Kuujjuaq mayor ponders first year in office
"My biggest priority has been informing the population properly"
KUUJJUAQ — It’s been a little over a year since Tunu Napartuk was elected as mayor of Kuujjuaq, and his first year in office has been “one heck of a ride.”
Napartuk was elected Nov. 7, 2012, just four days before his fifth child, a baby daughter, was born.
“It was quite a big week,” he laughs. “But I still think the timing was right.”
Like politicians anywhere, community involvement was the major driver for Napartuk, 42, who used to lead the recreation department at the Kativik Regional Government.
And his past work experience has evidently shaped his focus as mayor.
“My biggest priority has been informing the population properly of all the activities happening in and around the community,” Napartuk said.
“My other priority was making sure that our youth were being looked after and given the opportunity to have activities.”
The Northern Village’s recreation department is “a lot more stable,” he said.
The municipality now employs a recreation manager, two assistants and nine youth animators, who operate a schedule of sports activities out of the Kuujjuaq forum.
But Napartuk still faces daily challenges in his role; one of them is maintaining the town’s collaboration with so many committees and local organizations, in a community that is growing fast — he guesses the population has now hit 2,500.
Napartuk is at first quiet when asked about one of the major events to mark 2013; the March shooting death of Kuujjuaq policeman Steve Déry.
“It was a difficult moment,” he said. “The impact was something I’ve never experienced.”
But many in the community have lauded his leadership during the tragedy, after Napartuk coordinated a memorial service and invited the family of the shooter — who also died that day — to take part.
“In order to move on, it was important to have everyone there,” he said. “We felt like we needed a moment of peace, to mourn and have closure.”
Napartuk, who is fluent in Inuktitut, English and French, has often been called on to act as a regional spokesperson.
As one of only a few Nunavik leaders who speak French, Napartuk has taken part in meetings with the Quebec government; he welcomed Premier Pauline Marois to the community last September and translated during a dinner the community hosted for.
He also spoke at a recent conference in Quebec’s national assembly about Nunavik’s housing shortage.
“It’s an added responsibility,” he admits. “But I’m very lucky to speak it fluently, because it’s allowed me to get to know a lot more people.”
Napartuk calls his term as mayor an “ongoing project,” one he knows he may not see the fruits of for years.
He also tries to pace himself and leave room for his young family.
“I have to use them as an excuse sometimes to get out of the office,” he said. “Otherwise, I’d never leave.”