A Journey to the North: ELP 23 Travels to Nunavut

11 minute read

By: Rebecca Hollett, Marketing Analyst

ELP 23 Hiking Through Sylvia Grinnel Park

It is late November 2019 and the 23rd Cohort of IOG’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP) has traveled to Iqaluit for a week-long study tour to experience Inuit culture, to see first-hand the unique governance circumstance of the territory, to listen, to learn, and to grow as leaders and Canadians. Many ELP alumni describe this trip, a fundamental feature of ELP, as “a revolutionizing experience” that changes the way they lead and work in Canada’s public service. Here’s why.

Iqaluit is a growing city of over 8,000 people who are experiencing, as we are to hear many times throughout our visit, “a construction boom.” A beautiful, icy city that sits on Frobisher Bay on Nunavut’s Baffin Island, it is home to the world’s second largest tide and is Canada’s youngest provincial/territorial capital.

Enjoying Nunavut’s Capital City: Iqaluit

Iqaluit is also home to a unique governance scenario in Canada as the process of devolution continues to evolve through the interactions of the Government of Canada (GC), the Government of Nunavut (GN) and the Inuit organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI).

This study tour to Nunavut is a hallmark of the IOG’s leadership program, giving participants the opportunity to learn first-hand about the challenges and innovations in this vast territory through a line-up of incredible speakers, leadership exercises, and learning events.

On the day of our arrival, we witness Nunavut’s first televised legislative hearing: a session with the Legislative Education Committee, the President of NTI and the GN Minister of Education. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement(NLCA) creates a unique governance dynamic between NTI and the GN where NTI represents Inuit, who, under Article 32, must be consulted on social or cultural policies. We are able to see first-hand what this consultation looks like. The main point of the discussion today is the preservation of Inuit culture and language in the grade school curriculum. Sitting in the stunning legislature building and watching this hearing is an incredible way to start our week.

Day Two and our learning continues with two speakers: Terri Dobbin from the Nunavut Chamber of Mines, and David Rochette, Regional Director General with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Mr. Dobbin speaks to the state of the mining industry as well as the recruitment of Inuit into mining jobs. Mr. Rochette discusses the role of the Government of Canada in the governance of Nunavut, as well as the challenges of meeting the needs of Article 23 in the NLCA which states that government staffing must reflect the percentage of the Inuit population in Nunavut. Despite the Article 23 commitment that public staffing must proportionately represent the number of Inuit people living in Nunavut (85%), both the GC and the GN continue to struggle to meet this stretching standard for a number of reasons, including unequal access to opportunities, lower levels of education, insufficient skilled workers, and trying to apply a southern model onto a northern culture (Ex: The GN adopted the GC’s Human Resources Framework instead of developing their own model). Clearly, this is a very dynamic and complex policy challenge that can only be addressed through multiple policy approaches.

Day 2 included a presentation from Terri Dobbin from the Nunavut Chamber of Mines

Another day, another line-up of amazing speakers who bring the many challenges of governing Nunavut into sharp relief. Joining us today: Madeleine Redfern, former Mayor of Iqaluit; Hannah Uniuqsaraq, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated; Jack Anawak, former federal MP for Nunavut, former Minister for Nunavut, Inuit Leader and Elder; and Amanda Jones, Chief Superintendent and Commanding Officer, V Division, RCMP.

Ms. Redfern gives a passionate presentation on the governance challenges being faced in Nunavut and its capital city of Iqaluit. She talks about infrastructure, immigration, food security, youth pregnancy, adoption, and housing. And she leaves us with this fundamental question: “How do you get good governance if you don’t have good governance?” Ms. Redfern describes the housing challenges experienced in Iqaluit and Nunavut—she uses the term “hidden homelessness”: hidden because it’s too cold to live on the streets, yet many people are still without a place to call their own. “Hidden homelessness” results in the over-crowding of homes, with multiple generations of families living in two-bedroom apartments. The housing challenge, Ms. Redfern tells us, also contributes significantly to challenges in education, social tension, health, and mental health throughout the territory.

Madeleine Erdfern, former Mayor of Iqaluit

Ms. Uniuqsaraq poignantly shares some of her life story and then segues into explaining the role of NTI as “the guardian of Inuit interests” in the NLCA, telling us how they work in the interest of the beneficiaries, Inuit of Nunavut. She emphasizes Article 32, which addresses the need to consult with Inuit on social and cultural policy, and Article 23, which addresses Inuit representation in government. She says that the GN and the GC are struggling to meet the requirements of both articles, as we heard in the Education Act hearings on our first day. Ms. Uniuqsaraq finishes by highlighting some of NTI’s other priorities, including infrastructure, making Inuktitut the primary language in the workplace and in schools, as well as NTI’s consultation role with the GN and the GC.

Next up is the RCMP’s Chief Jones who, with her genuine optimism, compassion, and obvious love of her work, shares with us the RCMP’s role in the North. We listen intently as she discusses her career journey, her life in Nunavut, the role of constables in rural and remote communities, and recruitment challenges.

Hannah Uniuqsaraq discussing the role of NTI in Nunavut

Jack Anawak is the last in our roster of outstanding speakers and he brings a larger than life presence to our session. He talks about how his life experiences, including his time spent in a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet—a hamlet located on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Nunavut—and in a public school in Churchill, Manitoba, led him to the remarkable roles that he eventually played in the establishment of Nunavut and thus the evolution of Canada. He gives us first-hand insights into the creation of Nunavut and the functioning of a consensus government, observing that the consensus model adopted in Nunavut “can be like having 22 parties represented in the Legislature” – with all the challenges and possibilities that brings. A great way to end our visit!

In the middle of a week punctuated with diverse and dynamic speakers, we also have the good fortune to actually experience Inuit culture. We visit the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, a beautiful and warm space that showcases Inuit culture with paintings, sculptures, jewellery, and stories. We spend an afternoon exploring and appreciating the people, art, history, geography, and wildlife of Nunavut. We also get an up-close opportunity to look out onto the (almost) frozen Frobisher Bay. For people who come from coastline communities in the south—I’m from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador—it is a shock to see a full bay frozen in time, inaccessible to ships.

ELPers outside the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in front of the mostly-frozen Frobisher Bay
Gerard Etienne, ELP 23 Lead Facilitator, enjoying the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum

Then we’re off for our day “on the land”: a leadership exercise hosted by Arctic Kingdom, an Iqaluit-based tour operator specializing in Arctic adventures. We start with a hike through Sylvia Grinnel Park with our guide who leads us through a stunning, wide-open landscape, sharing with us the traditional Inuit way of life. It is an experience that no-one will soon forget: the vast, white land; happy sled dogs eating their lunch; a beautiful and unique environment; and an uphill hike in knee-deep snow (with a quickly-developing expertise in avoiding deep holes).

Our hike through Sylvia Grinnel Park

During our visit, the weather is unseasonably warm with the temperature most days ranging between +1 degree and -5 degrees Celsius—the normal average temperature for Iqaluit at the end of November is between -8 and -15 degrees. On our hike we learn of the impact this temperature change is having on the way of life for the people living in the North, including hunting, travelling, and fishing. We also see first-hand what the stark and real consequences of a changing climate can look like in Canada, a country reliant on its natural resources and weather as we lead our day-to-day lives. The equally unusual wet, icy snow storm that starts during our hike feels like a sharp “climate change” ice pick, constantly stabbing us unlucky few without sunglasses right in the eyes.

Francois of Arctic Kingdom answers group questions

After our hike, we are thankful to arrive at the pleasant and welcoming NuBrew, Nunavut’s first microbrewery, where we are treated to a fantastic Caribou Stew and watch two young Inuit women share their music and their personal life stories. Our leadership day ends with a guide who teaches us how to assemble a qamutiq, the traditional Inuit sled. James shows us the traditional ways to tie together the qamutiq so that it can last for years (thankfully, we have a few engineers in our cohort who help us to fully appreciate this extraordinary workmanship). This exercise brings the team together and adds another layer to both leading and working as a team.

NuBrew Microbrewery
Qamutiq Building
Qamutiq Building, led by instructor James
Qamutiq Building

The learning adventures we experience this week are a critical and integral component of the ELP and we look forward to bringing our next cohort back here in spring 2020. Members of ELP 23, like every cohort before, come home with a more nuanced understanding of Canada’s North and an increased appreciation of the contribution of Inuit to Canada, its evolution and its culture. The ELP group has learned about Nunavut’s unique governance system and experienced some of the wonders of Canada’s beautiful Arctic territory.

If you are interested in learning more about our Executive Leadership Program, click here.

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