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November 2019 in review: GN turns to NTI for funding; Baffinland hearings suspended; walrus hunter recounts boating disaster

A look back at 2019’s top stories, month by month.

GN leans on NTI to help fund projects

The minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation Patterk Netser
photo courtesy Legislative Assembly

Nunavut Housing Minister Patterk Netser called upon land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik to assist the territorial government in building more homes.

"I would like to call out to NTI: help us. We need your help,” Netser said in the legislative assembly, noting that NTI has a “healthy surplus.”

NTI has a trust fund that has grown to close to $2 billion in value.

In addition, Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak urged Health Minister George Hickes to reach out to Inuit development corporations to help build long-term care centres.

"Go and talk with the Inuit organizations. They are willing to use their money," Angnakak said.

NTI President Aluki Kotierk rejected a couple of Nunavut News' requests for comment.

Baffinland regulatory hearings suspended

As public hearings for Baffinland Iron Mines' proposed expansion of its Mary River mine took place in Iqaluit, Tununiq MLA David Qaminiq told his colleagues in the legislative assembly that the mining company has more work to do to gain the trust of Inuit.

Qamaniq suggested on Nov. 6 that Baffinland should have been more forthcoming about its full plans much earlier.

"Rather than providing a complete picture of the full scope of the project and its ultimate impact on the region, the incremental or 'phased' approach to requesting change after change after change has only served to cause confusion and frustration," said Qaminiq, adding that community members have expressed numerous concerns about the environment, marine life, and caribou.

The remainder of Baffinland's hearings were later postponed at the request of Nunavut Tunngavik President Aluki Kotierk, who sought more time for information gathering. The Nunavut Impact Review Board will convene meetings in March to decide upon a date for the resumption of hearings.

Former MLA Peter Kattuk dies

Former Hudson Bay MLA Peter Kattuk died on Nov. 20 and the legislative assembly issued a statement of condolences through Speaker Simeon Mikkungwak.

"Peter represented the constituency of Hudson Bay for two terms and I join his family and former constituents in mourning his passing," Mikkungwak said. "Peter was well respected for his commitment to public service and his environmental advocacy.”

Kattuk had been battling a lengthy illness.

Qaqqaq's profile on the rise as MP

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh appointed newly-elected Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq as his party's critic for Northern affairs and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, also known as CANNOR.

A few days later, Qaqqaq made good on her promise to bring Singh to Nunavut.

Walrus hunter recounts harrowing story of survival

Pitseolak Alainga, 53, was one of only two survivors to return from a hunting trip on Frobisher Bay in October 1994, that ended with the deaths of eight other men, including Alainga's father, Simonie Alainga. The men ended up in the water after hurricane-force winds swamped their boat.
NNSL file photo

Fifty-three-year old survivor Pitseolak Alainga shared a detailed account of a walrus hunting tragedy that happened 25 years ago. It was on Oct. 18, 1994, 10 Inuit hunters had set out on a journey from Iqaluit that tragically affected the lives of many family and community members. Eight hunters ended up dying in the icy waters of Frobisher Bay on Oct. 28. These men perished in the cold water after their canoe capsized during a storm. Only Pitseolak Alainga and Billy Kownirk were rescued. Both these men survived on some wreckage by drinking melted snow and praying. After three nights and four days in these cold and wet conditions, the two young survivors were rescued by a Hercules search and rescue aircraft on Nov. 1.

Alainga described how he had been struggling over the years to cope with the loss of his relatives -- the other hunters who had died. One of the hunters who died during the tragedy was his father, Simonie Alainga.

Through the help and support of his family, he was eventually able to move on with his own life.

"It was a tragedy that happened but I have to move on. We can't go backwards and bring them back to life. No, we can't do that. We have to move forward. One step at a time," said Alainga.

"Thinking about that accident will never stop me from going hunting," smiled the survivor.

Beating addiction by reclaiming Inuit culture

Piita Irniq shared how reclaiming his Inuit culture helped him beat his 28-year addiction with alcohol.

At first, his curiosity led him to drink alcohol at the age of 21. It eventually became apparent to him that he was drinking to cope with his dark past. He had suffered from sexual, mental and physical abuse during his residential school years.

"I started to drink alcohol to erase what happened at residential school," said Irniq.

However, he had become tired of hangovers and missing important meetings because of his addiction.

He had a major role with negotiating the Nunavut Land Claims for the Inuit people. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly and a leader.

“I'm hiding behind the booze, trying to be a leader, and at the same time drinking to get drunk," said Irniq.

On Aug. 17, 1995, Irniq had decided to become a sober leader and reclaim his culture.

His father, Athanasi Angutiaq, had once said, "I didn't fall in love with it (alcohol), as long as I can have seal broth, caribou or Arctic char." This particular statement inspired Irniq to quit his addiction. It made him think that he should consider taking back his Inuit culture, which he had lost during residential school.

In 2018, it was 24 years since his last alcoholic drink.

"I wanted to become who I have 'always' been. An Inuk, who believes strongly in my past, in my culture, in my Inuit language, in my ancestry, who survived for many thousands of years, without ever having alcohol," said Irniq.

Cooking class opens up in Iqaluit

A new cooking club opened at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre in Iqaluit on Nov. 6. It introduced participants to a broad range of cooking styles and cuisines. Thea Zuiker, the food skills co-ordinator for the program, helped to facilitate the cooking classes.

"I'm hoping that people will take it (the program) up and feel empowered to carry it," said Zuiker.

Meals from different culinary traditions were prepared weekly. The cooking club was scheduled for Wednesday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. During the two hour workshops, participants had the opportunity to chat, cook and share the prepared meal together. It was free and did not require any registration.

"We're trying to reduce barriers to participation," said Zuiker. The community program was open to participants of all backgrounds and ages. Zuiker explained the goal was to create a "safe" and "welcoming" space in Iqaluit that was substance-free and family-friendly.

The "approachable" and "interactive" program was funded through Community Food Centres Canada. "Food costs are an expense we cover through our general fund," stated Wade Thorhaug, the executive director of the Qajuqturvik Food Centre.

Zuiker, who was fascinated by the connection between food and community, said he hoped the program would run for a long time.

"I'm hoping that this will go on indefinitely," said Zuiker.

-with files from Rajnesh Sharma