Anawak remains aloof
Eastern Arctic MP shows no allegiance

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 24/97) - "I think like an Inuk and speak like a Qablunaaq," says Nunatsiaq MP Jack Anawak.

Born to a life on the land, Anawak now spends most of his time in Ottawa, farther from his early years than miles can measure.

Jack AnawakBut ask him where he lives and he still answers Rankin Inlet, but quickly adds, "I think the world revolves around Repulse Bay."

Anawak (left) is touted as one of the front-runners for the critical position of interim commissioner for Nunavut. An appointment to be agreed upon by the three parties to the Nunavut Agreement, the commissioner will be responsible for establishing the bureaucracy of the new eastern Arctic government.

But during last weekend's summit in Cambridge Bay, Anawak was at odds with each of the signatories on different issues. He sided with the GNWT on the contentious issue of gender parity in the legislative assembly, opposed an impromptu settlement between fellow Liberal and Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Ron Irwin and Nunavut Tunngavik president Jose Kusugak.

On the issue of staffing the new government, Anawak agreed with Kusugak and opposed the GNWT. He said Nunavut should not have to hire workers in the current government.

Following is an interview News/North conducted with Anawak in Yellowknife the day after the meeting.

Have you been chosen interim commissioner?

No. I am a not interim commissioner, I am a member of Parliament who is being considered for interim commissioner.

When will that decision be made?

(Laughing) Now, how would I know that? I expect an announcement will be made in March, even though it should have been made back in 1996.

Are you optimistic Nunavut will be ready to run itself when it becomes an independent territory?

Nunavut will be April 1, 1999. As to what stage of development it will be at, that's a different matter. I think there's a way to put Nunavut in place over a period of years, rather than all at once. With the appointment of the interim commissioner, that person will basically have to hit the floor running.

Do you agree with Deputy Premier Goo Arlooktoo that GNWT employees in Nunavut should be automatically transferred to the Nunavut government to ensure stability?

One of the things we should always remember is we want to run a good government. Therefore, we are going to need the expertise of a lot of present GNWT employees. But at the same time they will have to understand that the philosophical direction will be different from that of the GNWT.

How will it be different?

The GNWT was basically pushed down our throats, with no input from the Inuit or the Dene. Now, with the creation of Nunavut and the Nunavut legislature, the opportunity is there for Inuit, while promoting public government, to create their own brand of politics.

I've always felt as if the government of the Northwest Territories acted as if the people were there because of the government. The attitude I would want to exist in Nunavut is that government is there for the people, not the other way around.

The Nunavut government should promote grassroots involvement. It should also be strong enough to put in place, I think, a kinder, gentler, more caring government than the GNWT has been since 1967.

In what ways has the GNWT not been "kind or gentle?"

I'm sure I could rustle up thousands of instances where the GNWT never really accepted they were in a different cultural arena.

I mean, we get people from the South whose attitudes run all the way to a right-wing "throw everybody in jail and take their children away" type of attitude, with no understanding of the fact that what they are doing is culturally foreign to the people they are supposed to be serving.

How will the lives of Inuit not involved in politics be changed by new government?

Their everyday lives will not be changed, but there will be a subtle change in the way they view government.

The government has been criticized for focusing its time and energy on political issues, such as division and the western constitution, when it should be dealing with pressing social issues.

How long have those people who are criticizing been up here? Secondly, do they think it's a simple matter of putting more money or resources into these issues?

To me, the fastest way to have a positive effect is to let the people start controlling their lives, having input into how their government is run.

What we're trying to sell is hope. If we're going to be in charge, that by itself might be enough to tip the balance toward reducing these serious social problems.

At the same time, I think all politicians have a role in dealing with social issues. It's not enough to say "I was elected as an MLA" and dealing only with GNWT politics. It's incumbent upon the leadership to start the process, and to date that has not been forthcoming.