North

'Huge honour,' Patterson says of Senate nod

Dennis Patterson says he will work hard to represent Nunavut in the Senate, but an Inuit leader is criticizing his appointment as the territory's newest senator because he is not an Inuk.

Dennis Patterson says he will work hard to represent Nunavut in the Senate, but an Inuit leader is criticizing his appointment as the territory's newest senator because he is not an Inuk.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointment of Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, and eight others to the Senate on Thursday.

"It's just a huge honour," Patterson told CBC News in an interview Thursday.

Patterson said he will be sworn in on Sept. 15, and has agreed to serve an eight-year term.

He said he plans to be an active senator and represent the territory on topics such as social issues and devolution.

Patterson served as premier of the Northwest Territories from 1987 to 1991, and was actively involved in the creation of Nunavut as a separate territory in 1999.

He was involved in the negotiations of both the Inuit land claim that created Nunavut and the Inuvialuit land claim agreement in the western Arctic.

Preferred an Inuk in Senate: NTI VP

James Eetoolook, first vice-president of Inuit land-claims group Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said Patterson knows the North and hopes he will pressure the federal government to live up to its land-claims commitments.

But while Eetoolook said he thinks Patterson will do a good job, he said the former premier would not have been his top pick for Nunavut's senator because he is not an Inuk and no longer lives in the North. Patterson lives in Vancouver.

"My preferred [choice] would be an Inuk representing Nunavut," Eetoolook said. "As we know, we have [an] Inuit majority."

Nunavut's population is 85 per cent Inuit, according to 2006 census figures.

The head of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national Inuit organization, had called on Harper to appoint another Inuk to the Senate following the retirement of Willie Adams from the red chamber in June.

President Mary Simon declined an interview on Thursday, but issued a statement congratulating Patterson and saying she looks forward to working with him on issues facing Canada's Inuit.

Stake in Nunavut's success

Patterson said he realizes some Inuit wanted an Inuk to replace Adams, but he said he believes he will be an effective representative for Nunavut.

"I humbly think that I have had quite a lot of experience, including working with [Nunavut Tunngavik] and other Inuit organizations and leaders in Nunavut, which should qualify me to represent Inuit concerns in the Senate even though I'm not Inuk," he said.

Patterson added that he has four children and two grandchildren who are Inuit land-claims beneficiaries, so he feels he has a stake in the success of Nunavut and the Inuit land claim.

A number of Harper's latest Senate appointments were of Conservative party members, including a party president and a former press secretary. Patterson had campaigned prominently for Nunavut Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq in the 2008 federal election.

However, Patterson said he hopes his political and northern experience and qualifications were as important in Harper's decision to appoint him as his longtime connections to the Conservative party.

"I do understand that the [Conservative] government would want representatives in the Senate who were comfortable with the government agenda, and I will look forward to that opportunity to influence that agenda," he said.

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