Nunavut’s vision, Nunavut’s reality
“The elite in the government don’t really know what Nunavut’s all about”
THE NUNAVUT PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH CENTRE
The Oct. 28 election of the Fourth Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, which elected 15 and possibly 16 new MLAs, signifies that the Legislative Assembly desperately needed a blood transfusion — a blood transfusion that provided 70 per cent new blood.
That tells us something, and it says a lot.
Twenty years after the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that led to the division of the Northwest Territories and the creation of Nunavut, and 14 years after the vision was realized of Inuit running their own government, a wholesale change in leadership was needed to begin once again the work to achieve the vision of Nunavut.
It’s time to go back and look at what that vision was, and what has happened over the last 15 or 20 years to prevent Inuit from achieving it.
We need to go back to basics.
• Before the Hudson’s Bay Co., missionaries, whalers and government officials came along, including the RCMP, Inuit were in control over their own destiny, in every aspect of their lives;
• Residential schools had a profound affect on Inuit children, families and communities, which included the RCMP forcibly taking Inuit children away and patrolling the communities, shooting the dogs Inuit used for hunting;
• Although Inuit moved into communities in the 1950s and 1960s, the sale of sealskins and fox trapping until the late 1970s allowed Inuit to continue traditional hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering; and,
• The vision of the Nunavut government was simple: If we have our own government, we can determine our own future, and continue to live our traditional way of life.
What’s happened since:
• To a very large degree, the only Inuit who can afford to go out hunting are those with a job. Inuit who are on welfare, or are underemployed, do not have the means to buy the machines and the equipment needed to go out hunting, not even on weekends. The Nunavut government has not helped these Inuit, who also had the vision of Nunavut, especially in the smaller communities;
• The education system has improved, but only marginally – from a 10 per cent Inuit high school graduation rate in the 1980s, to about 25 per cent today. Nor has the curriculum changed to instill the Inuit culture way of life into our children. Elders may be brought into the schools from time to time, but the time and resources that the government puts into this is nowhere near what it puts into certified teachers, and they don’t get anywhere near the same amount of pay as teachers. Social promotion did not do any favours to Inuit either, despite what some of the well-educated but foolish elite thought in Iqaluit;
• Related to bullet points one and two above, many kids go to school hungry, and in a lot of cases, government employees get more each year just from their northern allowance — which offsets the higher cost of living in the north — than the total amount that people on welfare get each year. The elite get more compensation just for living up north, not including their regular salary, than many people who are from the north and are living on welfare. Their children are hungry, they can’t afford to go hunting because they don’t have a job, and the old welfare system — which has just been carried over from the NWT days — does not provide Inuit any of the equipment they need to go hunting;
• Of course, Inuit knew there would have to be compromises. Some people would have to sacrifice living the hunting and fishing way of life, so they could get the education needed to run the government, but they would be able to put in place the programs and the support that other Inuit need who want to continue the traditional way of life. To a very large degree, neither of these goals have been achieved, and after almost a decade and a half, not even a dent has been made;
• Quite the opposite, some would say we have gone backwards. Those with jobs can continue the traditional way of life, and those who want to continue the traditional way of life have practically nothing. Inuit living in poverty has brought even more teenage suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and more and more murders, which were practically unheard of in the past; and,
• Moreover, there are fewer Inuit who have the education and qualifications needed to get jobs in government to make the decisions, and who would therefore be in positions to make a real difference. The elite in the government don’t really know what Nunavut’s all about, and most of the decision makers in Iqaluit haven’t traveled very much to the smaller communities either, and don’t have a very good idea of what Nunavut is really like.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of what needs to change, but if the new MLAs don’t get this right, the rest really doesn’t matter, with the exception of housing.
Let’s see if the MLAs spend that $300 million to build a new airport in Iqaluit, or if they’ll use the Nunavut government’s portion of that money to build some new houses in the smaller communities.
We’ll find out if Iqaluit has corrupted them already!
Editor’s note: “The Nunavut Public Policy Research Centre” is a pen name chosen by a person who wishes to remain anonymous.