CamBay candidates make final pitches prior to Oct. 30 Nunavut election
Candidate forum with three MLA hopefuls draws good crowd
CAMBRIDGE BAY—If you attended the morning candidate forum held Oct. 28 in Cambridge Bay, you were able to witness a powerful demonstration of civic responsibility among Nunavummiut.
First, a diverse audience showed up for the forum at Luke Novoligak Community Hall at 10 a.m.—early for a Saturday morning by Cambridge Bay standards—to learn more about the three candidates vying to become their MLA, following a decision by veteran MLA and cabinet minister Keith Peterson not to seek re-election.
The candidates running for MLA in the Oct. 30 election—Jeannie Ehaloak, Pamela Gross and Harry Maksagak—responded with well-thought-out responses to six questions from moderator Jonathan Park and audience members on issues such as the role of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in the Nunavut government, the importance of the Nunavut Agreement and Article 23, ways to improve medical travel, education and housing, youth involvement and language revitalization.
Among the common issues cited by the three candidates as priorities: education and housing.
They also said working with non-Inuit in Cambridge Bay, whose population of roughly 1,700 includes many long-term resident non-Inuit, is important.
“If you expect to be here all your life, we should make you partners of our community,” said Ehaloak, who served as the town’s mayor until deciding to run for MLA.
If elected, the candidates all promised to maintain close contact with their constituents, through meetings, newsletters and social media.
During the forum, each candidate sought to be distinguished from the others: Ehalok for her previous political experience; Gross for her education, service on boards, work as a hamlet councillor, and her youth; and Maksagak for his life experience and eloquence.
No Inuinnaqtun interpretation was provided at the forum, for which organizer Park apologized.
But Richard Ekpakohak, a member of the audience, asked candidates how they would revive Inuinnaqtun, largely displaced by English in the community.
He translated his own question, posed first in Inuinnaqtun.
“Our language is not dying. It is just sleeping,” Ehaloak responded, quoting what an elder had told her.
Ehaloak and the two other candidates all agreed Inuinnaqtun requires better instruction, with elders, parents, youth and schools as part of the solution.
Gross, who, as executive director of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, has worked on Inuinnaqtun materials and has also studied the language since her return to her home community about four years ago, said “it is the foundation of who we are as Inuit.”
That was echoed by Maksagak, who answered Ekpakohak in Inuinnaqtun, saying the language holds Inuit together and means, to him, that “I am an Inuk first of all.”
In responses to other questions, Maksagak said IQ principles, along with the Nunavut Agreement and Nunavut, can help people in Cambridge Bay recover from the impact of colonization and assimilation, suffered after they were pulled from camps around the region into the community, which had only about 450 residents in 1964.
In responding to a question about youth—who now make up the majority of Cambridge Bay’s population—Ehaloak brought up the hamlet’s declaration of 2017 as the year of youth in the community.
If elected as MLA, she promised to let youth know, “we’re here for them and we will help them.”
Maksagak spoke about his meeting with children at the youth centre during the campaign when children shared with him their aspirations for the future.
“We must give them our support,” said Maksagak, adding that it’s even more important to listen to children and youth because many of them come from overcrowded homes where their opinions are often overrided.
On housing, Maksagak, the current chair of the Cambridge Bay Housing Association, suggested privatizing the Nunavut Housing Corp. as a way to increase housing in town, while Ehalok said she plans to encourage the construction of affordable tiny houses.
She said she would also revisit the public housing rent scale so it doesn’t discourage people from moving off social assistance and into jobs.
Gross, a homeowner, said she would use role models in Cambridge Bay and explore other ways to help people learn that “it’s ok to own our own houses.”
At the beginning and end of the forum, the candidates had a chance to sum up why the 900 or so voters in the community should support them.
Maksagak, who said he believes “there needs to be someone in the Nunavut legislature with a heart,” promised that everyone in the room would be “with me” in the legislative assembly.
Ehaloak emphasized the long experience in public service that she could offer the community as its new MLA, while Gross underlined her education and enthusiasm to advance Cambridge Bay.
You can read more about the candidates in an earlier riding portrait.
Voting in Cambridge Bay will take place Oct. 30 at the community hall from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. mountain time.