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Nunavut an example to all of Canada

Premier demonstrates value of cooperation

Chris Puglia
Northern News Services

Hull, Que (May 05/03) - Nunavut was built on the spirit of cooperation and listening. That was the message delivered by Premier Paul Okalik at a conference held in Hull, Quebec on April 23.

The event was the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) governance conference and Okalik was on hand to share the ground Nunavut has made towards self and representative government.

"We came into being on April 1, 1999 and took on the challenge of transforming a society that suffers from many of the same unacceptable social conditions that afflict aboriginal people's throughout Canada," said Okalik at the conference.

In other parts of Canada the federal government and aboriginals are currently in a heated battle over land rights, particularly in the recent debate over the implementation of the First Nations Governance Act.

When it comes to governance issues, Inuit have taken a different route.

"We are responding by building a government based on our traditional Inuit values. I see those traditional values as a proactive means of engaging the transition and not as a defensive justification for inaction or protest," Okalik told the AFN.

When later asked if he believed Nunavut could become a model for negotiations between aboriginal peoples in the rest of Canada, Okalik said he couldn't say.

"It's up to them to follow our model or not. I can't say it is an ideal model because we all live under different conditions," he said.

He added that the Nunavut model isn't perfect either.

"We've had setbacks," said Okalik.

But, through the good and the bad, he said, the government has endeavoured to integrate Inuit traditional values into the government process, which he sees as a strength.

"There is a basic skill that ensures the people we serve are not left out, as we move from one form of governance to the next. It's a simple concept that always seems to be made complicated in its application -- it's called listening," said Okalik.

"We listened, we learned and we were respectful when we moved forward with our common vision."

Listening and negotiating has led to some definite positives said Okalik.

Other issues will now have to be addressed and Okalik sees economy as one that will need to be looked at.

As it stands the Nunavut government has been the No. 1 source for employment in the territory and that is something Okalik wants to move away from.

Ideally he wants to see employment opportunities open up in a variety of other areas.

He would also like to see improved access to the territory through road work that would open up export and tourism.

"I would love to be able to drive out of the territory," he said.

"These things that other Canadians take for granted I would love to see."