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$5 billion federal fund 'good news' for Inuit

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 05/05) - After more than a year at the negotiating table, ITK president Jose Kusugak is calling a funding announcement at the First Ministers meeting in Kelowna an unqualified success.

This is Joe Timotee's Iqaluit home, year round. This photo was one of the startling images shared by ITK President Jose Kusugak at the First Minister's Conference. - photos courtesy of ITK

"In football terms, it would be three touchdowns and a field goal," said Kusugak.

"Overall, I am pleased with the outcome of this First Minister's meeting," added the ITK president.

His presentation to the meeting was dramatic. Kusugak brought pictures of the desperate housing conditions in some of Nunavut's communities.

There is $5 billion in spending commitments attached to the agreement, but Kusugak is most pleased with the Nunavut-specific recommendations.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, there are separate sections in the agreement for Metis, First Nations and Inuit solutions.

"Inuit-specific strategies must be adapted to accommodate the unique conditions of Arctic environments, the distinctive features of Inuit culture, as well as the needs of Inuit who reside outside land claims areas," said a recommendation in a report released by Prime Minister Paul Martin's office after the conference.

While pleased with the news, the department of housing is sounding a cautious tone.

"We are still looking for clarity in what the Prime Minister meant when he said 1,200 units in the North," said Peter Scott, deputy minister for housing.

Scott wants to know if that means Nunavut, or if that 1,200 figure means Nunavut, Nunaviq and parts of the Northwest Territories.

"If it is for Nunavut, it will help," said Scott.

One year ago, Scott's department put the demand for public housing in Nunavut at 3,000 units. Since then, the demand has gone up by 270 units and the supply has gone up by 80.

"We'd need over $2 billion to meet that demand," said Scott.

Education and housing are the highlighted problems in the report. For education, the report calls for the establishment of a National Inuit Education Resource and Research Centre.

The centre will be used to develop Inuit specific curriculum, protect Inuit languages and train Inuit teachers.

Under housing, the chronic shortage of homes in Nunavut is addressed. The immediate goal is to create an Inuit Housing Institute. It will share information and try to address the housing shortage.

Institutes can help, but houses would be even more helpful, according to one community SAO.

"We could build 10 to 15 homes per year for three or four years and not be caught up," explained Taloyoak SAO Scotty Edgerton.

The money attached to the commitment will be closely watched, according to the agreement. The agreement lasts for 10 years, and indicators will be monitored to measure progress.