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Baker Lake man describes sacrifice as he leaves family, community behind for Iqaluit job

Making the decision to take a job at the Qikiqtani General Hospital was no small decision for Matthew Nagyougalik Uqayuittuq, 59, who has called Baker Lake home for his entire life.

Uqayuittuq had spent time in Iqaluit as a teenager, attending school in the capital in Grade 10 through Grade 12 from 1977 to 1980, when it was then known as Frobisher Bay.

Family members from left, daughter Gail , son Jerome, wife Jean, and furry family member Cliff, pose for a family photo with Matthew Nagyougalik Uqayuittuq as he sets out on a new career in Iqaluit this past April.
Photo courtesy Matthew Nagyougalik Uqayuittuq

Uqayuittuq said it's important to him to be able to work for a living to provide for his family, and that's what led him to Iqaluit this past April 28.

He said his last few days in Baker Lake were difficult, but he had made up his mind on trying the move to Iqaluit.

My first question when I was first interviewed for the job was if I could bring my dog Cliff, who I've had for six years now, with me,” laughed Uqayuittuq .

When the answer was no, I spent as much time as I could with Cliff before it was time for me to leave.

One thing I noticed right away in Iqaluit was that everybody walks their dog on a leash here, and I think Cliff would have struggled with that because as soon I would get outside of the town of Baker every day on our walk together I would let the leash go.

Here, no matter if I'm walking on the Road to Nowhere or right in the city, every dog, even the smallest, tiny ones, is on a leash, so I think that would have been quite difficult for Cliff.”

Uqayuittuq said he still misses Cliff very much every day.

He said the first few weeks of not having Cliff around were very tough on him. While also missing his family members so much, it was touch and go for a little bit in the big city.

Matthew Nagyougalik Uqayuittuq, left, poses for a photo with his great nephew Preston Scott Atangat Lareau, one of the family members who he misses a great deal since his move to Iqaluit almost six months ago.
Photo courtesy Matthew Nagyougalik Uqayuittuq

My son and daughter both have jobs in Baker now, so they're doing well. I went to see them for a week this past June and I just about cried when it was time to leave again.

It was all so new to me at first until I found myself starting to fit in with my surroundings. The people here have helped me adjust a great deal too, because they were all so welcoming to me.

Everyone here is so outgoing and it doesn't seem to matter much where you're from. You see Inuit and non-Inuit together here all the time, getting along so well, and that was a real eye-opener for me.

People here are open to me, pretty straightforward and friendly. Mostly everyone here gets along so well, and that's been so nice to see.”

Uqayuittuq said Covid-19 has prevented him from experiencing everything Iqaluit has to offer. He's looking forward to finally watching a movie in a local movie theatre and watching all the performers at the Iqaluit Music Festival.

He said it's been a learning experience for him, and he's grateful for the friendliness of his neighbours and coworkers, which really helped him be able to start looking at Iqaluit like his home.

I'm slowly starting to think of this as my home and, if I pass my probationary period this month, I'll be very happy to continue on here.

I’m adjusting to my apartment. I have a dishwasher, which I ran once and it took like three hours. I haven't had it on again.

If I had to do this again, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I'm very comfortable now in Iqaluit and, although I'm very much a day-by-day person, I'm hoping to call it home for quite a while now.”