One Nunavut MLA’s wish list
Local services don't reflect size of Baker Lake, MLA Simeon Mikkungwak says
In a territory that struggles to keep up with health programs, education and infrastructure for its population, a chance to have its decision-makers’ ears for a day is highly valuable.
So when rookie MLA Simeon Mikkungwak received four ministers at his home community and constituency of Baker Lake, he wanted to make it count.
During a day-long visit last month, Mikkungwak toured with Economic Development and Transport Minister George Kuksuk, Education Minister Paul Quassa, Community and Government Services Minister Tom Sammurtok and Health Minister Monica Ell through the Kivalliq hamlet of about 1,900 people – Nunavut’s only inland community.
As in all of the territory’s communities, the tour starts at the point of arrival — the airport, infrastructure Mikkungwak says needs a do-over.
“There’s the age of the terminal building alone,” he said, referring to the crowded green and yellow coloured building.
“We’d like to see a runway expansion and also have the instrument package update and bring in a GPS system (to direct aircraft),” Mikkungwak said. “The GPS approach system is recognized globally, and it really makes a difference in a white-out storm.”
With a population of almost 2,000 residents, Baker Lake is one of Nunavut’s larger communities, but Mikkungwak, a former community mental health addictions counsellor, says the services available in town don’t reflect that.
As part of the ministers’ tour, Mikkungwak took Health Minister Monica Ell through the local health centre.
“For the size of our community we should have a new health centre, with up-to-date equipment,” said Mikkungwak. “It’s overcrowded.”
One of the MLA’s pressing concerns is for the state of Baker Lake’s Martha Taliruq elders centre, run by the community’s hospice society.
It’s an eight-bed facility, with limited respite care available, in an aging building along the community’s main strip.
It’s distinct from the long-term care facilities in Iqaluit and Gjoa Haven and group homes in both Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, which vary in the levels and durations of care they provide.
The roughly 20-year-old building is not the oldest in Baker Lake, but it’s aging. It first opened as a children’s group home, but re-launched as an elders centre about two years after that.
The centre is not always full; on a June afternoon, a handful of Baker Lake’s most elderly residents watch television, mull over a puzzle or look out the window.
But Mikkungwak said the services offered to elders are few and the staff who work for them are underpaid.
“Having lived here so long, [I know our community has] one of the highest numbers of elders in the territory,” Mikkungwak said. “The Martha Tuliraq centre can only house so many.”
The staff at Martha Taliruq are not professional health care providers, although they have First Aid training. But they oversee the operation of the centre, from meals to housekeeping and daily programming.
“According to local staff, they haven’t seen a pay increase in the last five years,” he said, “while most other organizations see a pay increase every year.”
Besides Baker Lake, Arviat and Iqaluit are also home to similar elders centres.
But Baker Lake’s was the only of the three to see a cut in its Government of Nunavut funding this year, from $981,000 to $948,000.
Mikkungwak has already raised the issue in the legislative assembly, asking to have those contribution amounts reviewed.
He hopes the ministers’ visit will help the see the realities and needs of his community, although Mikkungwak pledges to keep at it in his new job representing the community at the territorial level.
“I’m very comfortable now in this role right now,” Mikkungwak said. “I’ve received a lot of support from the community and organizations.”