From there to here: Former Nunatsiaq editor reminisces on paper’s 50th anniversary
Matthew Spence moved to Iqaluit as a reporter in 1988; saw Nunavut become a territory
I was happy to receive a call from the current editor of Nunatsiaq News to notify me that this is the 50th anniversary of the newspaper with an offer to provide a bit of a retrospective from my time when I had the honour to be the editor.
I had the privilege of both serving and then trying to fill the shoes of another editor, Kelly Curwin, who not only helped teach me to become a journalist but also took me into her house and contributed to the life-changing experience which was Iqaluit.
There are so many things that I would talk about, but today life is very fleeting – we are bombarded with so much information each day. Life in 1990 was quite different: Everybody looked forward to the weekly paper.
My greatest compliment was when someone remarked on a story I had written. Whether they liked the story or not, they generally wanted to have a rational discussion. Something that seems lacking today.
I grew up in Yellowknife but I came from Kingston, Ont., in May 1988 after graduating from university. I had applied to Nunatsiaq News to become a local reporter. I was excited about the opportunity – there was lots going on. I used to say you could smell the potential in the air … My mother had called me in Kingston to let me know about the job.
That potential is still there. Nunavut weathered COVID-19 and there are enough jobs for everyone who wants to work. Mining is making a significant contribution, and the Government of Nunavut is focusing on important priorities like education and housing.
Nunavut has significant social issues, but I am very hopeful that the investments that have been made will pay off in the future.
When I showed up in May 1988, there were still signs of a society that had come North and ultimately dominated and changed the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit. For instance, there were signs in the local bar called the “zoo” where a wall had divided the community along ethnic lines. The wall had been recently taken down, but prior to that it relegated the Inuit to one side while the non-Indigenous residents had access to both sides.
When I arrived to cover the news of the day in what was still the N.W.T., things were beginning to change for the better. Negotiations for the Nunavut Agreement were going on and I remember interviewing Paul Quassa, who was the chief negotiator at the time.
It was a very formative discussion because his vision included not only the Nunavut Agreement but the creation of the Nunavut Territory – Inuit Nunangat.
That reality happened in April 1999 and I had the honour of running in the inaugural election for the Nunavut Assembly. I had declared early, hoping to scare off any significant opposition. It didn’t work, and Paul Okalik went on to be the first premier of Nunavut.
Today, the territory under the leadership of Premier P.J. Akeeagok, is growing stronger. There are still problems, but we know these can be overcome if we all work together.
Congratulations, Nunatsiaq News – you have been an important part of the solution for the past 50 years.