Kathy Okpik returns to top job at Nunavut’s Education Department

William MacKay replaces Okpik as DM of executive and intergovernmental affairs

Kathy Okpik will return to a position she held for many years: deputy minister in charge of Nunavut’s Education Department. (File photo)

By Nunatsiaq News

Kathy Okpik will depart from her position as deputy minister of executive and intergovernmental affairs and return to her former job as deputy minister of education, Premier Joe Savikataaq announced today.

Okpik, who had served as the Education Department’s top administrator for many years, has served as deputy minister of EIA since December 2017, when she replaced veteran civil servant Chris D’Arcy, who has since left the GN.

The vacant DM position at the Education Department opened up recently after Louise Flaherty left the job last June to work in the private sector.

William MacKay, until now the deputy minister of justice, will serve as deputy minister of EIA, which is the most powerful non-elected position at the GN.

Meanwhile, Pujjuut Kusugak will leave the public service, departing from the deputy minister position at Culture and Heritage. Kusugak had earlier served as DM of education.

“Premier Savikataaq thanks Pujjuut Kusugak for his guidance in his roles as deputy minister of culture and heritage and education, and wishes him all the best as he moves into new opportunities,” said a GN news release.

At the same time, veteran civil servant Simon Awa will become acting deputy minister of justice.

All of those appointments are effective on Sept. 9.

Also, Gideonie Joamie will become acting deputy minister of culture and heritage, until Oct 21.

That’s when Theresa Hughes will become the permanent DM of culture and heritage.

“As we head into the last half of our Turaaqtavut mandate, it is clear that we need to build on the momentum of our accomplishments to date. These changes balance the varied skills and passions of these individuals, with the substantial work to be done,” Savikataaq said in the news release.

Also, Jimi Onalik is now “formally welcomed” as associate deputy minister of economic development and transportation, the GN news release said.

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(21) Comments:

  1. Posted by Shuffle the deck on

    Paul Quassa should never have put Pujjuut Kusugak in the DM of Education slot to begin with, it was a grossly negligent move on his part which can only be explained by what must have been some kind of magical thinking. Also, this is not a shot at Pujjuut, but at the poor judgement of our former premier.

    • Posted by Qungaatalluriktuq on

      Ivvituaq isunavutin taimaak, niruaqtaulauqniqputin uqallatuinnangillutin..

  2. Posted by Colin on

    Having previous presided over Nunavut’s education disaster for so long, why should Kathy return? Ironically, her father Abe said Inuit should be educated for the modern world.

    Here are the dots that need joining. Educated and skilled people in or preparing for rewarding employment seldom, commit suicide, are seldom murder victims, seldom disappear and seldom go to jail.

    Evidently, it has been Nunavut policy to PREVENT preparation of Inuit youth for the professional and managerial jobs in their own lands, or at least not up to standards coming anywhere close to acceptable standards for the real world.

    There are places that have solved Nunavut’s educational challenges. One is multi-lingual, multi-ethic Singapore, where education for everyone from the start is in English. In 1965, Singapore was a real Third World country with a lower per capita income than Inuit had at that time. Today Singapore’s high tech economy surpasses Canada’s on almost all counts. And, by the way, native language retention is not a problem because people take pride in retaining it and make an effort to do so within the family.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      Your comparison to Singapore is ridiculous as numbers speak volume. Millions versus 30 thousand scattered around nunavut. Once you have 400 people in a community all learning in English and are on their devises watching all english programming of course their language is threatened. Playing video games conversing in english is a threat to the Inuit language. Parents all on Facebook writing in English. Parents who go to work and have to speak English. When do we ever have the time to learn our own mother tongue when our mother speaks English as society controls this. So yes, we need to learn our language in the childcare centers and in the school system as our language is as just sophisticated as English with rules.
      As for Mr. Okpik, he knew we had to join the Canadian economy and he was just doing his job as he knew how. In those days hardly Inuit were educated in this system of education but they knew what was best for our people at the time of becoming canadians. He was one of the very few that actually spoke and wrote English so please dont condone him for his actions at the time. We have more serious issues to deal with than going back to mistakes, we need to move forward and believe in our people. Kathy is a strong woman who has endured BS from anonymous people but reality is we really are few in numbers we are asked to work on all areas of our economy. The mines are calling our people, the feds, the GN, the Inuit orgs and all the other business sectors but we just are not enough in numbers. 37k Nunavummiut, take away the children and elders we are down to about 12k employable people and that is a very small pool of people to choose from. And of those 12k how many have been educated with degrees and how many of those who have degrees speak our language? Instead of comparing to Singapore you should be comparing to Greenland. Greenland did it after almost losing their language and now it’s the first and foremost in their system of education which is standardized. We just need to go forward with standardization before we completely lose our very special and unique language we need to become proud again and stop the lateral violence which we have too much of..

    • Posted by English only on

      The last part of your statement is laughable. Western Nunavut is pretty much English only. How are they doing?

      Education is a mess in Nunavut for a number of reasons, from the incompetent administration, revolving door of teachers, and children who aren’t supported at home. Language of instruction is superficial issue that could be fixed within the next 20 years if the GN actually starts working on it.
      If you want to prevent misery and suicide, you need to inject more culture into the mundane world of bureaucracy, not eliminate it.

  3. Posted by Arrested Development on

    3 of the Inuit Deputy Ministers appointed by Quassa are now gone. They were teachers, successful business owners, an experienced professional with a history of success in Inuit Organizations, a former mayor.

    In their place are a man who until recently was an airline cargo handler, and a woman who has spent the last 10 years fetching coffee for various Ministers.

    It would appear Joe knows how it looks for high profile Inuit DMs to depart in such quick succession, and is trying to keep those numbers up.

    It wasn’t so long ago we were celebrating a Premier who put forward an ambitious agenda for increasing Inuktitut use in the GN. Since there will be no leadership review, I wonder how the MLA’s are going to hold Joe to account in a few weeks?

    • Posted by Conspiracy Theory on

      I get the sense you think there is a conspiracy against Inuit in all this? Is that true?

  4. Posted by Most powerful on

    It’s so F** up politics the premier is playing with continuous shuffling with these high profile positions. Look at the Justice Minister is given another highly powerful position. La la la

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      Seriously, mr. Oksliq did way more shuffling than this but not too sure about Aariak and Taptuna.

  5. Posted by Sugami on

    I have to say that Pudjuut didn’t have the skills as a DM in any department. He’s never even managed a school or staff other then being a one time mayor. I’m sorry he was put into such a high profile job just because of his name. Having his Uncle as Minister and mother as commisioner may have helped to place him in the position as DM. He was really set up to fail, so sad for a young man.
    I hope Kathy believes the DEA’s and that they are capible of have more authority.
    I actually think EIA will better without her. She didn’t seem to do well there.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      Please explain why she didn’t do well at EIA do you work there? How do you know pudjut didn’t do well? We seriously have issues around the territory with so much disfunction and that is not his fault, the disagreements between the regions is certainly not his fault, creating policies is getting more and more difficult and challenging because of our small.population with too much infighting in our own little communities. Perhaps we need to bring central education back due to shortage of teachers in our communities. We can have specialized schools in each region and have our youth chose the most relevant for them and follow their interest.

      • Posted by Herbie on

        Pujjuut was appointed for one reason and one reason alone, his last name. If you don’t accept this reality please offer an alternate explanation. I would love to hear it. This was a reckless move on the part of Quassa and certainly casts light on how he eventually lost the confidence of the Members of the Legislature.

  6. Posted by Joyce on


  7. Posted by Bbff on

    The key to improving our schools does not lie in the hands of one person. It is the role of the dea’s school staff , parents and the community. The community includes the politicians and the media I am so tired of watching the bashing of schools and the lashing out at those who serve or government and it’s institutions. Let’s begin to live IQ and be more careful of the messages we send out. Out educations systems and our students are already fragile enough and leadership must become aware of the power of their messages, and their critical role Of promoting hope and prosperity in education, culture and language right for all. Please stop bashing education in the media!!!

  8. Posted by Bbff on

    The key to improving our schools does not lie in the hands of one person. It is the role of the dea’s school staff , parents and the community. The community includes the politicians and the media I am so tired of watching the bashing of schools and the lashing out at those who serve or government and it’s institutions. Let’s begin to live IQ and be more careful of the messages we send out. Out educationsystems and our students are already fragile enough and leadership must become aware of the power of their messages, and their critical role Of promoting hope and prosperity in education, culture and language right for all. Please stop bashing education in the media!!!

    • Posted by Ex teacher on

      That is true to a point but when you have the top administration working to improve education and they are not doing a good job this will flow down to the staff and schools in the territory.
      So you do need these DM, ADM’s and Directors/managers to be at their best and working to improve education for Nunavut not copy a southern system that is obviously not working in Nunavut.
      NTEP needs to be revised and improved to produce the Inuktitut teachers, curriculum is needed for Inuktut and a standard is needed for Inuktut.
      Enough of coping Alberta and produce something that will work for Nunavut.

      • Posted by OMG on

        Ex-teacher, what kind of Alberta coping strategies did you have in mind?

        • Posted by D on

          I think it’s supposed to be copying Alberta !

          • Posted by Ex Teacher on


            sorry my big thumb missed the y on my phone.

  9. Posted by Putuguk on

    I find it odd how fixated we are in Nunavut over the composition of government senior management.

    If you asked anyone down south, even in tiny provinces, about who their Deputy Ministers are -besides the infrequent ethics or personal scandal – they would not have a clue, nor would they rightly care.

    Senior government officials are rarely if ever the agents of positive systemic change. They are at best, the able administrators of well thought out process. They are important team leaders and we do need capable ones. On the face of it, this latest crop of DMs seem as capable as any other. When a DM of Education is doing their job well, they should have very little to do with individual schools, principals, teachers or students. The expectations we have for these folks are well out of proportion to what their jobs are actually about.

    We really have to get out of this continuous mental rut that simply having our own government and staffing it as we like was actually going to solve our problems.

    Instead, be the “Deputy Minister” of Education in your home. Send your kids to school, encourage your neighbor to send their kids to school, maybe run for the local DEA if you have some good ideas, welcome new teachers and support your local ones, keep kids out of stores during the school day and send them home at night, and read to your kids or grand-kids. If you have time, volunteer for youth or kids activities that promote attendance. Go to parent teacher interviews and pay attention to what is said. Do your part with your kid’s teachers to help them achieve success.

    All these things have nothing to do with running the Education department. But these things truly would assist Nunavut education in an immeasurable way.

    • Posted by Qublu on

      That’s down south, there are much differences from southern Canada to the north, can be different countries all together.
      Here in Nunavut the senior management have a lot of control and direction, but with a system that is not working, that is dysfunctional and lacking teaching standards and resources in Inuktut it is easy to blame the parents and not look at the current system.

      Most of us do our part, the high turn over rate of teachers, not having enough teachers, no curriculum, teaching materials, no standards, there is only so much us parents can do the rest has to come from the department of education and the top management.

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