In December, Aluki Kotierk marked the one-year anniversary of her election to the presidency of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), while newly elected Premier Paul Quassa said he’d come full circle, having led the Inuit organization, formerly known as Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, through the signing of the agreement-in-principle, then the Nunavut Final Agreement.
“I have a very good sense of what the vision was,” Quassa said. “This gives me an excellent opportunity to carry on that vision. It’s a great feeling to be within something we had a dream of.”
Kotierk wasted no time after Quassa’s rise to premiership in refreshing his memory about an event from when she was 15.
“I sent him a copy of the speech he gave in 1990 in Iglulik, when the agreement-in-principle was signed,” she said, adding she’d highlighted a segment where he talks about an Inuktitut education system.
“I don’t think we disagree on the end result, which would be to have Inuit bilingual in Inuktut and English, and bi-cultural, having a foundation in being Inuk but being able to work anywhere across the country.”
Quassa said the ability to live in two worlds “gives us more strength. Knowing those two worlds, you can combine them, make them stronger.”
Kotierk is looking forward to seeing a “more robust training program for Inuit to become teachers.”
Both Quassa and Kotierk experienced a year of high stakes in 2017 on matters related to the agreement.
Pressing issues included the Education Act, which has yet to be revised, bilingual education, which has yet to be implemented after 18 years, and a representative Inuit workforce.
It’s an open secret that government has often considered Inuit organizations annoyances rather than partners, as many off-the-record conversations between GN staff and Nunavut News have revealed in the past few years.
Both Quassa and Kotierk indicate those days are over.
“It appears we’ll be able to work in partnership to make life better for Inuit. That’s very positive,” said Kotierk.
Nunavut population predominantly Inuit
So far Quassa’s appointments and general tone point to an Inuit-driven, no-nonsense approach.
“The whole purpose of a Nunavut agreement, and the creation of a Nunavut government, was to ensure the language, the culture, the Inuit values were forever going to be respected within our territory,” said Quassa.
He adds that Inuit independence and self-sufficiency are at the core of the agreement.
“We can make our own decisions,” he said. “We can create our own future destinations. Inuit values are to be respected.”
Any leader asked about governance in the territory four years ago would repeat the common refrain: “The Government of Nunavut is a public government – it serves the public as a whole.”
Today, ask the same question, and the reply is: “The Government of Nunavut is a public government – 85 per cent of the public is Inuit.”
Both Quassa and Kotierk acknowledge that there may always be disagreements or differences of opinion between the government and the Inuit organizations.
“We have the same goals,” said Quassa.
As 2018 unfolds, Quassa is focused on social development and healthy communities, education, partnerships with the private sector, economic development, and major infrastructure.
Kotierk is targeting partnerships with federal ministers and other Inuit leaders, as well as the full implementation of Nunavut Agreement.
“All the parties have roles and obligations and they have to fulfill them. So the federal government certainly has a role in that,” she said, noting NTI will leverage a PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada report that pegged the cost of lost wages to Inuit – due to the continued lack of implementation of the Nunavut Agreement’s Article 23 – at an estimated $1.28 billion from 2017 to 2023.
Quassa said he knows Nunavummiut have high expectations for the next four years, and he believes his new cabinet is up to the task.
“We want to be a government that will be able to meet most of the expectations of Nunavummiut. Our goal, at the end of the day, is to become a province,” said Quassa.
The 5th Legislative Assembly will hold its full caucus retreat in Iglulik Feb. 19 to 23, and emerge with its mandate. The next sitting begins March 6.