Lorne Kusugak has a unique perspective on Nunavut’s path during the past 21 years having viewed them through the eyes of a father, an informed-and-involved citizen, a voice on CBC Radio, a municipal mayor, an MLA and a territorial minister.
The amicable politician and family man is also a man about town, equally at home fielding questions in a boardroom as he is bluffing his way through a game of poker or shooting a friendly game of quills.
Equal parts friendliness, confidence, opinion and outspokenness, he is known for having little patience for those who would tell him things can’t be done, rather than finding ways to make them happen.
And he views Nunavut’s first 21 years in much the same manner, being aware of the negatives but always focused on the positives that have taken place in a territory very much still in its infancy.
Kusugak said Nunavut, itself, brought the biggest change one could imagine – a territorial government in which the majority is comprised of those born and raised within its borders. He said in terms of time, that was just a dream not all that long ago and today they are the people who will decide where Nunavut is headed.
“We now have Nunavummiut who, pretty much, have direct lines to their leadership – a dramatic change from the past which has led to us all – all Nunavummiut – finding our voices and becoming more vocal,” said Kusugak.
“Technology has advanced so rapidly during the past 21 years that it’s actually driving Nunavut today – the way we communicate in Nunavut… the way we access Nunavut and Nunavummiut – it’s changed our everyday lives and how we govern.
“All this has helped to give communities more authority and they now use government funding to run more programs themselves.
“The municipal governments in Nunavut now have a lot more power and authority than they did in the past and their voice is much stronger now, as well.”
Kusugak said 21 years is a very short amount of time, so of course there are adjustments to be made, much more development to come and many more challenges to be met.
He said the wealth Nunavut brought with it through numerous new opportunities and the growth of the mining industry has a solid economic middle class taking form in the territory, however, the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has never been wider.
“That will continue until we see more people striving for higher education (including trades training) and improving their ability to hold a job.
“That’s a steep learning curve but we will get there. We have a mine now just a stone’s throw from Rankin and we have to learn how to capitalize on opportunities like that.
“We, as Nunavummiut, have to change the way we look at employment opportunities and, actually, the way we raise our families.
“We, as Nunavummiut, are raised to be family first and family strong – and that also goes to extended family to the point where, for example, Rankinmiut are known for looking out for each other – but we also have to learn to accept that we might have to be away from home to work at the mine for two weeks at a time so that our families can have a better life.
“Two weeks in and out is becoming the new norm up here and once we grasp that you’ll see the economic playing field begin to level off.”
Kusugak, a father of three daughters, said the advent of the internet and the cellphone changed everything because suddenly his daughters knew far more about technology than he did.
He said he views the advances in technology as having Inuit youth more connected to what’s happening today.
“As parents, we are responsible for the connection between today and yesterday. The internet is not going to do that for us.
“Through my years working with the CBC I was very fortunate to memorize all kinds of legends, which I share with my children and grandchildren.
“There is a certain amount of disconnect that just naturally happens from one generation to the next.
“I don’t think today’s youth are losing their culture. They’re just getting involved in this new culture.”