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Women make it work

Kivalliq businessowners reveal secrets

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Coral Harbour (Jan 31/01) - There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when women were barely permitted to join the paid workforce.

That eventually changed -- an evolution that continues today -- and soon enough, we were working side-by-side with the menfolk.

Granted, it's not uncommon for us to be paid less than our male colleagues, but we're breaking into new fields every day. It's no longer unusual to be treated by a doctor who is a woman; we can sue people through female lawyers; and a woman might very well have built the roof over your head.

More and more of us are also choosing to branch out and open our own business.

That's the avenue Coral Harbour resident Leonie Duffy took 16 years ago.

"When we moved to Coral Harbour, we didn't have any jobs," said Duffy, the owner of Leonie's Place, a hotel and craft store.

Duffy said she originally opened a fabric store, but had a hard time making ends meet. She turned her two extra rooms into guest rooms and opened up a small hotel-like facility. Government regulations required Duffy to make some changes to the business so she secured a loan from the Inuit Loan Fund and expanded to six rooms and 12 beds, complete with a cozy kitchen and common living room.

A decade and a half later, the $400,000 loan has been paid in full and the hotel is all hers. But, the happy ending didn't come without its share of sweat and tears.

"The interest on the loan was so high that I didn't pay myself for seven years," said Duffy.

Slow winter business and burst pipes almost made her throw in the towel at one point.

"I thought gee whiz, I don't think I can run a business. I don't think I can do it," said Duffy, who turned to religion for guidance.

"I had to encourage myself so I prayed," she said.

Someone heard Duffy's prayers because a long-term guest booked into the hotel. The income she made allowed her to pay for the repair to the pipes and it gave her the extra push she needed to keep at it.

"From then on, I never worried about the business," she said.

Her ability to sit and chat with her clients and make people feel as if they're in their own home is a skill she brings to the establishment. It's also something Duffy isn't sure men would be able to do.

"I mainly try to sit down with them while they're eating. I don't think men would be like that. Men like to be out hunting. Cooking is not their thing, but I guess it depends on the man," said Duffy.

In Baker Lake, Joan Scottie went the independent route because she was looking for a challenge.

Now in its second year of operation, Qatqa Sport Hunting, a caribou sport hunting business, is doing well.

A life-long fishing and hunting guide, Scottie had six American clients last season and has had more than 200 inquiries for the upcoming season. She said men sometimes doubted her ability, but they quickly came to realize her skill on the land.

"Maybe they want to deal with people of their own sex, but once they know Inuit women were traditionally prepared to hunt for ourselves and that we're able to do all those things, it's OK," said Scottie.

In that her family was the last family to move into the community of Baker Lake, Scottie said she is completely at ease on the tundra, whether it be in good weather or bad.

"I'm very much a land person. I'm not afraid. I'm determined to chase that dream I have."