Looking back at Nunavik in 2019
The region receives a new MP and takes a step toward self-government
2019 was a year that put Nunavik’s self-determination on show.
A critical step toward the region’s self-government was taken in 2019 as Makivik Corp. President Charlie Watt signed a framework agreement with the federal government.
His co-signer, Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, retained her position in cabinet after the fall election, signalling a positive path forward for self-government talks.
The federal election also saw the Bloc Québécois take the massive northern and northwestern Quebec riding of Abibtibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou. Shortly after the election of MP Sylvie Bérubé, Watt released a statement expressing congratulations but also the need for Nunavik to be represented by its own riding.
The year also brought infrastructure struggles: the loss of a community arena, and the shuttering of schools, daycares and community centres due to mould or other damage.
The justice system saw many ups and downs with the loss of a legal aid representative in the region, offset by the opening of a clinic offering legal aid. And a class-action lawsuit against the Province of Quebec remains on the books, representing offenders who have experienced unreasonably long detention periods due to a lack of correctional facilities in the region.
But a bright spot came with the start of an alternative justice program for offenders of minor crimes committed while under the influence of addictive substances.
Here are some of Nunavik’s top stories from the past 12 months.
- The Nunavik Board of Health and Social Services responded to a Quebec Human Rights and Youth Commission investigation into the treatment of Nunavik youth in southern foster homes. After the investigation launched in December, the board clarified that children are only ever moved out of the region as a last resort and that all provincial guidelines are followed. The board said it was fully co-operating with the investigation and later agreed to review its services.
- Nunavik voters ushered in change at their Inuit birthright organization in January with the election of two women to its executive—a first in 20 years at Makivik Corp. On Jan. 17, Nunavimmiut elected Maggie Emudluk as Makivik’s new vice-president of economic development and Rita Novalinga as its new corporate secretary.
- Inuk singer-songwriter Elisapie was nominated for the Juno Awards’ Indigenous Music Album of the Year, for her album The Ballad of the Runaway Girl. Born in Salluit, Elisapie (surname Isaac) is also a documentary filmmaker and activist.
- With Salluit mourning the loss of a teenager in late January, Quebec’s independent investigation agency spent two days in the community looking into the local police’s response to her death. The Kativik Regional Police Force received a call early on Jan. 27 requesting help in finding a 15-year-old girl. Her body was found over 12 hours later with the search called off temporarily due to a blizzard. The report from the investigation has gone forward to prosecutors to determine whether charges should be laid.
- The closure of Nunavik’s only permanently staffed legal aid office was announced. The lawyer previously working from Kuujjuaq, Valérie Bergeron-Boutin, left her position on March 15. The Centre Communautaire Juridique Abitibi-Témiscaminque was unable to replace her.
- Kangirsuk mourned the death of Mary Joanna Mucco, 35, after she was found dead in the evening of Feb. 12. Mucco was a well-known community member, mother and kindergarten teacher at Kangirsuk’s Sautjuit school. Her husband, Willie Jr. Thomassie, 39, was charged with manslaughter and negligence causing death.
- Nunavik’s Ivakkak dogsled race crowned its winners on March 10, and a pair of mushers from Tasiujaq celebrated victory for the second consecutive year. Musher Willie Cain Jr. and his partner Ken Labbe completed the race in 57 hours and 41 minutes.
Ivakkak started earlier this year with racers departing from Chisasibi on Feb. 26. The starting line was also the farthest south the race has been so far, sending teams up James Bay and along the Hudson coast.
- Nunavik’s long-awaited cellular service arrived in Quaqtaq on March 19.
Ice Wireless launched its new 3G LTE mobile service in the first of Nunavik’s 14 communities. Ice Wireless, which already operates in Iqaluit, plans to offer cellular service throughout Nunavik, with national and international roaming, through its parent company, Iristel.
- Quebec’s budget, announced March 21, offered a renewal of a cost-of-living agreement for Nunavik that had been in the process of negotiation for the previous two years. That new agreement will pay out $115.8 million to Nunavik organizations over six years to subsidize the cost of airfares, gasoline, food and harvesting equipment, elders’ expenses and household appliances across the region. The new funding provides an annual $8-million boost to the cost-of-living subsidy the region had been receiving in recent years.
- The Nunavik Community Justice Centre opened its doors in Inukjuak with a mandate to offer legal information, support and referral services to the region. This can include information on child alimony, accessing legal aid, divorce and registering a death—all services that aren’t typically offered in Nunavik communities. The centre’s new office is in the Alakkariallak building in Inukjuak, although the service is available to all Nunavik residents.
- Quebec’s Human Rights and Youth Commission called on the provincial government to address what it called urgent and ongoing gaps in Nunavik’s youth protection system. The commission has investigated different aspects of youth protection in the region for over a decade and released a worrying report in 2007. In a March 18 letter sent to Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann, commission president Philippe-André Tessier said there remain “deep concerns” about the welfare of Nunavik children and youth.
- Kangirsuk lost its hockey arena to a major fire on April 7. The fire is suspected to have started in the furnace room, likely due to a faulty heating system, municipal officials said at the time. The building’s exterior structure was still intact, but the arena’s interior was largely destroyed in the fire.
- Nunavik’s school board and the region’s police force signed an agreement clarifying the relationship between the two organizations.
The agreement between Kativik Ilisarniliriniq and the Kativik Regional Police Force came into effect on April 12 and secured funding for three new prevention officers, based in Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq and Salluit, to tour the region’s schools. The second part of the agreement provided guidelines on how police officers should approach the school and students during emergency situations.
- Makivik Corp. and the Nayumivik Landholding Corp. in Kuujjuaq signed a letter of intent with a junior mining company looking to build a 185-kilometre haul road south from the community to an open-pit rare earths mine. The agreement was signed with Vancouver-based Commerce Resources Corp. on May 15. The company wants to develop its Ashram deposit into Canada’s first mine for rare earth elements—in growing demand for use in digital devices like cellphones, tablets, flat-screen TVs and hybrid vehicles.
- Nunavik performer Beatrice Deer won Best Folk Album for her record My All To You at the May 17 Indigenous Music Awards. Her track Fox was also nominated in the Best Music Video category.
- Hydro-Québec signed a power purchase agreement with the parties behind a hydroelectric project in Inukjuak on May 27.
Pituvik Landholding Corp. and Innergex Development Corp. plan to build the Innavik hydroelectric project, a run-of-river 7.5-megawatt generating station along the Inukjuak river. The 40-year agreement with Hydro-Québec will see Innavik sell hydroelectric power for a fixed annual amount to the utility.
- The Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau announced Nunavik would receive 64 new social housing units in 2020, spread across six of the region’s communities.Kangiqsujuaq and Puvirnituq will be the big recipients of new homes, with 16 units destined for each community (eight one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units each). Kangiqsualujjuaq, Kuujjuaraapik, Salluit and Umiujaq will each receive eight new housing units in 2020.
- Kuujjuaq’s Hannah Tooktoo set off on June 16 to bike across Canada to raise awareness of the high suicide rates among Inuit and other Indigenous peoples.
Tooktoo, a visual arts student who now lives in Montreal, started her journey at Mile Zero in Victoria and documented her travels with videos and posts on her Facebook page.
- On June 18, Makivik Corp. signed an agreement with the federal government that will serve as a framework for negotiations towards an Inuit self-government for the region.
Signed by Makivik President Charlie Watt and Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, the memorandum of understanding, in development since last fall, outlined Makivik’s objectives, a timeline for discussions, a work plan, dispute resolution and funding.
- Quebec’s Crown prosecutor’s office cleared police officers of any wrongdoing in the 2017 death of David Sappa in Umiujaq.
Kativik Regional Police Force officers shot and killed Sappa in late December, when he was armed and, according to police, threatening officers and community members. Investigators visited the community to look into the circumstances of Sappa’s death and the police response to the incident.
- A Nunavik Inuit veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces was honoured for his service with the installation of a new military grave marker. Eddy Weetaltuk of Umiujaq was a veteran of the Korean War and served 15 years with the armed forces. He died at home in Nunavik in 2005 at age 73, and was buried in the cemetery outside his home community. Weetaltuk’s gravesite—adorned with artificial flowers and a simple wooden cross—was previously missing any mention of his military service.
- Nunavik business owner Jobie Peters filed a lawsuit against the Northern Village of Kuujjuaq in an effort to stop the municipal government from providing contract services to third parties in competition with his local business. Peters argued the Northern Village is using its own heavy equipment and employees to perform private contracts in Kuujjuaq, creating illegal and unfair competition for other private businesses, like his, J. Peters Garage Inc. He sought $3 million in damages.
- Staff at the Inuulitsivik health and social services centre in Puvirnituq decried the toxic work environment in a letter to officials and health board staff. Over the past 18 months, there had been “serious and ongoing issues that staff are experiencing with the upper management” of Inuulitisivik, the letter said. It continued that Inuulitsivik has been “arbitrarily suspending and dismissing staff without due cause,” citing personal vendettas as the root of some of these actions.
The letter was signed by 14 employees at Inuulitsivik and the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Village of Puvirnituq, who signed in support.
- Passengers on an Air Inuit Boeing 737-200 flight from Montreal to Puvirnituq in late August suffered extreme turbulence that injured several passengers. Facebook messages from the event suggested there was blood on the floor of the plane. The plane’s autopilot is said to have malfunctioned near La Grande, where the jet usually stops, causing a sudden drop in altitude.
- Quebec’s Ministry of Environment notified partners behind the Innavik Hydro Project they had cleared environmental assessment.
The proposed 7.5-megawatt dam on the Inukjuak River is a partnership between Inukjuak’s Pituvik Landholding Corp. and Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. “The only approval we’re waiting on now is for the Quebec Energy Board to approve the power purchase agreement in October,” said Pituvik President Eric Atagotaaluk. “That will pretty much make everything official.”
- The securing of the last $21 million needed to build the new Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre in Kuujjuaq was announced on Aug. 29. Yvonne Jones, parliamentary secretary to the minister of intergovernmental and northern affairs and internal trade, made the announcement at a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility on Nuvuuk Bay beside the Koksoak River.
- Ice Wireless’s cellular customers in Kuujjuaq continued to suffer from spotty service, Kativik Regional Government regional councillors heard during their September meeting. The company has offered 3G service in Kuujjuaq since May, shortly after introducing the service in Quaqtaq. But only between 30 to 40 per cent of calls succeed said the regional government’s director of administration, Daryl Cobden. “It was supposed to have been a turnkey solution.… We’ve been spending a lot of time on this project in Kuujjuaq, we have a very intermittent, unreliable, prone to failure system,” Combden said.
- Quebec’s order of nurses revoked the licence of Marc Voisine who worked in Nunavik from 2007 to 2013 and in the James Bay Cree region in 1996.
Voisine is accused of sexually abusing a patient in 2017, while working at a remote nursing station on Anticosti Island. No charges have been laid yet against Voisine by the Sureté du Québec, and none of the allegations have been proven in court. The Sept. 6 decision to revoke Voisine’s licence stemmed from the need to protect the public, the judgment said.
- The Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau postponed its fall evictions until spring 2020. This change was welcomed by regional councillors who voiced concerns about the people in their communities with no place to go in cold weather. Marie-France Brisson, the housing bureau’s director general, said between 93 and 97 per cent of tenants in most communities are now paying their rent and avoiding eviction.
- The Kativik Regional Police Force faced a major staffing shortage, with more than 20 officers having resigned in the months leading up to the September meeting of the Kativik Regional Government. Police chief Jean-Pierre Larose told councillors on Sept. 11 that they have been unable to fill the numerous vacant positions. The KRPF was supplemented with 20 officers from the provincial force, the Sureté du Québec, though responsibility for the 14 Nunavik communities remains with the regional police.
- A damning inquiry into the Quebec public service’s mistreatment of Indigenous people was released on Sept. 30. “Many laws, policies, standards or institutional practices in place are sources of discrimination and inequity to the point of seriously compromising the quality of services offered First Nations and Inuit,” said Jacques Viens, the retired Superior Court Justice who led the inquiry. This situation, he said, leaves populations with problems for which there is no chance to act or remedy the situation.
- The Nunavik Wellness Court was established in Puvirnituq offering an alternative to the punitive justice system. Presided over by a Quebec judge, the aim of the court is to encourage rehabilitation, rather than criminalization, of residents with drug and alcohol addictions.
- The massive northern and northwestern Quebec riding of Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou was won by the Bloc Québécois in the Oct. 21 federal election. Sylvie Bérubé won the seat with 37.7 per cent of the vote. Following behind her was Liberal candidate Isabelle Bergeron with 28.1 per cent, and Conservative Martin Ferron with 16.6 per cent.
- Student athletes in Nunavik gained a new avenue into sports in the fall as Kativik Ilisarniliriniq linked up with the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec. The province’s governing body of student sports hosts regional and provincial competitions in a wide range of sports. They also coordinating lodging and meals at a low cost, which can be a financial and logistical barrier for northern teams.
- The first meeting towards an action plan on suicide prevention in Nunavik was held from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Kuujjuaq. This builds off of the development of a Nunavik Suicide Prevention Strategy in Nov. 2018, and looked at what can be done over the next few years.
- The need for improvements to marine infrastructure came up repeatedly at the November meeting of the Kativik Regional Government. In particular, concerns were voiced that docks aren’t useable at low tide, meaning search and rescue boats couldn’t be launched if needed. A study is underway of marine infrastructure needs across Nunavik and a final report should be submitted in the coming months, said Ian Darling, the KRG’s director of transportation.
- The new year will see new recruits under the Kativik Regional Police Force, relieving the need for additional support from the provincial force.
Police chief Jean-Pierre Larose updated councillors at the Kativik Regional Government meeting on Nov. 26. Ten new officers have since graduated from the Ontario Police College and additional recruits were found among southern retired officers. The KRPF is also beginning a pilot project with the use of body worn cameras for officers on duty.
- Bail hearings can now be conducted by videoconferencing in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq. While this has long been the method used for bail hearings throughout the province, it was not available in Nunavik. Instead, detainees were flown south on a commercial flight to Montreal, accompanied by a police officer, and then bussed to Amos.
- Nunavik was spared from seeing higher hydro rates, after the Quebec Energy Board denied a request by Hydro-Québec to raise the price of electricity for the region once residents cross a certain threshold. Currently, residents pay more once they exceed 30 kilowatt hours. The energy board held these higher rates steady, and also raised the threshold for steeper rates to 40 kilowatt hours.
- A partnership between northern and southern police forces and Canada Post stopped nearly $1.8 million worth of illegal substances from arriving in Nunavik over the span of two months this past year. The operation saw the seizure of more than $1 million worth of drugs and $770,000 worth of alcohol during the months of May and October.
- Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government promised in its Dec. 5 throne speech to put the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law within its first year. This was a long-standing cause of Romeo Saganash, the former New Democratic Party member for the northern Quebec riding that includes Nunavik.