Nunavut Tunngavik didn't see the big shake-up it wanted in territory's budget

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. feels the second budget from this government, which was announced on Wednesday, is just more of the same.

Inuit organization questions whether things have improved for Inuit in 20 years

Aluki Kotierk says Inuit need the government’s attention because their level of health is declining. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. feels the second budget from this government is just more of the same.

Aluki Kotierk, president of NTI, says she supports the initiatives funded in the budget, which was announced on Wednesday, but the investment isn't enough to put Nunavummiut on par with the quality of life of other Canadians.   

The organization, which serves almost like an opposition to Nunavut's consensus-style government, isn't blaming the territory, so much as the amount of money it gets in federal transfer payments.

"The government of Canada is forcing the minister to choose between balanced budgets and healthy people," Kotierk said in a press release.

The government of Canada is forcing the minister to choose between balanced budgets and healthy people.- Aluki Kotierk, NTI president

"[The budget] is virtually the same as previous years, an indication that the government of Canada is continuing to underinvest in the territory."

The Nunavut government is projecting $2.2 billion in spending in the 2019-2020 fiscal year — about 4 per cent less than last year, with a projected deficit of $12 million.

"It appears the government of Nunavut budget continues to have a focus on balancing budgets as opposed to meeting the needs of Inuit in the areas of education, training, health and housing," the press release said.

Language qualms

Kotierk applauded Finance Minister George Hickes for speaking in Inuktitut during his budget address Wednesday to Nunavut's fifth Legislative Assembly.

"I think it's important that we celebrate every effort amongst Inuit to use Inuktut when they're able to," she told CBC.

However, she didn't agree with all his word choices, including his statement saying the territory is in its 20th year of self-government.

Minister of Finance George Hickes presented the second budget of Nunavut's Fifth Legislative Assembly on Wednesday. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

"I know that the territorial public government often magnifies and reminds us that they're a public government and that they cannot do Inuit-specific programming. And yet when it serves its purpose they refer to themselves as self-government," she said.

Kotierk says Inuit need the government's attention because their level of health is declining.

"We know that seven out of 10 Inuit children go to bed hungry every night and so we need to see the growth in economy translate into the pockets of Inuit."

Hickes used his budget speech to highlight the growth that's occurred in the territory over the last 20 years, but Kotierk says context is important.

Hickes said the number of Inuit employees of the government of Nunavut has gone from 943 in 2001 to 1,770 in 2018, nearly doubling. 

But Kotierk says, as a percentage of the government's workforce, the numbers have remained stagnant at around 50 per cent, despite it being mandated by the Nunavut Agreement that the workforce be representative — a commitment confirmed by NTI's 2015 lawsuit against the federal government.

As for Hickes lauding the master plan for Inuit employment, she says detailed employment plans were something expected in 2001.

"We question whether or not life has become better for Inuit over the last 20 years," she said.

With files from Qavavao Peter