Don’t forget Nunavut’s rural and remote regions
We need to focus on improving the quality of life in these smaller communities
ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ ᐅᖃᓕᒫᕈᓐᓇᖅᑕ ᐅᓇ ᐅᕙᓂ ᐳᐃᒍᙱᓪᓗᓯᐅ ᓄᓇᕗᒥᑦ ᐃᓄᖃᙱᓗᐊᖅᑐᓃᑦᑐᑦ ᓄᓇᒋᔭᐅᔪᑦ
We’re celebrating Nunavut’s twentieth birthday by reviewing the territory’s successes and its challenges in areas ranging from music and the visual arts to the economy, the state of Inuktut and climate change. Some notable Nunavummiut are sharing with us what the territory means to them and the changes they’d like to see over the next 20 years.
On March 30, 1999, I was in Iqaluit with my father, Charlie Lyall, who at the time was the president of the Kitikmeot Corporation (an Inuit birthright company under the Kitikmeot Inuit Association umbrella).
That day, we got to tour our nearly complete legislative building and we were immediately impressed by it, with its sealskin-covered chairs and benches, its circular shape meant to represent an iglu, and its symbolic mace made of a narwhal tusk, carved stone and precious gems.
I didn’t fully grasp the importance of this moment, but on that day, we were present for the official unveiling of the mace of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly. We were there to see and support the first members of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
This was a significant moment in Inuit history. The implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act meant that Inuit in Nunavut were moving toward sovereignty. Thanks to many negotiators, Inuit would now have power over their land, water, harvesting rights and culture. For me, the first Nunavut legislature signifies Inuit independence and self-determination.
Inuit in Nunavut have endured being relocated from the land and their nomadic lifestyle to settlements in Canada’s fight to claim the Arctic and its resources. In addition, Inuit faced the pain of their children being taken away for medical purposes (in some cases for years at a time or never to return) and being sent to residential schools where they did not have their family structure, emotional support or the right to speak in their own language.
Along with these physical and emotional challenges, Inuit also had to deal with resource development that significantly altered their harvesting activities, which are still essential to the survival of Inuit culture.
Fast forward to 2019 and Inuit face issues including racism and a misperception of our culture, housing shortages and homelessness, food insecurity, the challenges of holding onto our culture and language, the decline of the caribou, along with amplified climate change and its impacts. Yet, when I think of Inuit and the culture of Nunavut, I think of resiliency.
Even with the highest rates of suicide and high school dropouts and one of the highest rates of incarceration per capita in Canada, Inuit and Nunavut continue to thrive.
Every community in Nunavut has its own remarkable features whether it is dialectal differences in Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun, geographical variation and even differences within our culture regarding how we conduct our harvesting activities by seasons and needs.
One issue that is comparable across our territory is being able to access basic necessities of life such as food and housing. These are not new topics; we are still struggling. The way we can ensure that necessities are available, not just by community or territory/province but for all of Canada, is to invest in our rural and remote regions.
We need to encourage our governments to be more innovative and creative in accomplishing this. We can never stop asking ourselves as leaders and community members, “How can we do better?”
Imagine going into a smaller community like Taloyoak, for example, which is a non-decentralized community (most Nunavut communities are non-decentralized, meaning that government jobs have not been distributed there) of about 1,000 people.
This is my hometown. Life is hard here. The majority of Taloyoak residents rely on social assistance from the government. That’s generally about $600 a month.
It is guaranteed you are making that money stretch for a family of three or more. Even if you are purchasing basic items like bread, milk, butter and eggs, that’s already almost $50 in Taloyoak, so you can imagine how fast that money runs out.
The community runs on trucked water and sewage services, like many places in Nunavut. If you live in a community with trucked services, you know what it’s like to run out of water (sometimes for more than just a day) or experience sewage overflowing in your “backyard.” People turn into good water preservers because of this.
When it comes to applying for a job here, you have a very limited set of options. Your choices for employment include a job with the hamlet (usually lower level), a job at the Co-op or Northern stores, or if you’re lucky you qualify for a government job. There are also only a couple of small businesses that exist in Taloyoak, and those that have survived over time really make a difference in the community.
We don’t have licensed plumbers, or electricians, so if you own your home, you end up having to get creative with what you can do. When I say we need investment in our smaller rural and remote communities in Canada, I’m not kidding.
If you have never been to a non-decentralized community, it’s a rude awakening, because if you come from a city or even our capital of Iqaluit, you are accustomed to what you think is basic access to a lot of things.
It is only then that outsiders realize that there is still a serious need. We need to pay attention to and focus on improving the quality of life in these communities. They matter, and we need to show that by taking action.
When I think back to that time that my father and I were in Iqaluit, it was a time of hope for so many of us. We have come a long way and there is still a distance to go. We still have our culture and most importantly we are still trying.
Megan Pizzo Lyall is the manager of operations with Atuqtuarvik Corporation and resides in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Her vision for Inuit includes the same access to employment and services as the rest of Canada and prosperity in Inuit languages and culture.