Two longtime public servants vie for QIA presidency

Candidates are Paul Okalik and incumbent Olayuk Akesuk

Paul Okalik, left, will take on incumbent Olayuk Akesuk, right, for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association presidency on Dec. 12. (File photos)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Leading up to the Dec. 12 elections for Nunavut’s regional Inuit associations, Nunatsiaq News will publish profiles of candidates vying for the executive positions on each association’s board of directors.

One veteran of Nunavut politics is challenging the incumbent for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s presidency this month.

Paul Okalik said his return to politics is fueled, in part, by a feeling that he’s capable of doing more for Inuit that way than by what he’s been doing since leaving public service in 2017.

“I’ve been working, doing other projects and doing my part to try to help my fellow Inuit, but at times it was frustrating because I want to do more,” he said in an interview. “I want to do my part to help my fellow Inuit.”

Okalik, who works for the World Wildlife Fund as an Arctic specialist, has a long history of public service in Nunavut.

He was a land claims negotiator, the first premier of Nunavut from 1999 to 2008, a territorial cabinet minister, speaker of the legislative assembly and an Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA. He also ran, unsuccessfully, as a Liberal candidate in the 2011 federal election.

QIA is the regional Inuit association for Qikiqtani region, representing about 51 per cent of Inuit living in the territory.

In the Dec. 12 race for the presidency, Okalik is running against current president Olayuk Akesuk, who took over from Premier P.J. Akeeagok last fall after Akeeagok was elected to the legislative assembly.

Akesuk did not respond to interview requests from Nunatsiaq News.

Previously, Akesuk served as QIA’s vice-president, MLA for South Baffin, and territorial minister of sustainable development, then economic development when Okalik was the premier.

In 2006, Okalik stripped Akesuk of his portfolio without providing a public explanation other than calling it “an effort to increase financial oversight over key areas of government expenditures.”

Okalik said one of the biggest assets he brings to his run for the presidency is his educational background. He said he has a mix of southern education and Inuit qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge.

Okalik attended a federal day school, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, then went to law school at the University of Ottawa.

“Before the classroom, my parents taught me traditional ways and how to survive in the most challenging conditions, so that’s served me well in the long run,” he said.

One way he would like to improve the territory is by having better scholarships available to encourage young people to get educated.

Asked what his priorities will be if he’s elected, Okalik mentioned child care and airline travel as some of the top concerns he’s heard from Inuit.

Another common concern he said he has heard is the language barrier Inuit face, for example, in schools or at the boarding home in Iqaluit.

“Those things should be done by now. Any institution of government should be talking to us in our language,” he said.

Okalik has visited Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Sanirajak, Clyde River, Igloolik and Iqaluit during his campaign.

Poor weather left him stranded for a few days in Sanirajak, and he said he has had to cancel a visit to his hometown, Pangnirtung, and won’t be able to make it to the high Arctic communities.




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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by This election is critical to Nunavut’s future on

    A return to power for Okalik would be bad for all Inuit. Years later the GN is still trying to recover from his anti-progress agenda.

    With zero public oversight in the Inuit orgs, he would be another vote on NTI’s Board for decisions led by the Inuit elite instead of the people they serve. How are they leading a charge for self-government without holding a vote with their beneficiaries to see what they want? Whatever keeps the power powerful, eh?

  2. Posted by Curious on

    why is Nunatsiaq only doing profiles of those running for executive positions?
    Lots of regular members positions being contested. Those members are important too.

  3. Posted by Inuk from Nunavik on

    I thought that only politican in nunavik go around and around .

  4. Posted by Southern Influence on

    Southern Tree huggers, WWF and other’s likely funding his campaign. Environmentalist Puppet.

    Also, wouldn’t it be a conflict with his partner NTI Prez.??

  5. Posted by I live in the Arctic on

    I’m not from that region, don’t know either but was interested in seeing what I could find if I googled each, seems some controversy around Paul Okalik, not much on Olay Akesuk, he made a decision to stop a guy from hunting a polar with only a harpoon, its a nunatsiaq article “Quassa blasts Olayuk Akesuk for ignoring Inuit rights – Minister of sustainable development says hunt not safe.” thats enough for me.

    • Posted by Shack on

      Akesuk was consulted by the Elder to stop the harpoon and polar bear hunt because dog team was not involved in the hunt. Harpooning a Polar bear needed a team of dogs to assist in the harpooning of a polar bear. Akesuk’s listens to elders

  6. Posted by Bob Lee on

    Okalik is bad news for Qikiqtaaluk, Green Peace Inuk who is against infrastructure and development in Baffin Island. Akesuk on the other hand may be better fit.

    • Posted by John on

      Mr. Akesuk doesn’t seem to be for development either. He helped torpedo Baffinland, the only non government development currently happening within the QIA region. Seems to me that there needs to be a third candidate who actually wants to do something to improve the lives of QIA members.

  7. Posted by Not a Leader on

    “Last week he filmed former premier Paul Okalik leaving a grocery store.“Can we go to the shacks? I want to show you the shacks,” Inuqtaqau is heard asking on this video:“You guys are Inuk leaders.”

    But Okalik declined.“No, I’m not a leader,” he said, while holding a bunch of bananas and a bottle of Perrier water.

    Okalik was with his partner, Aluki Kotierk, who is president of the land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), which promotes Inuit rights and job training.They both know Inuqtaqau and signed a petition he distributed in 2016 calling for more Inuit to be hired by local employers.But on the video Kotierk appears to ignore him and get into a vehicle without saying anything.”

    Nunavut politicians brush off activist’s concerns over people living in shacks – APTN News

    • Posted by Beneficiary on

      Aluki is ignorant to people she’s not friends with. She’s not approachable.
      I’m not sure how you can have a good meeting and debates when the two share the same bed if Okalik gets in as QIA pres

  8. Posted by Frobisher on

    Holy when Paul Okalik was MLA
    HE got us a fancy court house
    Fancy cop station

    Olayou took over QIA WHEN PJ LEFT

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