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March 2017 – Nunavut Year in Review

Arson destroys Kugaardjuq School


A youth was charged with arson after a fire destroyed Kugaaruk's only school, RCMP reported March 3.

photo courtesy of John Ivey
Kugaardjuq School in Kugaaruk was destroyed following an overnight fire on Feb. 28. A 13-year-old youth was charged with arson in relation to the fire.

"We watched it burn down," said Kugaaruk Fire Chief Vincent Ningark, whose crew of 12 braved extreme cold to fight – sometimes with their bare hands – an overnight fire that destroyed Kugaardjuq School, Feb. 28.

"It was a struggle from the beginning," said Ningark, who was called to the fire around 10:30 p.m.

He said putting out the flames needed to happen from inside the building, and the hamlet didn't have the heavy equipment to knock down walls or remove the roof.

"All we were able to do was protect the surrounding buildings."

The men focused on keeping the fire away from the nearby hamlet complex and power plant, and from having embers blown onto private homes. He said fortunately the wind was blowing west, away from a large fuel tank at the power plant.

A 13-year-old youth was charged with arson in relation to the fire.


Naujaat principal one of the best


Education Minister Paul Quassa recognized a Nunavut educator in the legislative assembly.

"I would like to ask my fellow members to join me in congratulating Aubrey Bolt, a principal in Naujaat, who was selected as one of Canada's Outstanding Principals in 2017. He now joins the ranks of 400 members of the National Academy of Canada's Outstanding Principals," said Quassa.

"His commitment to improving school attendance is one of his greatest accomplishments. Mr. Bolt became the principal at Tusarvik School in Naujaat in 2009. Under his school leadership for the past seven years, attendance at Tusarvik School rose from 53 percent in 2009 to 81 percent in 2016."

Bolt was principal at the hamlet's new Tuugaalik High School at the time of the announcement. Quassa noted Bolt was "a strong advocate of the breakfast program, which he believes contributes to improved attendance."


Health care in Nunavut looks dismal


The Department of Health received a damning review of its health-care service delivery by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG), resulting from an audit which took place between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2016.

But there were few surprises for Health Minister George Hickes.

"Department of Health employees were encouraged to engage in an open and frank process with the OAG. As a result, many of the report's recommendations do not come as a surprise," he stated in a news release shortly after the report was tabled in the legislative assembly in early March.

The 35-page report, which contained 17 recommendations, outlined a variety of egregious deficiencies in orientation and training for front-line workers, quality assurance procedures, safety, and recruitment and staffing. Most of these issues are long-standing, according to principal auditor James McKenzie.

"Overall, we found that the Department of Health was not giving its nurses and other health care personnel the support needed to properly care for the residents of Nunavut," McKenzie said.


Education Act changes 'window dressing': Kotierk


Amendments to the Education Act passed first reading in the legislative assembly in March. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) was not impressed with the changes.

The amendments included improving inclusion, local control, and Inuit-language instruction.

But the newly-tabled Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act amendments would not solve the current crisis in the education system, NTI president Aluki Kotierk said.

"The proposed amendments are window dressing at best and reduce the right to Inuktut language of instruction. The proposed changes appear to offer district education authorities (DEAs) a choice of instituting Inuktut language of instruction in schools, but without significantly increasing Inuktut-speaking teachers, DEAs (district education authorities) will not be able to offer this choice to students," she said.

"The Inuit self-determination that is promised in our Nunavut Agreement will only be realized when Inuit children are taught in Inuktut and graduate from high school."

Education assistant deputy minister John MacDonald said the department was working on it. He admitted the department had to do a better job of recruiting, retaining and supporting Inuit educators.


Gender identity added to Nunavut Human Rights Act


Nunavut MLAs were unanimous in their decision to support transgender rights within territorial legislation, following the reading of a bill to amend the Nunavut Human Rights Act in mid-March.

"This is a tremendous day for people who are transgender in Nunavut," said Justice Minister Keith Peterson.

Bill 31 requested inclusion of gender identity and gender expression within the list of grounds for which Nunavummiut cannot be discriminated against, as listed in section 7(1) of the Act.

"Gender identity is a person's internal sense of being a woman, a man, both, or neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum," said Peterson. "Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. This can include behaviour in outward appearance, such as hair, make-up, body language, and voice, a person's chosen name and pronoun."

Nine provinces and one other territory had already included gender identity and/or gender expression in their legislation.

Present in the gallery were Nunavummiuq Kieran Drachenberg and his mother Catherine Lightfoot, who had been vocal supporters of the bill. Peterson thanked them for their support and personal stories.


New power plant lights up


Qikiqtarjuaq's new power plant was commissioned, with a 1.8 megawatt capacity and a projected lifespan of 40 years.

Qulliq Energy Corporation announced completion of construction and testing for the modern plant in mid-March.

"The new plant's environmental benefits include a reduction in carbon emissions and less sound pollution due to the installation of four new fuel-efficient generator sets as well as a hospital-grade silencer," said Johnny Mike, MLA for Pangnirtung and minister responsible for Qulliq Energy Corporation. "The plant's new design can accommodate community expansion and already allows for the integration of renewable energy systems."

The building was part of a larger plan to upgrade power plants in Nunavut hamlets. A new power plant was also opened in Taloyoak late last year and a similar facility was in the early planning stages for Cape Dorset.


A place for elders at home

Ikaluktutiak/Cambridge Bay

Kitikmeot residents requiring long-term care now have an option closer to home.

A residential long-term care unit officially opened at the Kitikmeot Regional Health Centre in Cambridge Bay in late March.

"Our residents in our region are finally closer to home and living in familiar surroundings with access to family and friends," said Mayor Jeannie Ehaloak.

The unit, with space for seven long-term care beds and one respite/palliative care bed, was created by renovating and repurposing the in-patient unit at the health centre.

Health Minister George Hickes travelled to the region for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

"This residential long-term care unit is an important step towards providing a "made-in-Nunavut' strategy for the care of all elders in the territory," Hickes said.

Besides creating more capacity for elder care, the unit also created 17 new jobs.


Baker Lake mayor mourned

Qamanittuaq/Bake Lake

Baker Lake lost a long time community leader in March with the sudden passing of Mayor David Aksawnee.

Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak announced the weekend passing of his hamlet's mayor in the legislative assembly.

"David Aksawnee was a well-respected leader in the community and throughout the Kivalliq. David held many important responsibilities during his many years of public service," said Mikkungwak.

"As a lifelong hunter, David's knowledge and experience contributed greatly to the work of the community's HTO and a number of regional wildlife management bodies."

He also noted Aksawnee's ability to make tough decisions at a municipal level, including furthering economic development in Baker Lake.

"David was a natural communicator who was as comfortable negotiating with senior mining executives from Toronto as he was talking with an elder," said Mikkungwak. "His wisdom and experience will be greatly missed."

Kivalliq Inuit Association president David Ningeongan also offered condolences.

He noted Aksawnee was mayor during lead-up and opening of Kivalliq's Meadowbank mine, and played a pivotal role in establishing a relationship with Agnico Eagle Mines Limited in the Kivalliq region.