Past Makivik president Pita Aatami pushes unity in run for old job
“I feel like Inuit have been left behind,” says former CEO of Air Inuit
Makivik Corp. is the birthright organization of Inuit in Nunavik. Its main role is to administer the region’s land claim, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
Makivik’s president serves as the corporation’s chief executive officer and chairman of its board of directors, exercising general supervision over the organization’s affairs. The president serves a three-year term.
The election will be held Feb. 4. Polls will be open in Nunavik’s communities from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Advance polls will be held Jan. 28.
Pita Aatami wants another run leading Makivik Corp., with the goal of creating unity and prosperity among Nunavimmiut.
Aatami’s history with Nunavik’s Inuit birthright organization goes back more than 30 years; he was first elected as a Makivik board member in 1987. Aatami was then elected as the organization’s treasurer from 1993 until 1998, at which point he ran in a by-election for president. He served in that role until 2012.
In 2013, Aatami became president and CEO of Makivik’s subsidiary airline company, Air Inuit. He recently resigned from that role in order to run in this election.
“Why did I decide to run? What I’m hearing is that there’s no more unity in Nunavik,” said Aatami, 60.
“Organizations are telling me [that] there’s no more collaboration. Before, we spoke as one; now, we’re scattered. I feel like Inuit have been left behind.”
Makivik has signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government to negotiate Inuit self-government for Nunavik, but Aatami fears the Quebec government is not on board.
“I do want [Nunavimmiut] to have our own government,” he said. “But it’s not clear that either government wants to reopen any agreement. If that’s the case, there is nothing guaranteed.”
Aatami said he hopes instead to refocus Makivik’s work on grassroots initiatives that support Inuit and community-building across Nunavik.
First, Aatami said that he hopes to add a youth representative to Makivik’s executive council.
“We have a very young population – 60 per cent are under the age of 35,” he said. “To ensure that youth have a bigger voice, I want to bring them in to have decision-making power.”
Infrastructure also ranks high on Aatami’s list of priorities. He believes Makivik has a role to play in lobbying for airport renovations — specifically, to see airstrips extended to allow larger aircraft to land in Nunavik communities.
Currently, only the airstrips in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq are long enough for jets to land, and occasionally at Kuujjuaraapik’s airport.
“We can’t land anything bigger than a Dash 8-300 at this point,” Aatami said. “Once these airplanes reach their lifespan, what are we going to replace them with?”
As well, Aatami wants to lower the cost of shipping materials to the region by expanding use of Makivik’s subsidiaries and joint ventures. For example, he says, Makivik’s shipping firm NEAS Group could offer a program wherein Nunavimmiut can ship up vehicles and harvesting equipment like canoes or snowmobiles at a subsidized rate.
He also sees potential in reviving programs once offered under the Kativik Regional Government’s hunter support program, through which Nunavimmiut could sell their sewed goods or other handmade tools.