Rookie MLA from Rankin Inlet learns the ropes at Nunavut legislature
“I really hope to produce on these promises I’ve made to Rankin"
RANKIN INLET — If airports are important meeting places for Nunavummiut travelling through the territory, the airport in Rankin Inlet has become the site of a welcome home party for Alexander Sammurtok.
When the new MLA for Rankin Inlet South returned home from the latest session of the legislative assembly in Iqaluit last week, he couldn’t believe the reception he received at the airport.
“There were so many people who wanted to shake my hand,” he laughed. “It’s a good experience, you feel welcome.”
At 60, Sammurtok is an unlikely rookie to politics, and maybe even more so considering how he won his riding.
After ending in a dead heat with incumbent Lorne Kusugak following the territorial election last fall, Sammurtok won the riding by 43 votes in a by-election this past February.
He represents the community alongside Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Tom Sammurtok, his uncle.
Over the last four months, Sammurtok has had to learn the ropes, from caucus orientation, opening a constituency office in Rankin Inlet and navigating the legislative assembly in Iqaluit.
“The first session was a learning experience,” he said. “But this last spring session, that’s when I started to go with the flow.”
His favourite part: questioning ministers in the house.
“I really started to enjoy that,” he said. “A lot of the time the ministers don’t expect the questions, so they really start scrambling around for answers.”
But as he’s learned, asking a question doesn’t guarantee an answer. One of the issues Sammurtok has been pushing is to re-open the Rankin Inlet group home that closed last year.
While it was open, the centre housed children living with mental and physical handicaps who came from communities across the Kivalliq.
“A lot of people were surprised it closed,” Sammurtok said. “From what I was told, some children were returned to their natural families, but many were put in homes in the South. And that’s been hard on their families who won’t be able to see them for a long time.”
Fellow Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak put a similar question to Nunavut ministers this part winter, when she asked why an Iqaluit youth home stopped serving special needs children last fall.
While some of those children were transferred to another facility in Iqaluit, many of them were also moved to southern facilities.
Iqaluit and Chesterfield are the only two communities in the territory with operating children’s youth homes, although the Government of Nunavut will put out a request for proposals this month for an operator to re-open and run the Cambridge Bay group home.
“If they can do it there, I can’t see any reason why they can’t do it in other regions,” Sammurtok said.
One of the more common questions Sammurtok is asked by constituents while he’s at home is about how to gain access to certain government programs and social assistance.
Another of his goals is to secure the Government of Nunavut’s support for a 24-hour care facility for elders in Rankin Inlet.
Currently, the community has a home care program, which provides nursing and housekeeping services for elders in their homes.
But Sammurtok said the community needs its own facility dedicated to the care of seniors, where elders have access to care around the clock, in a more communal setting.
“I really hope to produce on these promises I’ve made to Rankin people,” he said. “These ideas don’t come from me — this is all what people have told me they want to see. And I hope their wishes come true.”