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Woman of many talents retires
Forty years at housing authority celebrated

Northern News Services
Monday, February 15, 2016

For 40 years, Dolorosa Nartok has served the community of Kugaaruk.

The Kugaaruk Housing Authority held a dinner for her Jan. 29 after closing the office at 1 p.m.

"She was very accomplished," said authority manager Ron Sutton. "It was a full hall."

Her work colleagues speak highly of Nartok. As the tenant relations officer, she worked a daily job that could be difficult and sometimes involve anger and sorrow. Her job was ensuring tenants paid their rent.

"She cares about people, about their rent. She doesn't want anybody to be out on the street," said association employee Yanina Pujuardjok, who worked with Nartok for five years.

Housing foreman Alexandro Inutuinaq started in housing in 1976, just as Nartok left for training. They've worked together since her return a couple of years later, for more than 30 years.

"She worked hard. We worked together so many years, we know each other really good. We had some rough times and good times. The rough time would be when tenants could not agree with what she was trying to do - but it's part of her job," he said. "It's not her that makes the rent high. But she gets along good with people."

Thinking back on her career, Nartok recalls the houses being "really cheap."

"The elders were told (by the federal government) that if they moved to the new houses, they were matchbox houses, they were going to pay two dollars. But I think the first ones were free," said Nartok.

The Government of Canada installed 32 prefabricated houses on the southeastern shore of Pelly Bay in 1968.

"As the years went by, I went for training and changes were taking place."

Nartok mentions the rent scale and how people in the North struggle to afford the rent, due to the high cost of food in Nunavut.

"They go hunting but they have to buy the Ski-Doo. In Kugaaruk, it's $16,000 for a Ski-Doo. Most of the families can't afford that," she said. "People try their best to pay. But they have to feed their families."

Nartok says sometimes people got mad.

"And scold you. But you have to learn to be a professional worker. You have to stay calm and explain that it's not us that makes the policy, it's the Nunavut government. They try to follow the rules, but at the same time they're really struggling to keep up," she said, adding that offering a smile helped. And she would get a smile in return.

The hardest part of the job had to do with overcrowding in the community. Ten to 14 people might live in a two- or three-bedroom house.

"They get mad at each other when it is so overcrowded. We are very short of houses."

That meant that often tenants would speak to Nartok about private matters.

"So much confidential information you have to keep. They talk to you about their problems. But all these problems, you have to keep them at work. Sometimes you feel so sorry for the tenants that come to you for help and you're so helpless to help them. But in the end, after talking with them, they feel a bit better and say they will wait for a house to come."

Some people have been on the waiting list for 15 years, some for 10 years or eight years, she said.

Nartok is also an accomplished seamstress and artist - she's the one who designed and sewed the sealskin wedding dress worn by Miss Canada at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Panama in 2003. With her husband, Makabe Nartok, and the help of her mother-in-law, she raised five children. Her husband took care of them when she went for training.

"But when I had my only daughter, I had to go for training in Cambridge. I was breastfeeding her - she was about two years old. I took her to Cambridge. An old lady was looking after her. On the break time at 10 I would run to the house and breastfeed her, at 12 breastfeed her, 3 breastfeed her. Ah, it was such a work.

In her retirement years, she will do more of what she loves, sewing and drawing.

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