The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) — an organization representing the collective interests of all Inuvialuit, the Inuit in Canada’s western Arctic — is just days away from electing a new leader.
This week, 42 directors from six community corporations in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region are in Inuvik, Northwest Territories to cast their vote for the IRC’s new chair and CEO. Those directors, voted in by eligible Inuvialuit beneficiaries in December, will cast their votes on Tuesday, but first, the candidates are pleading their case and sharing their platforms at an all candidates forum on Monday.
The forum began on Monday at 9 a.m. at Inuvik’s Midnight Sun Complex.
Seven candidates are in the running for the IRC’s top job. Here’s an introduction to each of them:
Wayne Gordon is originally from Aklavik, but has been living in Inuvik for the last 14 years. Currently retired, he worked at the Aklavik airport as a observer/communicator for 25 years, and served as Chair of the Inuvialuit Development Corporation from 2004 to 2016.
Gordon said that there are three principles that the Government of Canada agreed to in the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA), and the corporation should “refer back to those IFA principles.
“The first one being to preserve Inuvialuit culture, identity and values within a changing Northern society. To enable Inuvialuit to be equal and meaningful participants in a Northern and national society, and to protect and preserve the Arctic wildlife and violent and biological productivity,” he said.
Gordon said it’s important for the IRC to have strong communication with the various community corporations, and for Inuvialuit to have access to their leaders.
If elected, he would like to discuss with beneficiaries which changes they would like to see before having a discussion with the board of directors about the feedback.
“I think it’s very important as a leader to communicate and to make decisions that in corporate decisions that are in the best interest of the Inuvialuit people,” he said.
Currently serving as the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, Mervin Gruben is the co-owner of E. Gruben’s Transport, one of two companies contracted to build the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway. CBC was unable to schedule an interview with Gruben as of Friday evening.
Richard McLeod is a subcontractor from Inuvik who runs his own company, McLeod’s Shaman Welding.
If elected, he said that a priority for him is to reduce the cost of living in the settlement region.
“I’d do it by taking over local control of the power corporations in the regional area and developing our resources just for us, not for anywhere else,” said McLeod.
He said this would cut out the middle-person — an arrangement that currently contributes to “keep it expensive.”
McLeod also expressed interest in changing the voting system for the IRC’s top job, suggesting that he would like to see a referendum to decide if allow all Inuvialuit should vote for Chair and CEO, instead of just the 42 directors.
Randal “Boogie” Pokiak is a retired Tuktoyaktuk elder who was one of the negotiators for the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. He was also a trapper and has been a consultant for traditional knowledge on various projects in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.
“I’m running because there are things that need to get done,” said Pokiak.
Pokiak said the IRC needs to continue to work on Inuvialuit self-government and to make “sure we have the food security for our people.”
“I do a lot of storing away and there’s not always not enough. And there’s no way of people coordinating it to make it work for our food security, and this involves harvesters.”
Pokiak said that he would want to work with the board of directors to get more knowledge coming from harvesters and elders, since “a lot of us don’t have much time left in this life, but we want to leave something really beneficial for the future generations.”
Kenneth Ruben is from and currently lives in Paulatuk. He is the owner and operator of 6222 NWT Ltd. O/A KDN Contracting, and is on the board of directors for the Inuvialuit Development Corporation.
“There is such a long laundry list of things we have to do to change course of our Corporation,” said Ruben.
“One of the things that I’d really like to concentrate on is just bringing our our people back together, using our traditional values and customs as a guideline.”
He said it “seems like we aren’t a team, and it really concerns me.”
Ruben said he wants all of the settlement region’s development corporations to “work together as partners, both financially, and [in] decision making on any future and current projects” like affordable housing.
Running for re-election, Duane Smith has been chair and CEO of the IRC for the last three years. If he’s returned to the position, he said that he would work with the corporation’s board of directors to continue to implement and update their strategic plan.
The plan has six goals, “the first being to revitalize and celebrate the Inuvialuit cultural identity and values,” said Smith.
Other goals include “exercising good stewardship over the Inuvialuit lands,” improving the well-being and capacity of families in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region communities, promoting healthier lifestyles and supporting educational development, “continu[ing] to assert Inuvialuit rights and benefits through the implementation of the IFA,” take an evidence-based decision making approach to policy development, and manage all resources of the Inuvialuit corporate group.
Smith also said he would like to strengthen the programs “that support Inuvialuit, wherever they may reside.”
Kurt Wainman is the owner of Northwind Industries, an Inuvik-based company contracted to build part of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway. He is also a sitting town councillor in Inuvik. CBC attempted to contact Wainman numerous times, but did not hear back as of Friday evening.
With files from Dodie Malegana
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Climate change, birth rate should be Finnish gov’s top priorities: report, Yle News
Norway: “The ‘Smart Arctic’ is Indigenous,” Saami leader tells Arctic Frontiers, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Russia’s Far East ministry to get powers over Arctic policy, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Swedish PM Stefan Löfven unveils new cabinet, Radio Sweden
United States: Inuit leaders to advance Indigenous human rights, Radio Canada International