Nunavut’s newest MLA prepares for her new job
Quttiktuq MLA Rebecca Williams says she’s well-placed to bridge the gap between government and people in the communities.
VALERIE G. CONNELL
Finding a balance between government and people is a priority for Rebecca Williams, as she prepares to take on her job as MLA for Quttiktuq.
Williams will be sworn in at the Nunavut legislative building in Iqaluit Jan. 30.
Williams said her background in federal and territorial government and the fact that she’s from a small community, Arctic Bay, give her a good vantage point from which to serve her constituents.
She worked several years in the federal government before transferring to the territorial government in 1982.
She was Nunavut’s assistant deputy minister of justice before winning the election in Quttiktuq, and was involved in setting up the Nunavut Court of Justice.
In preparation for her new role, Williams fills much of her time these days reading about the issues facing the Nunavut government. She also plans to visit her riding’s communities of Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord, Nanisivik, and Resolute Bay.
“I’ve never done this job before so it’s a big learning curve for me,” she said. “I’m excited about it and looking forward to it.”
Because she lives in Iqaluit, Williams said she doesn’t expect her life to change that much. She said her family is used to a travel-filled schedule, so trips to her High Arctic riding will not disrupt the family.
But she said, “My family comes first.”
Williams said she thinks the Nunavut government needs to provide an environment of equality between all the people of Nunavut and create an environment of respect and support.
In the past, communities have experienced people coming in and implanting ideas that work in other parts of the world. Inuit have been undermined and come to think “I can’t do anything anymore, because people have come in and taken over everything,” she said.
Williams said she thinks the roots of some social problems in Nunavut, including the high rates of suicide, are connected to this history.
Referring to suicide, she thinks people don’t want to die, but aren’t able to find alternatives. In the South, people can leave a place to get away from bad situations, but there’s nowhere to go in Iqaluit or the other communities.
Also, in the past Inuit practiced their own form of suicide prevention.
“If they notice something or somebody, they’re quick to say ‘you look like you’re going through something, you’re worried about something, let’s talk about it.’ Today we have this thing that it’s none of my business, I should not get involved… unless they ask for help,” she said.
Williams said when she is having a problem she finds someone she trusts to talk to about it.
She said the effect of a transient population on Inuit also concerns her because when people come up to Nunavut it’s usually for a short time. These people often become role models, or they teach, get involved in counseling in the community, but then they leave, only to be replaced by more new people.
Williams said she thinks this could be contributing factors to the social problems of Inuit.
In her opinion, the government had some good intentions when they came into Nunavut in the 1950s and 60s, but they failed to acknowledge that Inuit people already had a social system. Parenting, health, conflict resolution and leadership were among the areas in which she feels the newcomers brought their own ways and overruled the Inuit ways.
“Leadership really changed because my father and his age group, he would be well into his 80s now, in the 50s and 60s, [they] were very good leaders in their camps,” Williams said. “They did yearly planning to make sure their children had food and travelled with the seasons and the animals. They planned all this.”
Family life was very structured, and everyone had a regular routine until they went away to school.
Williams said years of contact with southern teachers, RCMP officers, nurses and government officials have brought some positive benefits for Inuit. For example, while she was involved in nursing, her first job, Williams said she came to appreciate some of the health services that brought improvements to Inuit life.
“I learned at the time that a lot of babies died and there really were no health services, and it’s not as common anymore since we have health [programs],” she said. “We have a lot better housing than we had before, especially for the people that are less fortunate.”