Nunavik’s wish list
Mayors map out their next two years in office
Fresh from victory at the polls, many of Nunavik’s mayors are set to build up their communities in body and spirit.
In a series of interviews with Nunatsiaq News, most mayors from the region’s 14 communities laid out their plans for the coming term. (Michael Gordon’s plans as mayor of Kuujjuaq were featured in a previous issue of Nunatsiaq News.)
Over the next two years, voters in some communities should expect to see headway on a range of projects, including road construction, job creation and elder care.
The mayor of Nunavik’s second-largest community may not know exactly what he has planned for the next term. But at least he finally knows that he has the job.
Ali Novalinga’s upcoming term as mayor was in limbo after the brother of one of his opponents complained Novalinga had outstanding debts to the village. Under election rules, candidates are ineligible to become mayor or a councillor if they owe the municipality money.
Novalinga’s alleged bills were related to municipal water and garbage services dating back to the 1980s.
In the end, the allegations proved false. Novalinga had been billed for municipal water and garbage services that he hadn’t received. So, after clearing up the issue with the municipal administration and the regional government, Novalinga was sworn as mayor on Nov. 24.
“The bill was not even supposed to have been written,” Novalinga said. “It was the clerk’s mistake at the municipality.”
Asked to map out his plans as mayor for the next two years, Novalinga fell short of a detailed plan.
“The people have made their vote making me the mayor, so I will address the issues according to my responsibilities,” he said.
By caring for his elders, Salluit’s new mayor hopes to provide a future for the youth of his community.
Michael Cameron, a 31-year-old newcomer to municipal office, hopes to devote a large part of his first term to rallying the funds needed for a local elders’ home. Currently, seniors in need of long-term care are flown to hospitals in Kuujjuaq or Puvirnituq, which Cameron sees as a loss, several times over, for Salluit.
He says sending elders to other Nunavik communities is financially and emotionally difficult for families who have to take expensive flights to visit their re-located relatives.
To make matters worse, with fewer elders in the community, younger generations are losing touch with their past, Cameron says.
“Lots of organizations are saying we have to preserve our culture,” Cameron said. “Lots of years, they’ve been talking about it.
“Not much has ever been done.”
That’s where Cameron plans to be different.
Beyond the elders’ home, Cameron is eyeing a multi-media project aimed at stemming the loss of traditional knowledge in this community of 1,200 people on the shores of the Hudson Strait.
By the end of his first term, Cameron wants to assemble a series of videocassettes or DVDs of elders’ stories and instructions. He expects to find volunteers or hire workers to videotape elders teaching traditional skills like sewing parkas and sealskin mitts, as well as building sleds and igloos.
With access to a professional video camera from the fire department, Cameron estimates the project should cost at most $20,000. He said it was too early to tell how much the elders’ home would cost.
“For sure, we’ve lost a lot of our culture,” Cameron said. “But we have to start preserving what’s left.”
Cameron also plans to start working on getting a swimming pool for Salluit, and has elaborate plans on carving out hunting and fishing trails for the community.
Up to 30 kilometres of access roads, which Cameron expects could be built at a rate of two kilometres per year, would include a trail to a natural airstrip down the fiord. Cameron believes the airstrip road would increase public safety by making medivacs easier in the winter.
Quaqtaq’s re-elected mayor also has a plan where residents both young and old would win.
Johnny Oovaut, Sr., who is heading into his second term as mayor, wants to hire a village handyman to help local widows with tasks such as repairing their skidoos. He said he would consider hiring a welder and a carpenter as well.
Then, on the flipside, Oovaut plans to hire a seamstress to help widowers with tasks they can’t do themselves. “There’s a need for it,” Oovaut says from his office on the northeastern tip of Ungava Bay. “It’s not always easy to find someone to help you.”
Oovaut says he plans to hire a project coordinator to find funding for the jobs. The new coordinator would also find funds for Oovaut’s plans to putting water piping through the entire village of 340 people.
Ivujivik’s mayor wants to get his neighbours out of their homes, out of their offices and onto the land.
To do so, Peter Iyaituk expects to hire a number of hunters and other residents with traditional skills to teach others how to live the way their parents and grandparents did before the arrival of more southern ways.
Iyaituk sees this as a win-win situation, creating jobs on one hand, and preserving culture on the other.
Iyaituk said he is one of many residents in his tiny hamlet of 300 Inuit who have forgotten how to survive on the land since the federal government imported formal schooling to the northwestern tip of Nunavik in the late 1950s.
Now 50 years old, Iyaituk said he used to be able to care for dog teams, and to go out camping for weeks on end.
After years of going to school, and missing family and hunting activities during the day, Iyaituk found his skills were not only rusty, they had disappeared.
“I myself am a victim of the school system,” Iyaituk said. “If it was night school, I would still be comfortable in the traditional and cultural part of my life as an Inuk.
“I think it’s about time we do some instructing to get that back.”
Iyaituk expects he can find funding for the traditional skills program from Heritage Canada, the provincial and regional governments, as well as Makivik Corp.
Umiujaq’s elders stand to gain the most over the next two years, if their newly elected mayor gets his way.
Robbie Tookalook, a 59-year-old veteran of municipal politics, says elders are paying too much for day-to-day living. He plans to change this by setting up an elders’ subsidy program that goes beyond sending a cheque in the mail.
Besides additional financial assistance from the hamlet office, elders would receive a basket of food, timed to arrive before old age pension cheques when he says cupboards tend to be bare. The subsidy may also aim to cut elders’ rent expenses.
“The elders have no income but keep paying rent for their housing like they were working people,” Tookalook explained on the phone from his office on the Hudson Bay, east of Sanikiluaq. “They are physically unable, they struggle enough as it is, so I want to provide some assistance just to help them out.”
Tookalook also hopes to find extra financial assistance for elders who are still able to hunt but lack the money to buy the needed transportation. He suggested he may look to expand the regional government program that currently provides each Nunavik community with a snowmobile and canoe.
Tookalook says elders living with grandchildren who drink would also benefit from his plan to cut down the amount of alcohol available in the community. He describes his community of 353 people as being rife with crime because of alcohol.
“Umiujaq is a small community with big problems, and we have to address them,” he said.
Tookalook says negotiations are already under way with the police, municipal council, and the post office to put limits on how much alcohol each resident is allowed to order.
Kangirsuk’s mayor says his next term comes complete with guarantees.
Joseph Annahatak, the village mayor for the past four years, says he guarantees all the roads would be paved by next year.
He also guarantees the new seasonal pool will be up and running by the summer.
His promises don’t end there. Annahatak wants to relocate the dump, which he describes as “completely out of shape” after 15 years of illegal dumping. The new location will be up to three kilometres east of the village. The dump’s relocation would coincide with work on the village’s lagoon, which Annahatak hoped to have finished in the next two years.
Annahatak is also lobbying the regional government for a search and rescue boat to avoid fatal accidents, such as the most recent deaths in August, when four Kangirsuk residents drowned on Ungava Bay.
Akulivik’s mayor is also hoping to bring a search and rescue boat to town by lobbying the regional government.
Eli Aullaluk, who at 56 is starting his second term as mayor, said the government can’t overestimate the need for an independent search and rescue program.
“I will keep on encouraging the KRG [Kativik Regional Government] that this kind of equipment is essential for the Nunavik region,” he said from his village of 480 people on the north end of Hudson Bay.
Aullaluk says another goal will be to carve out two or three access roads that hunters can use to reach the outer limits of the village.
Aullaluk also says he’s looking for ways to bring better youth facilities to Akulivik, such as a swimming pool or public gym.
In the coming years, Kangiqsualujjuaq’s new mayor wants his village to get out of the beer business.
Elijah Imbeault, 31, says the current set-up, where the municipality decides who is allowed alcohol, is flawed.
He hopes to return control of alcohol shipments to the police, who he says are better equipped to know whether someone should be cut off.
Imbeault, a former teacher, also promised to work on improving the hunters’ support program, and helping find work for women who know how to sew.
Andy Moorhouse, Inukjuak’s youthful mayor, says he’s seen enough in politics to know he should shy away from making guarantees about what he hopes to accomplish.
“I learned as a youth politician not to make promises,” said Moorhouse, 24. “But I promise to work hard on what I believe in.”
Moorhouse, a former president of the Nunavik Youth Association, says this means he aims to improve all local services, while tackling a few special projects on the side.
As a recently appointed board member for the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau, Moorhouse plans to resolve residents’ outstanding debts to the regional government. He estimates Inukjuak residents owe the housing authority $800,000 in unpaid rent. However, he could not say how many years and how many people the debt represented.
Moorhouse says he also plans to change the way municipal politics have been done in the past few years, by increasing public input on council decisions. Residents are expected to meet with council before the end of the year to discuss a future detention centre for the village, which was supposed to be started last summer.
True to his political beginnings, Moorhouse also has plans to improve youth facilities by hiring a youth coordinator, funded by the regional government, youth association and health board.
Charlie Alaku plans to flex his political muscle over the next two years and fast-track the regional government’s paving plans for his community of Kangiqsujuaq.
Alaku, who at 28 is going into his third term as mayor, hopes to pressure the Kativik Regional Government to pave all of Kangiqsujuaq’s roads by 2005. Current projections aim for 2008.
Alaku, who was also appointed regional councillor for the village for the third time, said the government should consider Kangiqsujuaq’s paving project as a health issue because the current roads fill the air with dust, even during the early winter months.
Alaku says his village of more than 500 people should also expect progress on job creation and curbing the stray dog population.
Aupaluk’s mayor plans to keep busy on-shore and off-shore over the next two years.
Johnny Akpahatak, who is heading into his seventh year as mayor, says a breakwater will be built by the end of 2004 to finally give people a place to put their boats and canoes.
Besides giving his community of 160 people somewhere to park their boats, the 53-year-old mayor plans to give them somewhere new to put their garbage. Akpahatak says the current dump site is too close to the community, and needs to be moved for environmental reasons.
Tasiujaq’s newly elected mayor says his biggest plan could be to change the status of the land.
In the next two years, Willie Cain, Sr. hopes to develop a municipal park that would serve as a tourist attraction for his village, which with 250 people is the second smallest in Nunavik next to Aupalak.
The park would highlight the Ungava Bay’s 16.1-metre tides, which Cain believes are the world’s highest.
Cain says residents can also expect headway on developing roads and infrastructure over the next two years.
With files from Sara Arnatsiaq and Itee Akavak.