Pangnirtung mayor sets sights on legislative assembly seat
Sakiasie Sowdlooapik ready to tackle outdated facilities and poverty
Pangnirtung mayor Sakiasie Sowdlooapik says he’s ready to serve his community at a higher level.
As his second term in the hamlet’s highest elected office comes to a close, Sowdlooapik is focused on running for the Pangnirtung seat in the Oct. 28 territorial election.
“My term ends this year, and I already told the community I was committed,” he said. “I’m not running again for mayor.”
As MLA, “I will be in a very good position to lobby for the people of Pangnirtung, and for what they would like to achieve in the future,” he told Nunatsiaq News.
Sowdlooapik, 57, has served as hamlet councillor on and off since 1992, he said, eventually becoming mayor in 2009. He has served as chairman of Atuqtuarvik Corp., an Inuit-owned Nunavut investment company, for the past three years.
Pangnirtung’s biggest priorities stem from the community’s fast-growing population, Sowdlooapik said, which calls for urgent expansion to housing, education, and economic opportunities.
“The community’s growing very, very fast. When I see school students, there’s over 300 of them,” he said.
In the long run, this means the hamlet needs many more housing units, he said.
Each new school year sees about 30 new children starting kindergarten, which means there is more immediate need to expand schools and add teachers to measure up to demand.
“When you have too many in the class, you don’t learn very fast or very well,” Sowdlooapik said.
“I’ve experienced that myself. We need better facilities for the future. If we don’t start planning today, it’s never going to fall through. We need to start planning now.”
Pangnirtung’s infrastructure in general is outdated for the 21st century, he added, to the point where some of it may soon become hazardous.
“Many times, when a health inspector, fire marshal inspector or electrical inspector comes into town, they usually leave the community with a very, very long list now.
And they don’t come back very often,” Sowdlooapik said. “So we the residents, Pangnirtungmiut, have a lot of work to do.”
Infrastructure upgrades start with the airstrip, the gateway in and out of the community.
“We need a safer airstrip,” he said, pointing out that the runway divides the community on two, and leaves too little room for expansion to the north and south.
“There’s been four studies in the past, since I was a young man, and the government hasn’t been able to find a solution to this day.”
The runway is too short to take planes with full loads, he added, which limits economic activity.
“We have a lot of fresh products that wait in Iqaluit, that cannot come it because they’re overweight,” the candidate said.
“And of course we have very good fisheries development in the community, where a lot of turbot and other fish has gone out to Asia – but many times planes cannot take out full loads because of the airstrip.”
Sowdlooapik, who worked previously for 15 years as a federal park warden and wildlife officer, believes hunting still has an important role to play in the community, both for economic development and as a way to guard against poverty and hunger.
The fur trade, sealing and fisheries are obvious avenues for development that can pay off, he said.
Agencies such as the local hunters and trappers association and the regional wildlife management board can make it a reality “if we all work together,” he said.
More over, Sowdlooapik said, “the government is trying to deal with poverty and people going hungry.”
Yet government subsidies to deal with this are “almost useless now,” he added.
“More and more people are eager to go out hunting and fishing, but they cannot afford the things they need to go out on the land.”
The costs of transport and survival gear needed for hunting is getting out of reach for too many, Sowdlooapik said, “and that’s where the Government of Nunavut needs to work harder, through the MLAs, so we can re-learn traditional skills and be able to put something on the table to support the family, and not go hungry.”
Sowdlooapik also said he sees a need to improve recreational facilities in the community, which were a recurring question issue during his time on the hamlet council.
Sowdlooapik and his wife have seven children and 13 grandchildren.
During his interview, he thanked his wife for the big job of raising them, particularly during his previous career with Parks Canada, when he travelled widely across the country.
Also running for MLA in Pangnirtung are the hamlet’s deputy mayor Johnny Mike, incumbent MLA Hezekiah Oshutapik, and Harry J. Dialla.