March 13, 2009

Quebec, Canada pour more money into Nunavik

POV gets jet airstrip, ­Kangiqsualujjuaq gets housing


Leaders from Nunavik, Ottawa and Quebec City vowed once again last week in Montreal to build more new housing, improve services and cut the cost of living in Nunavik.

The March 6 meeting saw Quebec premier Jean Charest, federal native affairs minister Chuck Strahl, Makivik Corp. president Pita Aatami and Maggie Emudluk, chairperson of the Kativik Regional Government, close deals for the construction of a longer airstrip in Puvirnituq and a social housing complex in Kangiqsualujjuaq.

The plan for Puvirnituq's airport calls for a $20 million expansion of the runway that will allow jets to land in the Hudson Bay community by the end of the year. Construction of a new terminal building will follow in 2010.

Another round of renovations are in store for this Kangiqsualujjuaq building. Once a school wing, then a social housing complex, it’s now slated to become a “multifunctional accommodation centre,” after $3.8 million in renovations, part of a deal signed last week in Montreal.

Also sealed on March 6 was a deal that would see the $3.8 million renovation of an existing building in Kangiqsualujjuaq, so it can be transformed into a "multifunctional accommodation centre."

This centre will include 11 housing units for elders, five units for people with disabilities, common areas equipped with kitchens, and two adapted transition units for people recovering from illnesses, awaiting renovations to their homes or who are victims of violence.

Originally built as an extension to the former Satuumavik School, the building slated for the centre survived the avalanche of New Year's Eve 1999, which crashed into the school, crushing its gym and filling many classrooms with snow.

The 100-by-80-foot extension had two floors divided into 16 classrooms. When the avalanche struck, it had barely been finished, and was never occupied.

After being renovated into social housing units several years ago, the building became a magnet for vandalism and drug-dealing in Kangiqsualujjuaq, community leaders complained.

An announcement on a five-year, $200-million social housing deal between federal and provincial governments and Makivik Corp. never happened.

The announcement, some insiders speculate, has been postponed to take place later this month at the Makivik annual general meeting or at another meeting on how "to substantially improve the housing situation [in Nunavik] by 2015" scheduled for this May.

The Nunavik regional board of health and social services did come out of the March 6 meeting with a signed memorandum of understanding, reportedly worth $100 million over seven years, "that will allow the Inuit to continue their efforts with a view to improving the health services provided in Nunavik."

A request for more details about the MOU from Quebec's health department was not supplied before the Nunatsiaq News deadline, but the agreement apparently targets youth protection services.

The March 6 meeting in Montreal, dubbed the "Katimajiit Round Table," was intended as a follow-up to the August 2007 Katimajiit meeting in Kuujjuaq where Charest and Strahl met with Nunavik leaders on the region's social and economic development, promising at least $200 million to improve conditions.

The Katimajiit meeting followed the release of a report by Quebec's Commission on Human Rights and the Rights of Children, detailing horrific stories of child abuse and neglect.

The report described the youth protection system as "not currently functional" and many other problems in the health and social services, including a high staff turnover, troubled employees, language barriers, lack of specialized resources, inadequate prevention and support programs and a regional housing shortage.

"None of us here can accept what it describes. Things must change. They absolutely must change," said Charest at the Katimajiit meeting.

"This meeting [on March 6] has allowed us to evaluate the effects of our mobilization. We can be proud of the progress accomplished since the majority of the commitments made by the Government of Quebec have been achieved. However, we must be realistic and remain vigilant, as much work must still be accomplished," said Charest in a government news release.

"Our work is not over," Aatami noted in the same release.