Former mayors vying to unseat Pauloosie Keyootak in Uqqummiut

Incumbent MLA Pauloosie Keyootak, and former Clyde River mayors Jerry Natanine and Johnathan Palluq are vying for the Uqqummiut seat in the upcoming Nunavut election.

Jerry Natanine and Johnathan Palluq both served as mayor of Clyde River

The hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq is one of two communities in the constituency of Uqqummiut. Three candidates are vying for the seat in the upcoming Nunavut election. (Nick Murray/CBC)

After a tumultuous four years for the Uqqummiut constituency — in which the elected MLA from the 2013 election was expelled from the legislature and his replacement made national headlines after getting lost on the land for a week — three candidates are vying for the seat this year, all with very different platforms.

Incumbent MLA Pauloosie Keyootak won the seat in a by-election in February 2015, after Samuel Nuqingaq was expelled from the legislature.

Keyootak has been somewhat reserved in the legislature during his tenure. He's often spoke about caribou quotas and the importance of Inuit traditional knowledge in policy and says he's running for re-election because his community has asked him to.

"My first time as an MLA, it was more of a learning process," Keyootak said, translated from Inuktitut. 

"Now that I've learned fully it, this time I won't be learning. I'll be actually working."

The 63-year-old is the only candidate from Qikiqtarjuaq running in Uqqumiut — which also includes Clyde River — and says his focus, if re-elected, is securing funding for a port in his hometown.

"The people in the community are working hard for the port to happen so I want to continue this effort to happen,' he said.

Incumbent MLA Pauloosie Keyootak won the Uqqummiut seat in a by-election, after Samuel Nuqingaq was expelled from the legislature. (CBC)

The territory has lobbied for more small craft harbours for years — Iqaluit and Pond Inlet are each slated to get one — but Nunavut's fishing industry leaders have previously said Qikiqtarjuaq would make the most sense. Since it is closest to shrimp and turbot grounds, it would cut the amount of time the industry spends offloading catches in half.

His recent tenure in Nunavut's legislature wasn't Keyootak's first run at politics. He previously served as the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, before being removed for violating QIA's code of conduct in 2000.

Concept plans for a port in Qikiqtarjauq. If elected, incumbent MLA Pauloosie Keyootak says his priority is to direct funding to build it. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Getting back on the land

Further North in Clyde River, Jerry Natanine is making his first run at territorial politics.

Natanine recently served as Clyde River's mayor but was ineligible to seek re-election after he found himself in debt to the Hamlet — candidates who owe money to the municipality can't run for office.

But the 48-year-old has kept himself busy in the political sphere, leading Clyde River's push all the way to the Supreme Court this summer, in a fight against seismic testing off the Hamlet's shores. Clyde River won its case, in a landmark ruling over the Crown's duty to consult with Canada's Indigenous peoples.

Now, Natanine is shifting his focus on boosting morale and the well-being of people in Uqqummiut, which he describes as a "have not" part of Nunavut.

Jerry Natanine, Clyde River's former mayor, stands outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. A rally in support of the hamlet of Clyde River can be seen behind him. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"We've been neglecting our culture," Natanine said in reference to the modernization of Nunavut, in which he pointed to education as an area where Inuit haven't strived.

"If we can bring up the morale, get people involved in activities and get them happier and be out on the land, get rejuvenated, our pride will be strengthened. I believe once we start doing that, get them out hunting, bring back food and stuff like that, our self-esteem is going to grow and all these systems that are in place, like education, will get better in the long run."

Natanine has plans for a hunter support program for communities to do just that.

He envisions a program where locals could borrow hunting supplies — anything from a snowmobile to a fishing net — which he says is desperately lacking in Uqqummiut's two communities.

Natanine says to get it going, the money could come from existing programs (i.e., language preservation, crime reduction, and suicide prevention) which serve to achieve the same end result.

"All these programs. If we can refocus them to see how Inuit can better benefit, that's what I want to focus on," he said, adding that boosting morale and self-esteem will help Inuit strive in Nunavut's more modern institutions.

Natanine also recently made a run to be the federal candidate for the NDP in Nunavut, but didn't pass the party's vetting process over pro-Palestine Facebook posts.

Infrastructure gaps and political reform

Another former Clyde River mayor vying for the Uqqummiut seat is Johnathan Palluq.

The 61-year-old — the former director of Inuit cultural school Piqqusilirivvik — says debates inside the legislature have omitted needs at the community level.

"In recent years, infrastructure has seemed to be forgotten and there doesn't seem to be an actual plan in place," Palluq said, pointing to municipal dumps and water reservoirs. He also said Nunavut's hamlets aren't funded for capital infrastructure.

"I want to make sure these are not forgotten in the communities."

Looking at the territory as a whole, Palluq wants to move Nunavut away from consensus government and implement a party system.

"Right now in the style of government that we have, some of the issues that need to be debated and dealt with in the House cannot be debated," he said.

"Also, we're sending individuals into the house not knowing what kind of policies they have. So there's no consistency on the concerns from the general public, and how they are being dealt with in the House."

On how he plans to change the political system in Nunavut, Palluq says it starts with getting the conversation going.

"I want to stand up in the House on that issue and have Nunavummiut listen to it," he said.

Asked on how that can translate into changing policy, Palluq said he didn't know, but pointed to Greenland as an example of a party system.

"They work hard, I guess. They worked really hard," Palluq said, chuckling.

"That's the thing what we can also do in Nunavut. Being Inuk, you know, we seem to be alienated by the bureaucrats. And that needs to change."

About the Author

Nick Murray

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.

With files from Qavavao Peter and Salome Avva