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Newly-minted NTI prez thaws relations with GN

Paul Kaludjak targets housing, culture, and employment as priorities

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

GREG YOUNGER-LEWIS

The new president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. said the territory’s land claims organization will place housing, employment and preserving Inuktitut at the top of its to-do list under his mandate.

Paul Kaludjak, who ousted former president Cathy Towtongie in the March 16 NTI election, met with Nunavut’s political brass three days later for a swearing-in ceremony, where he hinted at a new era of cooperation between NTI and the Government of Nunavut on the territory’s list of perennial problems.

Sitting at the centre of NTI’s board room in Iqaluit, Kaludjak said his number-one priority will be to work with the federal and territorial governments in implementing the Nunavut land claims agreement, a desire echoed by Nunavut cabinet members sitting across from him.

“We will have to make sure we work as one voice… to represent our Inuit people,” Kaludjak said. “I know we’re going to have a lot of work to do in the future… We have a crisis situation where housing is concerned. We have to make that a priority as an organization.”

Kaludjak, who was previously NTI’s vice-president of finance, also highlighted economic development in his inaugural address, promising to boost employment opportunities by working closely with regional Inuit organizations.

He said NTI will also act as a guardian of Inuktitut, which has become a major political issue, as seen during the Government of Nunavut’s recent leadership forum. Shortly after the territorial election, some MLAs, including the losing premiership candidate, Tagak Curley, said they will put a more Inuit face on the Government of Nunavut, in part by speaking mainly in Inuktitut.

Kaludjak repeated the policy in the office of NTI.

“It is important we work in the Inuit traditional language, to protect it and support it,” he said through a translator.

More than one of Kaludjak’s priority missions could take shape under his planned review of the Clyde River Protocol “to see where we can make improvements”. The protocol was signed by the Government of Nunavut to protect and promote the rights and benefits of Inuit in the territory.

Kaludjak admitted NTI needed to improve its connection with Nunavummiut. On that note, before thanking Towtongie, who was absent, for her work as past president, Kaludjak symbolicly gave his office away to beneficiaries. He said he would make the organization more transparent, and would improve communication with Inuit, given that voter turn-out dropped to 38 per cent, from 45 per cent in the last NTI election.

“This is not my office,” he said to sustained laughter and smiles. “This is your office.”

In recent years, NTI’s relationship with other decision-makers has been worn thin. At the swearing-in ceremony, Premier Paul Okalik made vague references to the tensions between the government and NTI, citing how he and the former executive didn’t always see eye to eye.

On election night, he confirmed in an interview with Nunatsiaq News that relations had been strained under Towtongie’s leadership, and he was looking forward to working with Kaludjak.

“We’re going to work very hard together for the Inuit because we’re behind here in the North,” Okalik said through a translator during the March 18 meeting with NTI. “I will work with you because we have to catch up with the rest of the system used in the rest of Canada.”

Vice-president Raymond Ningeocheak, who successfully defended his position in the last election, agreed with Okalik and offered an olive branch to his adversary, saying that they might argue, but will always work together as “partners”.

“We will work with our government,” he said in Inuktitut. “Paul Okalik and I will be arguing, but that is part of a working relationship.

“We are working towards the same, for the same people.”

Besides better relations with government, Ningeocheak promised to push for a heritage centre in the territory, saying that current efforts weren’t moving fast enough.

NTI should expect some issues to improve quicker under a new federal government, according to one of the meetings’ special guests.

Jose Kusugak, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said the change in federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Paul Martin suggests Inuit in Nunavut and elsewhere can expect improvements in their everyday lives.

Kusugak said the key to pushing for improved services from the federal government will be promoting the Inuit as separate from other aboriginal groups in Canada.

“In a sense the past government or the past members of parliament we had before tended to treat us as First Nations,” he said in Inuktitut. “They tried to treat us as the same group, but it doesn’t work that way.

“The Inuit have to be recognized as unique society separate from First Nations. Inuit are Inuit, not First Nations.”

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