Mining, resource royalties a big priority for Nunavut Tunngavik, Towtongie says
“Now is the time to act, now is the time to strategically plan
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. must work on how it will respond to future and current mining developments in the territory, says Cathy Towtongie, the freshly re-elected president of the Inuit birthright organization.
That’s one of the issues she plans to work on after being re-elected Dec. 10 in the territorial-wide election, taking 1,344 votes, or about 20 per cent of ballots cast, defeating 10 other candidates.
“It’s a lot of work, I want to implement the revenue resource sharing policy, we’ve already signed on to it,” Towtongie said.
Preliminary results showed that 6,845 eligible beneficiaries cast ballots, producing a turnout of about 35 per cent.
She’ll hold office until 2016 when the next NTI presidential election is slated to take place.
And over the next several years, she said it will be important to get Inuit trained and educated to work in mines.
During her campaign, Towtongie explained to people that the leaders they elect have to “have knowledge of how to move forward because the mining industry are at our doorsteps.”
“Either we wait and then the industry will take off, and if they do take off we’ll be left behind with nothing, our resources will be taking off, now is the time to act, now is the time to strategically plan the Nunavut land claims agreement into action,” she said.
Towtongie said she plans on working closely with NTI executive staff on mining developments.
But she also wants to prioritize food security, education and infrastructure.
That could involve not just store-bought goods, but “inter-settlement trade” between Baffin and the other two regions.
“If we can stabilize that, then [if] Baffin doesn’t have caribou, we could get seals from Baffin or fish and we can ship caribou to the hunters of our program to sustain Inuit, when they do need traditional foods,” she said.
Towtongie noted that there are grants available to hunters of up to $10,000 to provide traditional foods to community so “it’s already started,” she said.
NTI could also partner with CanNor and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq on issues related to education, health and infrastructure.
That partnership would take into account each community and its needs, Towtongie said.
Qikiqtarjuaq, for example has open waters year round, with means a port could be built there, she said.
The Government of Nunavut and NTI have to have strategic plans to train people in support of their areas of expertise, such as carving or other art forms, Towtongie said.
However, the campaign was a tough one, she said, especially because Towtongie faced some harsh criticism.
“It was the toughest, because I’m the incumbent and people were questioning me, [saying] you’re not going to the communities, we haven’t seen you, where is the stuff you’ve [promised], but I explained to them I took over a president who was ousted from the board,” she said.
Towtongie explained that she’s “taken over two presidents for two-year terms that have been ousted from the board, and I explained to them once a president is ousted, it takes two years just to organize and stabilize an organization.”
And cleaning up NTI has been a big job.
“It’s like going into a house, cleaning it up, cleaning it up, and making sure it’s properly set up and then two years came by, I just wasn’t free to just travel,” she said, adding that “even the respect has to be built up with both levels of government. That was a lot of work.”
However, Towtongie rode to victory by pulling in strong numbers from small communities in all three Nunavut regions, such as Arctic Bay, Sanikiluaq, Qikiqtarjuaq, Kimmirut, Chesterfield Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk.
Towtongie, who was campaigning against her sister, Manitok Thompson and her brother-in-law, Paul Kaludjak, said it did get tense at times.
“We disagreed, we were already working on the NNI policy, so it’s going to be okay,” Towtongie said of her sister.
Since she’s been in office, NTI has been restructured and has cut back the president’s salary, and through the restructuring and salary cuts, the organization saved $7 million in 2012, Towtongie said.
Other criticisms Towtongie faced was whether or not she’d be able to carry out the revenue resource sharing policy.
“I had to explain if we don’t do it, then Nunavut is not prepared for development coming in. Other agreements like Nunavik’s are far ahead compared to the Nunavut agreement,” she said.
It’s hard to explain that policy in Inuktitut, Towtongie added.
So far, NTI has $2.2 million stored under that policy that Inuit organizations aren’t using, “that’s going to be for the Inuit to decide once it reaches $100 million,” she said.
Towtongie said she was disgusted by some of the comments that emerged online on the NTI election Facebook page.
“I was shocked, shocked at what I was being accused of having done,” Towtongie said.
“I will be taking a very close look to see if there [were] any slanderous statements that were being said and I want those to be accountable,” Towtongie added.
However, Towtongie says she is truly humbled and honored by the people of Nunavut and was “very calm” when she saw the election results.
“My election for the presidency is because people were praying behind me and for me,” she said.
Strong leadership is important in Nunavut. “If an Inuk leader does something it really reflects on others, other people, young people, I truly wanted to make the office of the president respectful,” Towtongie said.
Towtongie last won the job in an election held Dec. 10, 2010, when she took about 1,200 votes to defeat Terry Audla and nine other candidates.