Nunavik: A look back at the biggest stories of 2016
A female Inuk pilot, a prize-winning safe house and far too many youth suicides
Nunavimmiut begin 2016 with heavy hearts: Over the holiday season, two young people in Kuujjuaq died by suicide. Their deaths marked the beginning of a months-long crisis in the region, which saw nine more young people die by suicide in the first half of the year.
Despite calls for government intervention, regional leaders said Nunavik-based organizations are best positioned to respond to the region’s needs, as they drafted a regional action plan.
At the same time, Nunavik saw a wave of new leadership move in. Nunavik Inuit elected a new vice president of economic development at Makivik Corp., Andy Moorhouse. Adamie Padlayat was elected to Moorhouse’s old job as corporate secretary.
With a new chair at the helm of the Kativik Regional Government, Jennifer Munick, the regional administration hired a new director general, Michael Gordon, and an assistant director, Frédéric Gagné.
Negotiations with Quebec officials over the provision of social housing came to a halt this year. By the fall, the Quebec government had named a negotiator to help talks progress. But Quebec City and Ottawa still have to sort out their responsibilities in the delivery of housing to the region.
Here’s a re-cap of the news stories that dominated life in Nunavik during 2016
• A Montreal entrepreneur designs and hopes to market a polyurethane grid and frame which, when filled with snow, can make a backyard-friendly igloo. “I would be really proud to sell an igloo to an Inuit person,” laughs Eric Villiard, creator of Snow Play.
• The KRG seeks to fill its top management jobs, following the resignation of long-time director Isabelle Parizeau, who has worked with Nunavik’s regional administration for more than two decades. The KRG posts advertisements for the positions of director and assistant director. The latter job has remained vacant for years.
• A bus carrying 16 hockey players with the Nunavik Nordiks Atoms plus coaches and parents collides with two other vehicles west of Quebec City en route to a hockey tournament. The impact sends the team’s bus into a ditch. None of the Nordiks were seriously injured, although the driver of one of the other vehicles later died of her injuries.
• The death of Lukasi Forrest, 18, sends shock waves throughout his home community of Kuujjuaq. The young film actor is the third youth in six weeks to die by suicide in Nunavik’s largest community.
• Quebec’s ombudsman’s office releases a scathing report on detention conditions in Nunavik, highlighting a number of violations discovered during a 2015 visit to three communities. The report said holding cells in the region are overcrowded and dirty, while the region’s detainees have limited access to water, clean laundry and fresh air.
• Kuujjuaq’s Isuarsivik treatment centre seeks funding to move on plans to open a new and improved facility. The non-profit organization that runs the centre is trying to secure $20 million in contributions to build a new 21-bed facility in the community’s Nuvvuk Bay neighbourhood. The current facility is housed in a 70-year-old building with only three bedrooms designated for clients.
• The KRG approves an out-of-court settlement with a former senior officer of the Kativik Regional Police Force. To finalize the settlement, KRG councillors vote to revoke former deputy chief Tristan Greene’s position. The regional organization first terminated Greene in 2015, following an internal investigation into an incident in which he was alleged to have been reckless with his service weapon.
• A group of local and regional organizations help launch Nunavik’s second “family house” in Kangiqsualujjuaq. Qarmaapik House is a community-run resource designed to offer a safe place for Nunavik families, especially children at risk of being put in youth protection.
• Kuujjuaq leaders call for better support and counselling in the wake of more suicides in Nunavik’s largest community. Since the end of 2015, five youth aged 15 to 22 have ended their own lives, with a sixth related death in Montreal.
• Nunavik’s leadership welcomes the federal government’s spring budget, which includes $50 million in funding for social housing in the region over two years. “It’s not all of what we we’re looking for, but we are happy that we’re able to build over 100 units over the next two years,” said Makivik President Jobie Tukkiapik.
• A 43-year-old Puvirnituq man, Aipellie Novalinga, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of a 16-year-old boy in the Hudson coast community. Tamusi Qumak Kenuajuak died of three stab wounds, his family says.
• Tasiujaq mushers Willie Cain Jr. and Daniel Cain Annahatak celebrate victory after winning the 2016 edition of Ivakkak, Nunavik’s annual dog sled race, with a total time of 30 hours and 55 minutes.
• Nunavik Inuit ask to be exempted from Quebec’s proposed firearms registry, tabled at its national assembly or legislature in 2015. If passed, the bill would require all firearms owners to register their weapons, with fines of up to $5,000 for those who don’t comply.
• The KRG gains new senior managers with the hiring of former Makivik executive Michael Gordon as its new director general. Frédéric Gagné, the long-time director of the KRG’s department of Municipal and Public Works, moves up as assistant director general.
• A growing number of Nunavimmiut call on regional leaders to declare a state of emergency in response to the high number of suicides that Nunavik has seen so far in 2016. “Nunavik leaders; we don’t know what to do,” said a message posted to social media by singer Beatrice Deer. “We feel helpless. We’ve never seen so much death by suicide.”
• The Quebec government amends legislation that regulates hiring in the province’s construction industry to allow for the long-awaited creation of a workforce placement region for Nunavik by 2017. The Commission de la construction du Québec has always grouped Nunavik under its James Bay and Côte Nord regions, which means that construction workers from either of those regions have had priority hiring on Nunavik-based construction projects.
• Nunavik’s regional organizations draft a Nunavik Crisis Response Plan to respond to suicide in the region: 11 youth since the end of 2015 have ended their own lives.
• KRPF officers are cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the 2015 shooting death of an Inukjuak man. After a year-long investigation, Quebec’s Crown prosecutor concludes that police used appropriate force to protect themselves against an axe-wielding man who threatened two officers outside the local detachment.
• The second edition of a major, region-wide health survey scheduled for 2016 is delayed until the following year when researchers’ transportation, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel, becomes unavailable. The new survey will be a follow-up of the Qanuippitaa? (How are we?) survey conducted in 2004.
• Housekeeping staff from a hotel in Puvirntuq make allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against the hotel’s manager. Staff allege the man propositioned sex from female staff, some of them minors, and touched the women inappropriately.
• Dr. Françoise Bouchard is named as the new director of public health at the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services. Bouchard has served as interim director since February, replacing the organization’s outgoing director, Serge Déry.
• Air Inuit pilot Melissa Haney becomes the first Inuk woman to become a caption on the airline’s Dash 8 aircraft. Haney is one of only two women pilots flying for the Nunavik airline.
• Nunavik’s beluga whale harvesting season comes to an early end when hunters harvest the last of the quota in the region’s current three-year management plan. Harvesters catch the equivalent of 162 whales by Aug. 17, prompting the Department of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to issue a closure notice.
• Baby Tom Colin Josie Unaluk is the 3,000th baby delivered by midwives at Puvirnituq’s maternity centre, the first in the region to bring modern midwifery home to Nunavik in the mid-1980s.
• The Quebec government tables a new bill that aims to change how Indigenous children across the province are placed in foster homes. Bill 99, An Act to Amend the Youth Protection Act and other provisions, seeks to include a child’s community and cultural identify as factors in deciding what type of foster home setting is best.
• Nine years after Quebec’s human rights commission released a scathing report on sub-standard youth protection services in Nunavik, the commission’s current director says little has changed in the region. The head of Nunavik’s health board, Minnie Grey, adds to the discussion when she says the region faces a shortage of foster homes as the number of children placed in care continues to grow.
• The Kativik School Board secures the necessary funding to open Nunavik’s first urban, Inuit-focused post-secondary program. Nunavik Sivuniksavut, modeled after the successful Ottawa-based Nunavut Sivuniksavut, is now slated to begin delivering classes in the fall of 2017.
• Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard appoints a negotiator to help move stalled negotiations between Nunavik and the province’s social housing body.
•The Quebec producers of Ungava Gin take heat for their depiction of Inuit in an international marketing campaign. The company, which markets its gin as Nunavik-sourced, says it harvests its botanicals from across the province.
• Nunavik leaders welcome long-awaited changes to Quebec legislation that will recognize the status of Inuit involved in traditional adoptions. Bill 113 includes new provisions that will recognize Inuit custom adoption, to ensure the constitutional and treaty rights of adopted children and their parents are respected.
• At the request of Nunavik harvesters, the federal fisheries department opens a restricted fall beluga harvest to certain communities. “It’s our tradition and culture to make this harvest every fall,” said Putulik Papigatuk of the Regional Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujiqatigininga.
• Following the success of its inaugural event, Nunavik’s regional suicide prevention committee hosts its second suicide prevention conference in Kuujjuaq, Puttautiit, welcoming front line workers, community leaders and Nunavimmiut who’ve lost family to suicide.
• The KRG-run Tamaani internet service provider switches to a new satellite. But its plans to upgrade bandwidth across the region are delayed until 2017. In the new year, customers will see a bump in download speeds from 1.5 megabits a second to up to four megabits per second.
• The KRG releases the results of an extensive cost-of-living study, which shows Nunavimmiut pay on average 13 per cent more for goods than residents of Quebec City, and as high as 48 per cent more for store-bought food. Nunavik’s leaders will use the data to negotiate new and longer-term provincial subsidies to offset the high cost of living in the region.
• Nunavik and Quebec officials reach an agreement-in-principle on a revised rent scale for the region’s social housing tenants, to help lower annual rent hikes. The KRG says a new government-appointment negotiator is helping to advance stalled housing talks between the region and Quebec’s social housing body.
• Adamie Delisle Alaku, Makivik’s incumbent vice president of resource development, is re-elected to the position by acclamation. Nunavik Inuit will vote to elect a treasurer in early 2017.
• Kangiqsualujjuaq’s community run safe house for families and children at risk, Qarmaapik House, wins part of the Arctic Inspiration Price, worth $700,000, at a gala in Winnipeg Dec. 8.
• The union representing teachers and support staff at the KSB has asked school board commissioners to help revive stalled contract negotiations. The KSB says it wants to be be able to negotiate working conditions for teachers and staff rather than the Quebec government, which currently handles negotiations.