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'It's our home. We need Inuit pilots'

Newly licensed pilot Joseph Akulujuk toasted as pride of Pangnirtung

The community of Pangnirtung can look forward to seeing one of their own members flying to and from its skies in the near future.

Joseph Akulujuk has been training for the last two years to become a pilot at First Nations Technical Institute in Tyganyga, Ont. He recently passed a milestone in his schooling, having received his private pilot licence, the first Inuk within the hamlet to do so.

Joseph Akulujuk has trained in Ontario for the past two years and has received his private pilot's licence. He's now continuing his training toward a commercial pilot's licence and would like to see more Inuit take to the skies. photo courtesy of Joseph Akulujuk

Making it to this point has not been without its struggles however, being far from home, but Akulujuk overcame those initial trials in his schooling with the help of his peers and teachers.

"At first it was really difficult because I'm living somewhere where I'm not with family and I have to get a lot of support from other people in person," said Akulujuk.

There is a certain level of pride that Akulujuk's family has in him in choosing to become a pilot.

"I want him to finish the program, we've been so supportive of him throughout his studying, even though it's not easy all the time, we're always encouraging him," said Rose Akulujuk, his mother, adding later that she would like to see more Inuit take to the skies, "'s our home, Nunavut is our land. We need Inuit pilots."

The 20-year-old aviator initially didn't know he would be the first in his community to go become a pilot but since attending flight school he now wants to see more Inuit flying around.

"Since I've been here (there's) only four other Inuit out of say 30 or 40 people in this program and I do want more Inuit to get into this kind of career, in the aviation industry," Akulujuk said.

He added that schools such as the First Nations Technical Institute provide important opportunities to communities who might not have as many opportunities to move up in the world.

"I wouldn't be here right now if I wasn't Inuit and if it wasn't for these organizations."

While Covid-19 may have affected his work but he doesn't intend to let that phase him.

"It's a little more work right now because of the Covid, (but) I'm doing the flight (simulator) and getting my classes done."

Akulujuk intends to spend around two more years in school to become a commercial pilot. After that he aspires to help his community through what he learned.

"Hopefully around 2022 I'll be in Pangnirtung," he said.

On Sept. 22, Akulujuk was recognized in the Nunavut Legislature for his achievements from Pangnirtung MLA

Margaret Nakashuk, who gave a member's statement to her fellow MLAs.

"I would like to recognize him and be proud of him. He is a young person from Pangnirtung. Let us celebrate him," she said. "I know that the people of Pangnirtung are very proud."