By Jeff Pelletier
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
MP Sylvie Berube’s short first visit to Nunavik has left some residents of the community she flew into and out of Wednesday unsatisfied with what she had to offer.
Berube was first elected as the Bloc Quebecois MP for Abitibi_Baie-James_Nunavik_Eeyou in 2019. It’s the third-largest riding in Canada behind Nunavut and Northwest Territories, but until this week she had never been to Nunavik.
Berube planned to visit in March 2020, but that fell through when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most traffic into the region.
Three years later, and a year after winning a second term in office, she set foot in Nunavik for the first time Wednesday for a short visit to Aupaluk, the smallest of the region’s 14 northern villages.
Berube and some of her parliamentary staff flew in on a charter flight from Quebec City late Wednesday morning. She met with Mayor David Angutinguak before attending a small community meeting at Tarsakallak School.
About two hours later, Berube was wheels up in her charter flight back to Quebec City, a one-day round-trip her staff said cost $13,546 plus tax.
“We were cut short as a community,” Angutinguak said. “At the end, we did not have time to finish our comments or questions ? they had to leave.”
Angutinguak wasn’t alone in feeling snubbed by Berube.
Members of the Tarsakallak School community said the rushed visit didn’t allow them to show her some of the infrastructure problems in the village, such as an out-of-service hockey rink and mouldy buildings.
Adding to the rushed feeling, Angutinguak said there were communication barriers: Inuktitut speakers who wanted to talk with Berube needed their words translated first into English, then into French and back, just to have a conversation.
George-Louisa Eetook, who serves several community roles in Aupaluk involving justice and education, had several words to say about the visit, that it was irritating, irrelevant, unnecessary and it felt like a joke.
“It seems like we will never be represented properly when it comes to our issues in the North,” Eetook said.
“I have a lot to say, and yet we weren’t even given the decency to be heard at the very least.”
Berube said in a French interview Thursday morning that she was happy about the visit, and that she’s aware that people in Nunavik feel disconnected from her.
“I learned a lot,” she said.
“I appreciated being present there, and that’s what I explained:
I really wanted to go before 1/8Wednesday 3/8, but the pandemic got in the way.”
Late Thursday in an emailed French-language message to Nunatsiaq News, Berube responded to some of the criticism from Aupaluk residents.
She said she wanted to spend more time in the community but flight arrangement made that impossible. “I did the best I could,”
The visit fulfilled her promise to go to Nunavik, she said, and she was appreciative of what she heard from the community despite the short stay.
She said she will follow up with federal and provincial officials on the local issues brought up by community members.
“As I mentioned to them, I am there for them and they can contact me at my constituency offices,” Berube wrote.
“If no one contacts me, I cannot be their voice in Ottawa.”
Last week, prior to her visit, Berube told Nunatsiaq News she was planning to spend three days in Nunavik, with overnight stays in Salluit and Kuujjuaq.
The following day, though, her staff confirmed the visit would be shortened to one day in Aupaluk due to difficulty finding accommodations for a longer stay.
Russ Johnson, a teacher who has been living in Aupaluk for three years, said he doesn’t buy COVID-19 as the reason Berube took three years to get there and then only stayed for part of a day.
After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in the spring and it became easier to enter Nunavik, he said that Berube’s office would tell him they were having trouble finding transportation and accommodation.
“I really felt like they wanted to get out of here as fast as possible ? It was an in-and-out like you won’t believe,” Johnson said.
“I don’t think anybody here is particularly satisfied.”
Berube said she hopes to return to Nunavik in April for a longer visit with overnight stays in other communities. In the meantime, she said she promises to address the issues that were brought to her attention in Aupaluk.
“I will work for you, I’ll try to defend your points of view at the federal level, and if needed, I’m ready to defend them working with the province,” Berube said.
Johnson said he hoped the visit shows Nunavimmiut need to keep pressing their elected officials. He said he’ll continue emailing and calling Berube’s office, and he hopes other community members get involved in engaging with all levels of government.
“I’d just like to see more Inuit engaged in the democratic process, but I think that starts with the MPs that are in office currently, helping them to understand and pushing them to be more involved,” Johnson said.
“I’m going to keep calling them and keep on them, and tell them to get their butts back here and do their jobs.”
Jeff Pelletier is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the
NUNATSIAQ NEWS. The LJI programis federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.