By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The federal government has signed an agreement with the territorial government that will allow construction to start on a recovery centre in Iqaluit to help Nunavummiut dealing with substance abuse.
Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal held a public event at the Aqsarniit hotel Friday to announce the signing.
The announcement follows a declaration the two governments signed in 2019, where the federal government agreed to pay $41.7 million, or 75 per cent, of the centre’s construction costs and $9.7 annually for operational costs.
Friday’s agreement formalizes these contributions and “defines our respective roles and responsibilities for the construction and operation” of the centre, said Vandal.
He did not provide detail about what those respective roles and responsibilities will be.
The Nunavut government hasn’t confirmed where the recovery centre will be located, but Health Minister Lorne Kusugak said his department is still looking at a parcel of land close to the Arctic Winter Games Arena and north of Toonik Pond. That proposal was presented to Iqaluit city councillors in March.
There is no timeline for construction to begin, Kusugak said, but he did say the government is aiming to start with the next shipping season when building materials can be brought to the territory.
This project has been a long time coming, said Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk, adding the organization first asked for a recovery centre in 2010, then again in 2013.
“Even prior to those resolutions, even prior to the creation of Nunavut, Inuit have wanted to have a residential treatment centre here in Nunavut,” she said.
Vandal made another funding announcement at the same location Thursday that more than $500 million of $4.3 billion announced in April will be earmarked for infrastructure across Inuit Nunangat.
The federal Liberal government had set aside the larger sum over three years for infrastructure in Indigenous communities, such as deepsea ports, energy projects, roads and housing.
“The funding will work towards addressing the immediate needs of Inuit as prioritized by Inuit,” Vandal said.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed called the infrastructure funding a “good starting point,” but that it won’t fix all of Inuit Nunangat’s lacking infrastructure.
“We have lived in an infrastructure deficit since the very beginning of the relationship between Inuit and the Government of Canada,” he said.
“This long-standing inequity is a result of a mindset that does not see Inuit communities as important or as equal to other Canadian communities.”
Duane Ningaqsiq Smith, CEO of Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in the Northwest Territories, also said the funding is a good start, but that he wants the federal government to commit to a long-term strategy to address the region’s larger needs.
“I’m sure each of the leaders from around the table today could say that they can use this level of funds alone just within each of our regions, just to try to start to catch up,” he said.
“This is a drop in the bucket.”
In response to those critiques, Vandal said during the media’s question period that the money announced Thursday was the “most significant amount of money any government in recent memory has invested in Indigenous infrastructure.”
“The issue is, we are battling generations and generations of underfunding,” he said.
Both announcements came at the tail end of the minister’s trip to Nunavut, where he also visited Arviat, Pond Inlet and Rankin Inlet.
Vandal is the latest of four Liberal cabinet ministers to visit Nunavut and announce investments in the North since late July _ a riding in which the party does not have a candidate, despite speculation a federal election could be be called next week.
David Venn is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the NUNATSIAQ NEWS . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.