Iqaluit is future home of Nunavut heritage centre

Construction costs for ambitious museum could top $55 million

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Iqaluit is the future location for a Nunavut Heritage Centre to store and display Inuit artifacts discovered in the eastern Arctic, but now stored in museums outside the territory, the Government of Nunavut announced last week.

Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut’s culture minister, said Iqaluit is the most accessible place for Nunavummiut and visitors alike to see the artifacts.

“That was the main purpose,” he said.

Of course, it’s also less expensive to build and run a heritage centre in Nunavut’s capital. Iqaluit beat out seven other communities considered: Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Cambridge Bay, Baker Lake, Igloolik, Pond Inlet and Kugaaruk.

Most Inuit artifacts discovered in the Eastern Arctic are stored in Yellowknife’s Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre or the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Luke Suluk, president of the Inuit Heritage Trust, said in some cases, these artifacts are boxed up in musty storage rooms, out of sight.

The Government of Nunavut estimates that since 1999, they’ve spent about $1 million in the shared costs of storing artifacts at Yellowknife’s heritage centre.

Last fall, the GN set aside $10 million towards building a heritage centre in its capital budget.

That money came from the federal government through its Northern Strategy, which gave Nunavut $40 million to spend on projects that would help bolster the territory’s economy.

But that $10 million commitment is just a fraction of what’s needed to finish the heritage centre. A study pegs the total cost at $55 million.

One reason for the expense is that some artifacts are so fragile, slight changes in temperature and humidity may cause irreversible damage. To protect them, expensive environmental controls are needed.

Tapardjuk said the GN hopes the federal government will cough up more cash for the project. The Nunavut Trust is another possible investor.

He said the annual cost of operating the heritage centre isn’t yet known. Neither is the future location of the Heritage Centre site in Iqaluit.

Tapardjuk defended the choice of putting the heritage centre in Iqaluit, rather than a community in greater need of visitors and jobs, by pointing to the Nunavut land claim agreement.

The agreement spells out the need for a heritage centre for Inuit artifacts, and Tapardjuk said fulfilling that agreement was the priority, not creating jobs for communities.

“This is not about the devolution policy. It’s part of the land claim,” Tarpardjuk said. “We have a legal obligation.”

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Paul Kaludjak said he was encouraged to see another part of the land claim moving towards implementation. He added a heritage culture would help draw tourists to Iqaluit.

“No doubt it’ll get world-wide exposure. We can’t wait to see it be put up.”

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