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Yellowknife Inuit gear up to vote

Some feel NTI ignores them

NNSL Photo

Sisters Sara Kuniliusee and Sarah Papatsie say a lack of communication exists between the NTI and Inuit living outside Nunavut. They will vote with these enrolment cards today, but aren't sure what other benefits they provide. - Jennifer McPhee/NNSL photo

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 10/01) - Sara Kuniliusee, an Inuit beneficiary who left Nunavut six years ago, personally knows all the candidates running in today's NTI election.

She kept track of their platforms from Yellowknife through the media. But Kuniliusee says that NTI ignores the concerns of Inuit living outside Nunavut. "It makes me wonder who I am, " she said. "I'm supposed to be Inuit but nobody is listening."

Kuniliusee says about 500 Inuit live in Yellowknife.

Kuniliusee hunts every weekend and supplies her family and friends with country food. But Kuniliusee says she is not eligible for NTI's hunter support program, which helps subsistence hunters buy equipment, and believes a lack of communication exists between the NTI and Inuit living outside Nunavut.

Both Kuniliusee and her sister Sarah Papatsie have NTI enrolment cards, but they haven't used them, and don't know what they offer.

Here in the NWT, Kuniliusee pays for her children's school registration fees and, before she started working, she even paid for medical prescriptions. "I wouldn't have to pay for any of that in Nunavut," she says.

The two women say a double standard exists and want the NTI to do something about it. "I may be complaining too much but every Inuit has a concern. Maybe they promised too much stuff when Nunavut was formed," says Kuniliusee.

They suggest a newsletter would help keep them informed about what benefits they are eligible for.

NTI spokesperson Paul Irngaut says Inuit beneficiaries raise similar concerns in Ottawa and Winnipeg. "There is a lack of communication, but it is hard to contact individuals," he says. "We can't keep tabs on everybody."

But Irngaut points out that NTI does send a newsletter to beneficiaries, boarding homes and drop-in centres outside Nunavut.

It helps when these places have an Inuit centre for NTI to contact. There is no longer an Inuit association in Yellowknife, although Kuniliusee said residents are thinking about reviving one.

More importantly, Irngaut says, every beneficiary is eligible for the same benefits no matter where they live. He said the beneficiaries receive two benefits -- a pension for elders and the hunter support program.

NTI allots funds to hunting and trapping organizations, which distribute the money. But Irngaut says he's not sure if the benefit could extend to individual Inuit hunters living in Yellowknife. But he said it Kuniliusee could look into it.

Mary Topilikon is another Inuit resident of Yellowknife. She moved from Cambridge Bay in 1994 and most of her family lives in Yellowknife now. Yellowknife is home and she doesn't follow Nunavut politics that closely, but she still plans to vote. Beneficiaries in Yellowknife can vote at the Kitikmeot Boarding Home today from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.