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Paulatuk marks passing of first mayor, Garrett Ruben

Philippe Morin
Northern News Services
Monday, June 18, 2007

PAULATUK - The community of Paulatuk is mourning the passing of elder Garrett Ruben, who died at the age of 72. Ruben was the community's first official mayor, and had represented Paulatuk as leader before the hamlet was incorporated.

A funeral service was held at the end of May in Paulatuk's church, and Ruben now rests in the community's cemetery beside relatives.

One of his sons, Ray Ruben, is today the mayor of Paulatuk.

As Ray Ruben Recalls, Garrett Ruben was born into a very traditional lifestyle.

His first job was to hunt and trap, to help provide for his parents.

Later in life, he got a job hauling supplies - freight and dignitaries, mostly, says Ruben - from DC3 airplanes to the Cape Parry Dewline observation point, which monitored Canadian airspace during the cold war in the 1960s.

Ruben recalls that local workers and their families were expected to live near the Dewline station, in what were then called "Eskimo camps"

Since the area is about 80-kilometres northwest of Paulatuk, Ruben said his father found it a miserable place. The area is not near hunting grounds, Ruben added, which made traditional life difficult.

"Because of where it was located, there was nothing for them. Nothing for children or for elders. Nothing for people to do," Ruben said.

Eventually, Garrett Ruben quit the transport job and in 1964 became a community leader, who negotiated the hamlet's creation.

"It was more the community government, everyone recognized him. Before they started up Paulatuk he'd go down south to B.C and Alberta and meet government. This was before we became a settlement," Ray Ruben said.

After serving as Settlement Chair for a few years, Garrett Ruben became the hamlet's first mayor in 1987, for one term Last April, he was honoured by the hamlet with a commemorative plaque, which today hangs in council chambers, marking his 24 years of service.

Ruben added his father's voice and traditional stories were also recorded on audiocassette before his death, as part of an ongoing elders' history project involving the Paulatuk Community Corporation.

"He was a hard worker and a leader," he said.

Ray Ruben said his father is survived by three sons (including himself) and one daughter, as well as his wife Olga Ruben who lives in the community.