What about us?

NNSL (DEC 23/96) - A group of privately owned Inuit businesses want in on infrastructure development in Nunavut.

Nine business people teamed together to question why the Nunavut Construction Company should construct and own upcoming infrastructure in Nunavut.

"We don't want to be shut out," said Simon Merkosak, president of Merkosak Construction Ltd. in Pond Inlet. "All the work is being given to the birthright corporations.

"We're not trying to destroy the agreement. We're just questioning them on this one item."

Earlier in 1996, Ottawa reached a deal with the Inuit birthright corporations -- Qikiktaluk, Sakku, Kitikmeot Development and Nunasi Corporation -- to build and own the infrastructure required as Nunavut establishes its own government. The four organizations make up the Nunavut Construction Corp.

"I think this needs to be negotiated in the boardroom," said Fred Hunt, chief executive officer of Nunasi. "I don't think this belongs in the media."

The business people, in conjunction with the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce, wrote a letter to Jose Kusugak, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. asking him how that course of action would be best for Inuit beneficiaries.

"Private Inuit firms have a history of using local labor and supplies and paying dividends to local shareholders," states the letter.

Merkosak said the group wants to ensure benefits from development stay in the communities and do not flow south.

"Historically Inuit companies hire 80 to 90 per cent Inuit workers from the community," he said.

"If I'm an owner of the infrastructure, I can lease it back to the Nunavut government and at least I'm secure for a while and I can benefit the community."

Kusugak agreed to meet with the disgruntled business people, Merkosak said.

"We haven't come up with a date but we have to get on with it fairly soon," he said. "They're preparing to start construction next season."

The group has taken legal advice about the agreement reached with Ottawa and could consider court action, Merkosak added.

"That is one of the options we have," he said.

The business people are from Pond Inlet, Kimmirut, Clyde River, Igloolik and Iqaluit.