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Article 23 must be the great focus

Nunavut News approached Nunavut Agreement negotiator and former premier Paul Quassa, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk and newly elected premier Joe Savikataaq to pinpoint a specific area where the implementation of Nunavut Agreement has benefitted Inuit and, where there have been challenges to implementation, how have Inuit been affected.

NNSL file photo
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk, seen here revealing the cost of lost wages to Inuit with the continued lack of implementation of the Nunavut Agreement's Article 23, points to this failure as having a heart-wrenching impact on Inuit and on the vision of Nunavut. Kotierk is flanked by John Amagoalik, left, and Pujjuut Kusugak – now Education deputy minister – Sept. 12, 2017.

Aluki Kotierk was 15 when she heard Paul Quassa, who was then president and chief negotiator for Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut (now Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.), speak in April 1990 at the signing of the agreement-in-principle in their home community of Iglulik.

It was a time of hope and vision, said Kotierk, who was elected president of the Inuit organization in late 2016.

But, she adds, "In so many implementation issues, even if it's working well, there are aspects that are not working well."

She points to Institutions of Public Government (IPG), which include the Nunavut Impact Review Board, Nunavut Water Board, Nunavut Planning Commission, Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal.

"I think that's a really good aspect of the Nunavut Agreement that established these structures so that there's the co-management regime so that Inuit are always involved in discussions that impact our land and our wildlife and our waters," said Kotierk.

"An aspect of that regime we find problematic in this day and age is that the honoraria offered to board members has remained stagnant for so many years that it's become quite challenging to garner interest and recruit Inuit in being part of those IPGs.

"On the one hand this is a great achievement, but on the other hand by not keeping up to date on the honoraria, it makes it a challenge."

But nothing fires her up more than Article 23, 25 years after the signing of the final agreement.

"In that article, there's so much intent and spirit and vision of seeing Inuit in a more prosperous position in our society. When you look at that and you see the vision of that article and you see the lack of implementation of it, it's heart-wrenching," said Kotierk.

Kotierk says there was a lot of hope in what the negotiators thought Nunavut would look like.

"Part of that vision was that Inuit would be in positions where they could design and develop programs and services that reflect Inuit ways of being and understanding, and that they would be able to provide those programs and services in Inuktut, a language the majority of the public speaks."

The vision of Nunavut is short-changed by the failure to implement Article 23, she says, and Inuit are losing out on the salary dollars they would have been able to take home had Nunavut achieved a representative workforce.

In September 2017, Kotierk revealed financial firm Price Waterhouse Cooper Canada's results after assessing the situation: an estimated $1.28 billion in lost wages to Inuit from 2017 to 2023.

"Not only would it have been an economic benefit to households and homes of Inuit, but it would have a cultural impact because then Inuit would be in a position where they could afford to buy all these expensive hunting equipment."

She says that's where the great focus needs to be – Article 23.

Kotierk links the importance of Inuit ways in a modern world of a cash economy.

"Often people don't make that connection. But it's the same premise for Nutrition North Canada," she said, noting the foods subsidized by the federal government aren't focused on country foods, for example.

"Is there a way so the main goal is still to provide nutritious healthy food, but is there another way of doing that," she asks.

"I think that was the hope. Is there another way of doing this? We know we do this in Ontario. We know we do this in Newfoundland. We know we do this in Alberta. But now we're in Nunavut and it's OK for us to be different. And it's OK for us to build upon the knowledge, the strength, the cultural foundations of the majority public who are Inuit," Kotierk said.

"And take pride in that."

The NTI president mentions the song Nunavut by the band Uvagut.

"It speaks to the Inuit who were working towards getting Nunavut and what they had hoped for. Some things are going well and some things are not going well. But, as Inuit, we have to rise up and make things go well."