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UPDATED: Arctic Bay's Tununirusiq Daycare receives $50,000 from Baffinland to reopen its doors

Arctic Bay's mayor hopes the community's daycare will open its doors again by 2021, thanks to a $50,000 donation from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

Frank May says reopening the daycare has been a part of Arctic Bay's economic development plan for 20 years, but funding to refurbish the old daycare, which operated for a couple of years, has been hard to find.

Enter Baffinland.

"It was very celebratory," said the company's vice-president of community and strategic development Udlu Hanson about the cheque presentation event.

"There was a lot of clapping and appreciation, understanding that this is a major step towards opening the daycare."

Baffinland community resource coordinator Lena Qaunaq, Natsiq Kango, Julian Oyukuluk, Baffinland president and chief executive officer Brian Penney and Arctic Bay Mayor Frank May celebrate the company's $50,000 donation toward the reopening of a daycare in the community of roughly 900.
photo courtesy Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.

The re-opening of Tununirusiq Daycare will provide much-needed spaces, enabling parents and guardians to enter the workforce. May approached the mining company for assistance.

"This donation from Baffinland will … give us the opportunity to reopen our doors and make plans for the daycare. It will also help us begin establishing a foundation for an Early Childhood Resource Centre, which would house both the daycare and students from the Aboriginal Head Start Program," stated May.

May says not having a daycare in the community means workplaces, such as the Co-op or the schools, can be disrupted when a pre-school-aged child is sick or there are no babysitters available. Employers find themselves juggling staff.

"For the people that are trying to work, they have no real option," said May. "And we have high school students that are mothers and fathers. So they run into the same thing. If they don't have a ready babysitter, then it's starting to impact them trying to get their Grade 12."

The Arctic Bay daycare is on the list to receive Pirurvik Preschool trainers who will bring their award-winning, made-in-Nunavut early childhood education program to the community.

And May says he's currently trying to find six to eight people interested in taking an early childhood education applied certificate program. If he gets those names, Nunavut Arctic College will offer the two-to-three-week modules in the community.

"If I can get six or eight bodies, I can start working on that. If anybody in Arctic Bay is interested, give me a call," May said.

Repairs to the building should be done by Christmas, but training staff and doing everything else involved in setting up a daycare could take up to two years.

May noted Ruth Oyukuluk, Julian Oyukuluk, Lena Qaunaq and Baffinland employee Natsiq Kango were the driving force behind reestablishing the daycare.

"They actually showed us around the building that will be used, that was used in the past, for the daycare that had to shut down," said Hanson, adding the women explained what would need to be done for the building to be child-ready.

"Of course, for any of this to happen, any of the training and all the other costs associated with opening the daycare, this wasn't going to be realized unless they had the physical space for it, a usable space. This was really the first step. And there's really not much funding available, bricks-and-mortar type funding for daycares and for communities that want to open a daycare. They said this is the first stepping stone for them to do that."

As Hanson points out, Nunavut lags behind in daycare spaces. After the announcement, the community held a feast. Martha Qaunaq, who originally opened the daycare in the early 2000s, recited a special prayer to kick-off the event.

The funding comes from a pot of money Baffinland calls the donations and sponsorship fund. That fund is for the five North Baffin communities the company seeks to supports: Iglulik, Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Hall Beach and Arctic Bay.

The priority areas for the fund are health and safety, education, art, sports and culture, community engagement, and mining events and mining education. The company has sponsored teams to participate in sporting events, for example, and it bought one community a Zamboni. It also contributed to the elders' gathering recently held in Iglulik by flying elders from its affected communities with its plane.

"We also provided a cash donation to help with the kitchen," said Hanson.

Baffinland also helps communities with proposals to leverage other funding.

Projects are community-driven.

"We don't act on anything unless it's been requested by the community, and they're almost all volunteer-led initiatives," said Hanson.

While in the community for the announcement, Hanson met a young mother who runs the local food bank from a sea can.

"She's worried in the months to come, the weeks to come, when the snow comes and the darkness comes, she's not going to be able to do it. Because they've had difficulties keeping up with their financial statements as a society, she's a bit strapped. We've helped a number of the communities with their food banks by providing $50,000 donations. We're hoping to help her," said Hanson.

"This is something we'll have to figure out with her how to move forward. The need is there. And the volunteers are there. She's got volunteers lined right up. It's just the governance and all the support that's required to see a society succeed and continue to succeed and serve the needs of the community."

Hanson encourages anyone from the five communities with an idea to approach the company's community representatives.

Updated August 29, 2019.