REPRESENTING THE INUIT OF NUNAVIK SINCE 1978
Makivik Corporation—created to be the voice of the Inuit of Nunavik and uphold the constitutionally protected rights of all Nunavimmiut—is the political, cultural and economical leader in Nunavik, where, between the dualistic nations of Canada and Quebec, Inuit have established their own distinct place and identity since its inception in 1978.
Meaning “To Rise Up” in Inuktitut, Makivik works within the Nunavik region with the Quebec and Canadian governments, as well as with fellow Inuit from across Inuit Nunangat—the Inuit homeland, as part of the national Inuit political process. At the circumpolar level, Makivik is a member of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).
Makivik was formed with the mandate to protect the rights, interests, and financial compensation provided by the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first comprehensive and modern Inuit land claim in Canada, and the more recent offshore Nunavik Inuit Land Claim Agreement that came into effect in 2008. Makivik continues to work on the behalf of the Nunavimmiut on issues such as housing, self-determination, and employment.
Makivik welcomes new President
Makivik welcomed back Pita Aatami as Makivik President in February, 2021, succeeding Charlie Watt Sr., another highly-respected member of Makivik. A full circle moment, Aatami has returned to the role for the second time since holding the office in the 1990s. A recipient of the Order of Canada and Ordre National du Quebec, Aatami, 60, has held the role of President and CEO of one of Makivik’s major subsidiaries, Air Inuit, for the last eight years. He made the decision to resign in order to run for the Makivik presidential position.
Armed with the same desire to positively impact the lives of the Inuit of Nunavik that powered his first tenure as President, Aatami was motivated to fulfil the position of President again by a singular theme: Unity.
“A major theme of my campaign and a big driver behind re-running for Makivik President was my belief that it is time for unity in Nunavik,” says Aatami. “Unity between all the major organizations ensures that Nunavik speaks with a common voice. Something that I believe is key to ensuring that Nunavik isn’t left behind in today’s world.”
The Makivik team plans on working closely with all its regional and community organizations to support their efforts in meeting their mandates and responsibilities. “Our strength will come with our collaboration and respect and I was hoping that coming back as Makivik’s president would allow me to shift the corporation back in this direction.”
History with Makivik
Aatami has a long and proud history with Makivik. The first political role he held with the corporation was being elected as a Makivik Board member for his home community of Kuujjuaq in 1987, though his interest in politics was sparked well before this. “If we go back before Makivik existed (to the period where the JBNQA talks were in full swing), I was only 12 at the time, but this is when I started asking what was going on? I was like the rest of the Inuit, wondering, ‘What are they going to be doing to my area of the land?’” This is the seed that motived me to enter politics out of a deep concern that Inuit should be controlling development in Nunavik.”
After representing Kuujjuaq as Board Member, Aatami was elected as Makivik’s Treasurer in 1993, holding this position until becoming President in 1998 until 2012.
“Politically, [over the past 40 years] Makivik has made great strides in ensuring that Nunavik Inuit are on the map, and that our way of life and region remain protected. This has been achieved in a number of ways, whether it be through regional partnerships, or though the various agreements that have been signed with the governments.”
Aatami acknowledges that while lot has been achieved over the last 40 years, there is still a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to ensuring that the governments continue the work and their obligations in fully implementing agreements that have been signed to date.
“Economically, we have achieved amazing things over this time period,” says Aatami. “We have two airlines that not only serve our communities but fly beyond our region and serve far away cities. We’ve built partnerships in both the shipping and fisheries sectors. And most recently entered into a new partnership with the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec (FCNQ) creating Tarquti, a company that is now exploring renewable energy solutions for Nunavik.”
Makivik’s corporate culture is very intertwined with the Inuit Culture. Whether you are in the Kuujjuaq head office or the regional office in the Montreal area, you will hear Inuktitut being spoken, and there is a good chance that you will meet both Inuit and non-Inuit staff group up in the kitchen at lunch time sharing a country food meal on the floor.
“Sharing and teaching our culture with our non-Inuit staff is something that we love to do, and is an important step for their successful employment in the north, as some of the Inuit customs and traditions are bound to be things they have never seen before,” says Aatami.
Just one year into the role, Aatami says he has already made good progress on a number of his priority items. One of Aatami’s campaign items was to create a youth seat on our Board of Directors, which was accomplished in the March, 2021 Annual General Meeting. “Youth make up a large portion of Nunavik’s population, so giving them decision making power in Makivik’s political and economic initiatives is something that I put a lot of importance into,” says Aatami. “I believe that we have to hear Nunavik’s Youth as we are building a new world for them.”
Aatami also worked quickly to address what was perceived as a decline in the relations between Makivik and the Quebec Government in the last years. “With the Nunavik region residing within Quebec, this is a relationship that I feel needs to be strong for obvious reasons, but is a relationship that unfortunately eroded in my absence. I’m happy to say that in 2021, we successfully reconvened the Québec-Nunavik Table after a 10-year hiatus. This important forum brings cabinet ministers of the current Quebec government and representatives of Nunavik organizations together to discuss government files important to Inuit which provides us with an opportunity to explain our needs and concerns and get immediate feedback from the government. It also offers us a vehicle for following up directly with the ministers we meet and the ability to question the status of issues or projects we discussed with them in previous meetings.”
This reinstatement of the forum has also acted as a catalyst in making progress in a couple of Aatami’s other priority items. “Over many years Makivik has been on the pursuit of self-determination for the Inuit of Nunavik. Under my leadership a renewed approach to self-determination has been undertaken which will be fully transparent and inclusive of all Nunavik Inuit and the Nunavik organizations,” he says. “Prior to my return to Makivik, the self-determination process was only in negotiations with the government of Canada, in 2021 while re-establishing the Québec-Nunavik Table, we also reached out to and emphasized to Premier Legault the importance that the Government of Quebec engage in negotiations related to Nunavik self-determination.”
Makivik asked the Premier to appoint a negotiator who will address issues of Nunavik autonomy and establish a negotiation mandate. Quebec agreed to do so, and Makivik is now waiting for this appointment to be announced to begin our work on self-determination with Quebec.
The lack of housing In Nunavik, and in Inuit Nunangat as a whole, is an issue that greatly affects the lives of Inuit in the north. “Despite this being a well-known issue to all governments, it is unfortunately still the reality for all our communities,” says Aatami. “One of the priorities in our Québec-Nunavik Table meetings was addressing housing and the urgent need for Quebec, Canada, and Nunavik organizations namely Makivik, KRG and KMHB, to renew our tripartite agreement and settle once and for all, this crisis.”
In a recent talk with Table Québec-Nunavik meeting, the minister responsible for housing announced the appointment of a negotiator to open discussions with the federal government and Nunavik organizations in February. Aatami continues to insist that this file must be a top priority for Quebec and that with Nunavik experiencing a shortfall of 800-1,000 housing units, this agreement must be finalized sooner rather than later.”
Aatami stresses that all this wouldn’t have possible without the effort of everyone concerned. “All my political actions are based on teamwork and I greatly value everybody’s contribution.”
One of Aatami’s earliest priorities in 2021 was ensuring effective collaboration at the executive level. Just weeks into his term, the executive team and the senior managers had held numerous strategy meetings establishing Makivik’s priority items and establishing actions on how these files would be carried out by the corporation.
Over the last year the weekly executive meetings have been re-established, allowing the Makivik Executive and Senior Managers an opportunity to provide updates to, and discuss key files. Using an action tracking system that was put in place, this forum ensures that Makivik’s goals are being met and tracked. “This is what successful collaboration at the corporate level is for me, ensuring that there is open dialogue between key players, and ensuring that we have the tools in place to measure and track our actions,” says Aatami.
“Regional collaboration is ensuring that our regional leaders, whether it be the representatives of our major regional organizations, or the mayors of our communities, have the venues and opportunities to openly discuss the issues that the Inuit of Nunavik face,” continues Aatami. “Having all organization meetings is an example of this, forums where leadership from throughout the region have the ability to discuss and come up with real solutions to Nunavik needs while giving the opportunity for a common voice to be established is a very important part of regional collaboration, and we have already carried out a number of these meetings over the last year.”
Having regular conversations with fellow Inuit is really important to Aatami. “In that sense, as soon as traveling is allowed again and that our pandemic situation is under control, my team and I will resume touring communities in order to meet with the communities. Again, as Youth is so important to me, I will make sure that we go to every school and have a conversation with the students.”
“Grassroots initiatives that look to address the needs of Nunavimmiut by developing services that are based on Inuit Culture, Values and Traditions are broadly the initiatives that we want to see succeed,” says Aatami.
Makivik plays a wide role when it comes to grassroots initiatives within Nunavik—the Piruursiivik greenhouse project, for instance, which has been exploring ways to achieve year-round vegetable farming in Nunavik. There is also Nunavik Furs in Kuujjuaq which provides fur tanning services to Inuit across Nunavik. These social economic initiatives provide employment opportunities to some Nunavimmiut while exploring exciting opportunities that could be expanded in the future.
Makivik also believes in and support other initiatives within the region. The building of the new Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Center’s facility in Kuujjuaq is supported both politically and financially by Makivik. This center will greatly increase the capacity to provide inpatient addictions services that are not only within Nunavik, but that are based on Inuit culture, practices, and pride.
The Nunavimmi llagiit Papatauvinga is another priority for Makivik. This group is focused on the restructuration of youth protection services, as well as youth and family services, and is looking to develop culturally adapted care for all youth and families of Nunavik.
For more information on this and other Makivik initiatives, please visit https://www.makivik.org