takes the very first step towards bringing fibre optic to the region, by awarding a contract to a firm to do technical work ahead of an undersea survey along the Hudson Bay coast planned for the open-water season.

First Air chair Johnny Adams, left, is pictured with Inuvialuit Regional Corp. chair Duane Smith in Montreal last September, when the two airlines signed an agreement to merge First Air and Canadian North into one pan-Arctic airline. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)


  • Quebec’s independent investigation agency is called in to look at the death of an Inukjuak man, one day after Nunavik police responded to a domestic abuse complaint from the man’s spouse. The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes must investigate any deaths that could be related to police interventions.
  • The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls hosts a week of hearings in Montreal, one day of which is dedicated to Inuit testimony, much of it from Nunavik survivors and their families.


  • Hydro-Québec announces plans to do a controlled release from its almost-full Caniapiscau reservoir. That prompts concerns in Kuujjuaq that the spill could raise water levels in a river of the same name, a tributary of the Koksoak river, which flows through Kuujjuaq. Nunavimmiut can still recall a 1984 dam release that coincided with the drowning deaths of some 9,000 caribou.

Furniture and other belongings from a Kuujjuaq household sit out by the road following a round of evictions in October. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)


  • Makivik Corp.’s one-year-old business development body, Nuvviti Development Corp., is restructured under the direction of Makivik president Charlie Watt, who said the new corporation was duplicating Makivik’s work and taking away Inuit ownership. Makivik appointed a new board of directors and said more changes were likely.


  • A 28-year-old lab technician is found dead on June 12 in her Kuujjuaq home. The following day, Randy Koneak is arrested and charged with her first-degree murder.


  • Makivik President Charlie Watt says that Canada’s eastern Arctic is too big and remote to support two regional airlines, conditions that have prompted another round of merger talks between his organization’s First Air and its rival, Canadian North, which is owned by the Inuvialuit Corporate Group.

Eddy Weetaltuk, a late veteran of the Korean War, will receive a military marker at his Umiujaq gravesite in 2019, installed by the Last Post Fund. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AVATAQ and UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA PRESS)


  • The federal and provincial governments finally make good on a pledge to deliver $125 million to Nunavik through the Connect to Innovate program. That allows the Kativik Regional Government to move ahead with an undersea survey of the Hudson coast, where a fibre optic network will be laid, in addition to the construction of new microwave towers and surplus satellite capacity to boost the region’s bandwidth by 2021.
  • A Quebec Superior Court judge rules that a Kuujjuaq woman does not have to complete a jail sentence until the province can provide a facility for her to serve an intermittent sentence in Nunavik. This highlights a major gap in the region’s correctional system, or lack thereof, which forces offenders to travel outside the region to serve time.


  • Quebec’s provincial election campaign brings a first: two Inuit women are running as candidates. Alisha Tukkiapik, a community worker in Kuujjuaraapik, runs to represent Québec Solidaire in the riding of Ungava, while Mona Belleau, originally from Iqaluit, runs for the provincial NDP in Chauveau, a riding on the outskirts of Quebec City.
  • A group of 20 students begin classes at Nunavik Sivunitsavut, the Montreal-based college program run by Kativik Ilisarniliriniq and modelled after its veteran Nunavut counterpart based in Ottawa. 2018 marks the program’s second year, as well as its transition from a pilot project to a full-fledged program.
  • Two of the country’s largest Inuit-owned airlines announce they will become one. Nunavik’s Makivik Corp., which owns First Air, and the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., owner of Canadian North, sign an agreement on Sept. 28, calling it the creation of one “premier northern airline.”

Lucy Grey, the Inuit liaison for the Viens commission, gives powerful testimony to hearings held in Kuujjuaq at the end of November. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)


  • After a record number of suicides in 2018—many of them Inuit youth—Nunavik’s school board calls for an emergency meeting of regional organizations to draft a response. Kativik Illisarniliriniq says its own school staff are overwhelmed and calls for collective action.
  • A new report prepared by Quebec’s ombudsman calls on the province to provide better support to Nunavik’s school board, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, to help improve education outcomes across the region. The report highlights a lack of Inuktitut-language education and secondary curriculum, teacher shortages and overcrowded housing in the region.
  • The Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau evicts 33 tenants from social housing in response to court-ordered notices to pay up or get out. Among the tenants facing eviction this year, the amount of rent owing varies from about $1,300 to more than $55,000.


  • Quebec’s Viens commission, which is looking at how Indigenous groups are served by certain government programs, hosts hearings in Kuujjuaraapik and Kuujjuaq to gather testimony from Nunavimmiut. Among the testimony gathered, an Inukjuak family that lost their mother and wife, Eva Kullula-Ookpik, who died of botulism poisoning after her illness was misdiagnosed at the local health centre.
  • The Kativik Regional Government Employees Union vote in favour of a strike mandate on Nov. 26. The union, which oversees about 200 employees at Nunavik’s regional administration, is stepping up pressure tactics as the group nears three years without a contract.
  • Kativik Regional Government councillors re-elect incumbent chair Jennifer Munick to a second term Nov. 27. Munick was not re-elected as a municipal councillor in her home community of Kuujjuaq this year, but a rule in the Kativik Act allows sitting chairs to seek re-election. Hilda Snowball of Kangiqsualujjuaq is elected as KRG’s vice-chair.

The Kativik Regional Government’s newly re-elected chair, Jennifer Munick, is pictured here in November at centre; to her left is vice-chair Hilda Snowball. Back row, from left, are executive members Charlie Arngak, Jobie Tukkiapik and Sarollie Weetaluktuk. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)


  • Roughly nine months after Tasers are introduced to four Kativik Regional Police Force detachments in Nunavik, as a way to de-escalate violent altercations, the police force says the tool has been successfully used only once. The issue? Taser darts cannot penetrate heavy clothing, like parkas.
  • With help from a mediator, the Kativik Regional Government management and its more than 200 unionized employees finally reach an agreement following almost three years of contract talks. Union members say they’re “pleased” with the agreement, but they acknowledge that the parties will be back at the negotiating table again in just nine months.
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