Herbert Nakimayak is seeking to remain the MLA for Nunakput.
Nakimayak’s top priority is relieving the region of a cost of living that has “screamed out loud” over the past four years.
The effects of this were put into stark relief in 2018, when Nakimayak’s home community of Paulatuk suffered as a result of cancelled barge shipments. To alleviate these costs and supply Nunakput’s three fly-in communities, Nakimayak wants to see a logistics base built in Tuktoyaktuk.
In a region where people may be on public housing waitlists for years, Nakimayak said looking at how the government is providing housing and improving relationships between community members and local housing authorities needs to happen.
Getting healthcare up to par with what’s provided in the NWT’s centres is a priority, Nakimayak said, including improving medical travel.
On climate change, Nakimayak said the GNWT needs to guide communities like Tuktoyaktuk, parts of which are “literally sinking.” As well, loosening up restrictions on federal funding will allow these communities to adapt.
“You never, ever want anybody from your hometown or your riding to be climate change refugees. Which would mean that they have to move, they’ve lost the land where they live,” he said.
Nakimayak defended his actions in support of ministers facing removal from their portfolios in the Legislative Assembly. “Simply knocking somebody off is not going to solve the problem. And in some cases, it may make things worse,” he said. Voting in favour of and supporting cabinet, which he and the members for Mackenzie Delta and Sahtu have frequently done, is something Nakimayak views as having stabilized the government.
Deeming the last assembly “an example of how not to work together,” and citing backlash for his pro-cabinet position in committee, Nakimayak urged more collaboration going forward.
He also addressed his multiple absences from committee meetings and other duties as MLA, due to his other roles as negotiator on the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean and vice-president at the Inuit Circumpolar Council. “We always work south to north and it’s good to work laterally as well, with other countries in the Arctic,” he said.
This interview was recorded on September 13, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emelie Peacock: You were a regular MLA for the past four years. When you look back, where do you think that you have made the biggest difference in the Legislative Assembly?
Herb Nakimayak: There’s a lot of small victories in allowing the voices from small communities to be heard on the floor, for me that is important. That’s one of the victories. As always there’s a lot of health and housing issues in the region and I think we’re able to voice those concerns of constituents who didn’t have a voice. I think we’ve been successful in that respect, and as well fostering… I saw myself as a liaison, basically, being a regular MLA, a liaison between the Inuvialuit and the GNWT. I’m proud of some of the progress that they’ve made towards self-determination. The working relationships, they are not always perfect, but they’re needed to work and implement programs that we going on in my region. I think that the GNWT and IRC are really starting to work more closely together on those issues.
You’re seen as widely supportive of the government if you look at your voting record, including supporting Schumann and Abernethy when there were non-confidence votes in the Legislative Assembly. Does this mean that you’re generally supportive of how the government worked over the past four years?
I am, actually. Without the government, without the funding, without the programs, without the healthcare, we’d really struggle. In Yellowknife, when you’re sitting at the capital, you have all the services that the territory provides. And, you know, we need to ensure that we empower, encourage and help guide these services to improve. Everything in this world could be improved but we should look at how are these services going to benefit the people that don’t have an opportunity to access the proper healthcare, proper access to mental wellness and things like that. It’s really important that we support the government so that we can ensure that these services are reaching out to the people that they’re meant to reach.
You talked about the non-confidence vote. From where I am in Paulatuk, or Ulu or Sachs or Tuk, if we removed a minister at that time it would really set back our region. You look at the midterm review, that took up a lot of session time. We can look at it as an opportunity to knock off ministers but at the same time, I’m always worried about the outcome at the end. The results of what it’s going to do to people who aren’t getting services at that time, no matter what it may be. Those may stop.
I think at that time, we need to support the ministers more than we have in the past. We can complain all we want about how good a job one person’s doing or not but at the end of the day, it’s about the services to the people who really need to access them. For me, that was the turning point. Yeah, we need to support you guys more and that means changing how we work together. Working together is so important and I think some people take that for granted.
You can stand up and be as strong as we want to, but if nobody wants to work with us then we’re not gonna win that battle at that time. I’m always calculating in my mind, everything I do, how this is going to affect people. Basically, changed the way I think in that instance and, well, these guys need help, they really do.
And, you know what? If I was struggling in my life, I would ask for help. And I’m grateful to people that stand forward. So voting in favour of keeping the ministers where they are, for me was important so we can continue on with the work that they’re doing. I know and a lot of us know, as sitting MLAs, the inner workings of the legislature. Not the inner workings of every department, but we have an idea what they’re supposed to do to. We need to ensure that we empower people. Simply knocking somebody off is not going to solve the problem. And in some cases, it may make things worse. That’s why I voted.
And also the voting, I’ve been questioned about that before. Myself and the member for Mackenzie Delta and the member for the Sahtu. And we voted with cabinet. We all come from signed land claims agreements and we want to ensure that our relationship with our Indigenous governments and the GNWT continues to improve and we need to show an example of how well we can work together. And I think the three of us, we’ve stabilized the government. Honestly, that’s how I think about things today. We’ve ensured that programs and services are ongoing, even though we’ll always have disagreements, even with the premier, with cabinet members. We can’t get what we want all the time, but we can ensure that we’re getting the best outcome possible for our regions.
If you’re re-elected, what are you looking for in terms of a position at the Legislative Assembly?
Looking at the positions in our region, I would definitely look at a cabinet position for sure. If not further. Depending on the outcome of the election, we need to always look forward and always look at the team that we have and try to build upon it as best we can. It’s not about one individual, it’s about our government. How we’re going to work together. So I would definitely think of a cabinet position.
Are there certain portfolios that you’re most passionate about, that you’re thinking about right now?
For myself, in the work that I’ve done throughout my career, or whatever, I’ve always been passionate about the environment. And housing is definitely one that needs help, as well as health. These two departments are likely the biggest ones in the territory that’s going to help people – or it may not. When it doesn’t help individuals or families, you really see on the ground how it negatively impacts everything. It brings up costs, for instance, so dramatically that we need to ensure that we do our best. So those are likely some of the portfolios that I would look at.
So the position of premier, is that in your thoughts as well?
I’m sure it’s in everybody’s thoughts, actually. I’m getting phone calls from friends and colleagues stating their position and what they’d like to do. I myself as well as anybody, of course, we’re thinking about that. We need to ensure that where we are is heard loud and clear. And how do we do that? Do we do that through the premiership or through cabinet or as a regular member? We need to think about all of those.
It’s smart to be tactical all the time, always looking at things and looking at the outcome thinking, “How am I going to improve this?” Knowing that this is not going to have a good outcome or saying, well, maybe it will, tomorrow or next week or next month, with a change in policy. So I’m always thinking about the position for sure. I don’t know if that answers your question.
You’re interested in the position of premier.
So I want to turn to your platform. There are many things on your platform, I’m wondering if you could outline some of what your priorities will be over the next four years if you’re re-elected?
The cost of living, it has shown, it has screamed out loud actually over the last couple of years. Especially with the cancellation of MTS last year. My hometown is likely the one that paid for it the most. The end-users, the consumers are the ones who pay for the mishaps in the government. And you know when that happened, I was getting pressure from our leadership, from local leadership, from regional leadership and from the Inuvialuit as well.
That’s one of the areas where we need to really improve. To stabilize our region we need to have a logistical base up north to serve the remote communities. There’s only three communities, now, that are fly-in in my region. We can drive to Tuk and I think Tuk’s the perfect place for a logistical point to serve our region. We need to really look at that. When you have that, then businesspeople in our region can continue to work with the government or other organizations. And what that does? Well, that employs a lot of people actually in the community. Actually more than we think. When you have a mishap it really affects us. So definitely, shipping in our region is a priority.
Housing, we need to bring down the long waitlists. Some people have been on the waiting list for years. And it’s a shame that that’s the way things are. I know everybody else around this world is buying homes here and there. But in our region, we’re very dependent on the government for housing. So we need to, I think, look at how the government is providing housing for people where it’s needed. And we need to improve on that. And really to improve on that actually, the relationships between the LHOs and community members are important. I know it’s likely one of the toughest jobs in this world where the cost of living is so high. And I commend those working on the front lines, doing this and providing housing. But we need to look at ways of how we can improve it, looking ahead. We’re never going to reinvent the wheel or anything like that. But we need to improve on that.
As well, health. Health has been one of the biggest – health and housing – over this last assembly in my four years it’s been.. Medical travel, for patients who need to go out of the territory or even to the capital or even to Inuvik for treatment. A lot of Elders and sometimes people who in certain circumstances need an escort. We need to ensure that they get proper healthcare. It’s expensive to bring a person from, let’s say, Paulatuk or Ulukhaktok or Sachs or Tuk before the road. And to get them the same medical healthcare. If you had to go to the doctor in Yellowknife you’d just likely walk in, in the morning or in the afternoon, you get treatment that day. For some people, it takes months. And when you think about that, it not only affects their physical health conditions, but their mental as well too. So we need to really make the health system work for the region that we live in. With IRC being in the picture, and taking over and working towards self-government, we need to ensure that the GNWT is implementing these programs so that they’re actually successful.
And getting on to the environment and climate change. You look at the shoreline erosion in Tuk, the funding for that is to relocate homes, which is great. The permafrost is melting, which means that the community out at the point is literally sinking. You never ever want anybody from your hometown or your riding to be climate change refugees. Which would mean that they have to move, they’ve lost the land where they live. Look around this world, look at all the major storms in the Atlantic. You never ever want that to happen in our region. But in Tuk it’s happening, but it’s happening from the water and the rising sea levels.
We need to ensure that we provide proper guidance to the hamlet, so that they can plan best for their community. When you enable communities to plan the way they’re doing, it’s actually quite empowering. So the ball is in their court so that we meet, we’re here, we need to do this. Let’s continue. And we need to ensure that the federal funding dollars that come up with programs like that are a little bit more loose, that the policies are a little bit more broad so people can work and do things, ensuring that their communities are looked after through programs like this. So we need to look at the structure of the funding that comes out and when we apply for it as a government ourselves, we need to make sure that we’re able to do the work that we need to with this money without getting penalized.
In Tuk’s case, they’re having a hard time finding contractors to move the homes. You’d think that wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s come to that and we need to empower them to make the right decision so that they’re helping the people that are affected.
So those are some things that I’ve been focusing on during this time. And always, always looking at – we come from the most northerly part of the territory – the cost of doing business. When you see the cost of business rising in Yellowknife, guaranteed it’s going to happen up north. We need to ensure that our dollars are being spent properly and that we’re doing things accordingly.
When you campaigned four years ago, you said education was a priority and needed an overhaul in Nunakput. What is it looking like now?
With the help of funding from Jordan’s Principle, from the federal government, it’s helped a lot of people and also employed people from the communities.
Education. There’s been a change in ministers, but at the same time, those two ministers have ensured they’ve done their best to ensure that they’re looking after people who really don’t have a voice. And for me, education is always important.
We need to look at the social passing and we need to really take ownership as parents, as teachers, as a community to ensure that we’re doing the best for our kids. When I was young, growing up in Paulatuk we always had Elders coming to the school. Stopping in and saying hi. At that time, that was like the 80s and the 90s. And that’s because they were buddies with the principal. And also we were lucky to have that. Nowadays you don’t have much interaction between parents and teachers in some communities and some communities are actually thriving.
I’m proud of the work that they’re doing in the region and we need to ensure that we empower and encourage the teachers. These are tough positions. These are always coming from outside – the police, teachers and the healthcare, the nurses are always coming from outside. We need to ensure that we treat them as best we can so they continue to come back to our community and help with the services they provide in the region. I think that’s very important. When you have people who are happy they do amazing work I think we need to enrich that, especially with the education system.
We’ve only got about 30 seconds left of our interview. I just want to invite you to speak directly to the voters. Why should they elect you on October 1?
Thanks for your time, I appreciate it. I’d just like to say that this last four years, I’ve learned a lot. I come from a world where we’re working on international treaties, with Inuit and United Nations and the Arctic Council. All those forums are very important to be a part of because it’s about the Arctic and that’s where I’m from. Throughout my life I’ve formed myself to work on these issues that I’m passionate about and continue to work hard for our region and for the territory. We can’t block off but we need to ensure that we’re working together.
Working together has never become so important. This last assembly, I think, was kind of an example of how not to work together. And it was tough. Myself, being a regular member, when I voted with the cabinet on things, I definitely saw the backlash in committee. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t work together simply because we disagree. Sometimes we work on programs, policies, we may not like them at the time, but we know if there’s a positive outcome, we still need to go through that.
I know there’s been a lot of talk about myself missing committee meetings, but at the same time I have been involved with environmental and fisheries agreements, international treaties. And I’ve successfully negotiated the central Arctic high seas fisheries agreement with Canada as one of the two Canadian negotiators. For myself to pick up the ball where other leaders have left off, for me, it’s actually a privilege and I’m very grateful for that experience to work with other countries and see what’s going on.
We always work south to north and it’s good to work laterally as well, too, with other countries in the Arctic. And I feel that the experience in that arena definitely enriched the work that we do in our region to ensure that we’re ahead of a lot of these issues. And when you come from a community that’s adaptable to starting up a marine protected area or fisheries management agreement, we have our strong negotiators. And I feel that the guidance from Elders and a lot of people who are in those positions again helps myself.
And it’s not just me, look at the amount of candidates running in our region. There are a lot of bright, intelligent candidates that can actually do the work and I wish them all the luck. In the last election there was bullying and things like that going on. But this time it seems to be a lot more respectful, which it should be. I encourage people to get out there and work together.
I’d like to thank people in my region for the last four years and I hope that I can get back in for one more term and make a difference and continue the work that we’re doing. There’s a lot of work that’s unfinished but whoever gets in will continue on and turn it into a good work in progress.