Nunavik’s top stories of 2020
The region buckles down for the pandemic, work starts on Inukjuak’s hydro project and the main internet provider nearly hits capacity
In a year that was dominated by news of a global pandemic, Nunavik was largely spared. The region was able to keep COVID-19 out — except for a few dozen mostly isolated cases — by restricting travel and keeping schools closed for several months.
Politically, it was a quiet year for Nunavik, with no major new projects or investments announced. One of the biggest challenges the regional government will face in 2021 is meeting the growing demand for bandwidth in the region, after its satellite capacity was almost maxed out this past year.
- George Berthe was elected treasurer of Makivik Corp. on Jan. 16, edging out incumbent treasurer Andy Pirti. Berthe had previously served as executive director of the Tulattavik health centre in Kuujjuaq, president of Taqramiut Nipingat Inc. and interim president of the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau.
- The Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board held hearings to gather input on the region’s new beluga management plan. The overwhelming sentiment from hunters’ representatives was that the decisions should be made by Inuit, not the federal government.
- Nunavik health authorities started working on a clinical plan for the creation of a regional hospital, one that could host specialized health care services in the region. The clinical plan is the first of several steps necessary to get such a project through Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services.
- Alicia Aragutak was honoured with the 2020 Indspire Inuit Youth Award — the first Inuk from Nunavik to take home the honour. Aragutak is currently the executive director of the Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre in Kuujjuaq. She had previously worked as director of Tursujuq park and was the founder and first president of Qarjuit.
- Ivakkak, Nunavik’s annual dog sled race, got off to a tragic start Feb. 25 when one of the competing mushers died shortly after the race departed from Kangirsuk. Race organizers say that 24-year old Willia Qullialuk of Kangiqsujuaq, who is originally from Akulivik, died shortly after the race started. The event resumed after a two-day break.
- As COVID-19 cases started to appear across the country, Nunavik — like other regions — moved to into lockdown, shuttering schools, limiting public services and cutting back on flights to and from the region. Both of the operating mines in the region largely shut down. Nunavik’s leaders struck a new committee to help coordinate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, called the Nunavik Regional Emergency Preparedness Advisory Committee. That committee imposed nightly curfews and limited alcohol purchases in most communities.
- On March 28, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services announces the region’s first COVID-19 case in the Hudson Coast community of Salluit.
- Nunavik saw a small outbreak of COVID-19 along its Hudson coast, with the majority of cases in the community of Puvirnituq.
- Quebec announced on April 15 that mining activities in the province could be allowed to resume gradually, including the two operating mines in Nunavik. Makivik Corp. president Charlie Watt claps back, saying the decision could endanger Nunavik communities.
- Health care authorities looked to tuberculosis testing machines already located in Nunavik as the next step toward rapid-result testing for COVID-19 in the North. GeneXpert machines, already located in health care centres in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq, were loaded with specialized cartridges to test for COVID-19.
- Peter Palliser, 38, of Inukjuak, was arrested and charged May 11 with the second-degree murder of another man. Kativik Regional Police Force officers discovered the body of 29-year-old Amaruttaaq Weetaluktuk after his family members reported him missing. In court documents, Palliser was accused of causing Weetaluktuk’s death on or around April 30 — seven days before the man was found — suggesting Palliser may have hidden the body.
- With all of the region’s recent cases of COVID-19 recovered by mid-May, officials in Nunavik started to lift curfews and eased restrictions on alcohol sales. Police in the region say crime was generally down over this period — aside from cases of mischief, which have gone up during the pandemic.
- But communities were still on guard against the virus: municipal officials in Kangiqsualujjuaq declined renovations to their health care centre because it would mean flying in construction workers from the south, without having them first quarantine.
- By the end of the month, Nunavik officials began a broader re-opening of the region, which included lifting restrictions on inter-community travel.
- The Kativik Regional Police Force said its pilot project to equip some officers with body cameras has so far been a success. The pilot will continue until 2021, and if all goes well, the KRPF plans to deploy body-worn cameras to police detachments in all 14 Nunavik communities.
- As an anti-racism movement grew around the world, the Quebec government announced the creation of a task force to counter racism in the province. But Makivik Corp. criticized the new body — made up entirely of government ministers and legislators — for its lack of Inuit or Indigenous representation.
- Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute said it plans to shift many of its Montreal-based operations back to the region, so it can focus more on “Inuit priorities.” Avataq opened its St. Catherine St. office in Montreal in 2013, though its head office has always been located in Inukjuak.
- Nunatsiaq News reported that a Nunavik police officer faced charges of assault while working as an officer. After a long investigation, Mathieu Paré, 26, was charged with assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, stemming from a 2019 incident in Salluit. Paré is the second KRPF officer to face charges; Timothy Sangoya was accused of sexual assault last year.
- A Quebec Superior Court judge authorized a class action against the Quebec government seeking punitive damages for Nunavik detainees. The lawsuit, filed in September 2018, seeks compensation for Nunavimmiut who are held in custody for more than three days awaiting a hearing, due to a lack of correctional facilities in the region.
- Construction on Inukjuak’s hydro dam project finally got underway. The 7.5-megawatt run-of-the-river dam — the Innavik hydro project — is expected to supply almost all the energy needed to power the community of 1,800 when it goes into operation in 2022.
- Quebec’s independent investigation agency, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, was called in to investigate how a Nunavik suspect was seriously injured following his arrest Aug. 13 in Kangiqsualujjuaq. That morning, Kativik Regional Police Force officers arrested a 22-year-old man following an alleged assault. When officers transported the suspect back to the police detachment, the man allegedly cut his own throat and neck with a knife.
- Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, was called in to investigate the death of a Nunavik man who died while in police custody. The 45-year-old man was arrested the afternoon of Aug. 28 and taken into custody at the KRPF’s Inukjuak detachment that afternoon, but was found dead when a guard checked on him a few hours later.
- Kativik Ilisarniliriq, Nunavik’s school board, started the gradual return to class in its 17 schools across the region on Aug. 31. Schools across the region had been shut since March 24.
- Quebec’s Crown prosecutor cleared Kativik Regional Police Force officers of criminal responsibility in a July 2019 incident that resulted in the death of a Nunavik man. When officers responded to a call at a home in Salluit, their parked, empty vehicle rolled over an unconscious man who was lying outside of a home, fatally injuring him.
- Marilyn Mesher graduated from Nunavik’s midwifery education program, making her the first registered Inuk midwife for the Ungava region. Unlike Nunavik’s Hudson coast, where a midwifery program has been established since 1987, Kuujjuaq only saw its first midwives begin practising in 2009.
- Nunavik communities said they’re dealing with crippling slow bandwidth and outages this fall, making it difficult to rely on internet access for work and personal needs. For its part, the region’s main internet provider, Tamaani, said it’s using almost 100 per cent capacity on its satellite, while it struggles to keep up with growing demand.
- By mid-October, as COVID-19 cases started to appear in the region again, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services advised Nunavimmiut against non-essential travel. The health board said travellers now require two COVID-19 tests: one before northbound travellers board their flights and another test seven days after arriving in the region.
- Nunavik police arrested three suspects for the possession and distribution of child pornography. The suspects were intercepted in homes in Akulivik, Kuujjuraaapik and Umiujaq, but police said the victims don’t appear to be in the region.
- A Nunavik man was arrested and charged with manslaughter for the Nov. 1 death of 37-year-old Mary Saviadjuk. Police responded to a call about a fire that day, and discovered the body of the woman in one of the bedrooms. Police later arrested a 42-year-old suspect, Paulusie Usuituayuk.
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada approved an interim beluga management plan for Nunavik, allowing hunters to take advantage of an autumn whale hunt before freeze-up. But wildlife officials say DFO sent out the notice without first communicating its decision to the regional authorities — the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board and regional harvesting organization — causing some conflict and confusion around the fall hunt.
- The Innavik hydro project in Inukjuak secured a $92.8-million loan through the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company for the construction and term financing of the $128 million facility. The 7.5-megawatt run-of-river hydro dam is expected to supply almost all the energy needed to power the community of 1,800 when it opens in 2022.
- The Kativik Regional Government welcomed the federal government’s $1.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund, noting plans to apply to its $150 million Rapid Response Stream fund dedicated to boosting capacity as quickly as possible — in this case, by November 2021.
- Randy Koneak, 22, was found guilty in the 2018 first-degree murder of Chloé Labrie, a 28-year-old medical technician from Victoriaville, Que. Labrie was alone in her Kuujjuaq home late on June 11, 2018, when she was shot in the head, killing her instantly, and then sexually assaulted. Koneak was sentenced to life in prison.
- Kativik Ilisarniliriq has a new president, Sarah Aloupa, who was acclaimed during the council of commissioners Dec. 7 meeting. Aloupa replaced outgoing KI president Robbie Watt.
- Quebec’s Coalition d’Avenir Québec government launched an updated version of Plan Nord, renamed Plan d’action nordique, a $778 million scheme to develop the province north of the 49th parallel. But at first glance, it’s hard to say what Nunavik could gain from it.