Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 06, 2016 - 7:00 am

Ii or Aagga: Nunavummuit to vote on land sales May 9

Land ownership a polarizing issue; voters wonder if they are informed enough

THOMAS ROHNER
Nunavut municipal voters will go to the polls May 9 to vote Yes or No in a referendum to decide if fee simple title to lands now owned by municipalities may be transferred to individual homeowners and businesses. (GN IMAGE)
Nunavut municipal voters will go to the polls May 9 to vote Yes or No in a referendum to decide if fee simple title to lands now owned by municipalities may be transferred to individual homeowners and businesses. (GN IMAGE)

The Government of Nunavut responded May 2 to public criticism on its education campaign ahead of the May 9 land referendum, to be held in every Nunavut community, which asks whether municipalities should have the option of selling land parcels.

Currently, under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, municipal lands can only be leased, not privately owned.

Eligibility for the May vote is the same as any other election in Nunavut: You must be a Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old and a resident of the community where you plan to vote.
Polls will be open in each community from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

You can find a list of polling stations here.

In the lead-up to the vote, social media and our Nunatsiaq News comment section have been blooming with debate over whether land sales would benefit Nunavummiut and if so, who. Proponents of both sides have been vigorously arguing their points.

Concerned voters have also written letters to Nunatsiaq News to raise a number of concerns including that the Department of Community and Government Services — responsible for administering the referendum and holding community consultation — keeps changing information about the vote on their website.

But the department’s assistant deputy minister, Darren Flynn, said May 2 that what appears to be “changed information” is actually updated information.

“I went to over half of the community consultations myself, and the message was consistent all the way through. As we heard questions raised, we replied to those accordingly and updated our website,” Flynn said.

Another fault of the consultation process, according to some Nunavummiut, is that its January start-date offered too little time for a thorough consultation.

But, again, Flynn disagreed: “Doing it in the time we did, the topic is fresh in people’s minds. That wouldn’t be the case if, say, we did the consultations a year before the vote.”

And holding pre-consultations to gather questions on the referendum from voters — as some have suggested — might not have resulted in a better consultation and would have cost the government more money, Flynn said.

“I don’t have a problem with criticism — it sparks more discussion and research,” Flynn said.

“We want everybody who can vote, to get out and vote. And what they vote is their prerogative.”

But James Eetoolook, vice president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., told Nunatsiaq News May 3 the GN’s consultation process left many questions unanswered.

For example, Eetoolook asked: Will the GN help Inuit buy lots if the “Yes” vote wins? Will big companies buy foreclosed properties? Would municipalities use money from sold lots to improve infrastructure and services?

“We asked the GN for a delay in the referendum itself, but the government decided to go ahead. Their thinking was that next year with the territorial elections, this might become an election issue,” Eetoolook said from his NTI office in Iqaluit.

In Iqaluit, voters might be more likely to vote “Yes” Eetoolook said, because the capital boasts a solid economic base and more jobs than other communities.

But even in Iqaluit, high rates of poverty, unemployment and overcrowding mean Inuit won’t benefit from the privatization of land sales, Eetoolook said.

“For that reason we encourage beneficiaries to support each other and vote ‘no’,” he said.

Another Inuit group, called Qanak, made up of Iqaluit-based Inuit professionals, is also urging a “no” vote.

A post on the group’s Facebook page urged Inuit and non-Inuit alike to vote “no” because the territory is called “Nunavut” (our land) not “Nunaga” (my land).

Franco Buscemi, a member of Qanak, said private land ownership runs counter to Inuit societal values.

“Even though a lot of people might not be harvesters, Inuit and our families still have a very strong connection to the land. We’re able to have that relationship, even though we have municipalities and other colonial structures in place,” he said.

And given the growing income gap between Nunavut’s poorest and richest citizens, it largely won’t be Inuit buying land or benefiting from the sale of land, Buscemi said.

“Members of Qanak share this idea that we can still have economic development while keeping one of our core Inuit societal principals.”

Buscemi said the main deterrent to economic development is not the lack of private land for sale, but the high cost of shipping materials to Nunavut, heating bills and finding skilled labour.

Nunatsiaq News also published one letter in favour of a “Yes” vote. You can read that here.

To visit the GN’s land referendum website, you can click here.

For more information on the plebiscite from Elections Nunavut, you can click here.

Stay tuned to Nunatsiaq News for more information on Monday’s land referendum vote.

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