Four Elder residents of the Iqaluit Elders Hostel have been staying in Ottawa’s Embassy West Seniors Facility since May, however, that didn’t need to happen, says former Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak.
She and four others were a part of the Sailivik Society, a non-profit group who did much of the groundwork and planning for a new Elders facility in Iqaluit, with the first letters of support for the project coming in early 2016. Angnakak is president of the society.
The Sailivik Society hopes to welcome additional members in the new year when they next meet.
Capital funding, initial plans and even lots were chosen by the Elders themselves in preparation to begin construction on the new Elders home.
According to Mason White at the architecture firm Lateral Office, who did work on the proposed building, it was also supposed to house facilities to care for dementia patients in addition to a daycare on the first floor.
“We put hours and hours into the planning,” said Angnakak. “We contacted NCC who agreed to pay for it, we would pay them back, but they would up-front the capital dollars the government didn’t need to come up with.”
Angnakak said land was set aside from the City, an initial $30,000 in funding was given from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, an additional $40,000 was set aside by Nunavut’s Economic Development and Transportation, and even Inuit Organizations were supporting Sailivik’s initiative.
“We had a motion from QIA to support this, a motion from the City and various letters of support – the Elders picked the lot they wanted, we went around in a bus, we met with Elders to talk about the space, what it would look like,” said Angnakak.
One of the first open letters of support came from then-QIA president and current Premier of Nunavut, P.J. Akeeagok, who wrote on Jan. 7, 2016 “There is a growing need for Elder care within our territory.
“I strongly support this project and urge you to give this priority it needs for the benefit of our Elders.”
Angnakak adds it was then handed to various departments within the Government of Nunavut, to the Nunavut Housing Corporation, then-minister of Health George Hickes and then-minister of Community and Government Services Lorne Kusugak.
The project to have a whole new Elders facility in Iqaluit “fell through at the government” level, Angnakak stated, and to this date, neither she nor anyone at Sailivik have heard back from the Government of Nunavut.
“If the government had responded even just saying we got your proposal, responded to any letters that were sent, we would have had our doors open by 2020. Maybe not with Covid but that was the plan … it was going to be a partnership between us, a non-profit coming from the community, the Inuit Organizations and the Government, which would have been exactly what they do at Embassy (West).”
“They would have been here in Iqaluit, we would have had the jobs here, we would have been more culturally relevant, families would have been able to see their loved ones, because Iqaluit is a hub.”
For Angnakak, this issue hits at a personal level, having lost a parent who was living in Embassy West just a couple of months ago.
“My mom was there until recently, she passed away in October having never come back (to Nunavut), and its really, really sad. My dad had to sell his house here so he could afford to live down there with her. That’s what he did and he’s still there now figuring out what he has to do next.”
The government pays for a family member to go to Ottawa for visits once every six months, “if you have a family of 15, some of those family members won’t see (their relative) again,” Angnakak said.
That doesn’t have to be the case for other families, she says. With much of the preliminary work on a new Iqaluit Elders home already done, Angnakak says it’s a good place as any to start looking into this matter again.
“We did a lot of work and it cost a lot of money and we can really get something going,” she says.