On The Ground In Nunavut
On February 20th, Nunavut Minister of Finance George Hickes stood in the Legislative Assembly to present the territory’s 20th budget since its creation. In his address, he referenced the triumphs and struggles that got Nunavut from 1999 to 2019. The population has grown 40 per cent, to 38,000 from 27,000 people in 1999. The economy has more than doubled, with Nunavut’s GDP growing on average five per cent every year. In 1999, 21 per cent of students graduated from high school—today, that’s 48 per cent. The government of Nunavut has also provided more than $100 million to give those students post-secondary education, skills training, and skills development. Many are returning for work: the number of Inuit working for the government has almost doubled, to 1,770 in 2018 from 943 in 2001. Inuktitut is more prevalent than ever—even Facebook now has an Inuktitut setting. The government of Nunavut has been on a building spree in the first two decades of the territory, spending around $2.4 billion on capital projects, including 12 schools, six community learning centres, 10 health centres, and a hospital.
“The story of Nunavut is a story of growth. Everywhere you look, we’re doing more,” said Hickes in his budget speech.
But the numbers also tell a story of struggle; a territory still dealing with complex issues two decades after it was created. The government has built 1,980 public housing units since 2001—testament to the continuing housing crisis in the territory. The demand for public services continues to rise; Nunavut has the highest incidence of tuberculosis in Canada and only 23.8 per cent of Nunavut residents have regular contact with a doctor (the lowest amongst all three territories). None of the territory’s communities are on the highway grid. Many of Nunavut’s power plants have aged out—some, decades ago. Nunavut continues to have some of the highest rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence per capita in Canada.
The vision for Nunavut was a territory governed by Nunavummiut for Nunavummiut, with Inuit values at the forefront. The territory has accomplished much in 20 years. But what comes next?
To really tell that story, you have to be there. But getting there is the trick, and it’s one of the big stumbling blocks for Canadian journalists. The people who do this work want to tell Nunavut’s stories well. Unfortunately, shrinking budgets means the likelihood of journalists getting out of the big cities also gets smaller and smaller—and that affects how the stories of the North are told. Up Here prides itself on being Northern; we’re based here, we live here, and we owe it to you, our readers, to get as close to the story as possible.
So, Up Here joined forces with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) to send two reporters—Jessica Davey-Quantick and APTN’s Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs—to three Nunavut communities. They weathered the blizzard in Rankin, made friends with dogs in Pangnirtung, had the best shawarma in Canada in Iqaluit, and asked the question: what will Nunavut be like for the next 20 years? Their content will be shared on our pages and in their broadcasts, as well as online. Watch this space for additional content from their trip, from videos to extended interviews, all month long.
Hopefully, we’ll do justice to the people who shared their stories with us.