Nunavut’s new Premier is Inuk with capital I

Paul Quassa receives congratulations from his political opponent Cathy Towtongie. (Photo: Marc Jacobsen)
Paul Quassa (65) was born in an igloo close to the town of Igloolik. He is an Inuk with capital I, who has played a key role in the development of Nunavut.

Iqaluit, Nunavut: Last Friday, the 22 newly elected members of Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly selected a new Premier. Paul Quassa is his name. 65 years ago, he was born in an igloo close to the town of Igloolik. He is an Inuk with capital I, who has played a key role in the development of Nunavut.

First, he was part of the negotiations of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement – entered into force in 1993 – and six year later, he helped establishing Nunavut as the newest territory of Canada. Now it is time to take the next steps – in that aim, he is particularly inspired by the close neighbor to the East: Greenland.

Shortly after Premier Quassa had won the seat in competition with three other strong opponents, High North News interviewed him about his priorities, relations with Greenland and international outlook.

"We have to take care of our elders"

HNN: "Congratulations. What are your main priorities for the next four years?"

Quassa: "Education. I believe education is so very important for Nunavummiut, to make sure that we have a truly bilingual education system". 

"The other one, of course, is our elders. We have to ensure, that we take good care of them and address the concern that we are sending them down South. Inuit respect their elders and that is the reason why I want to follow-up on this."

HNN: "What is the reason that elders are send down South?"

Quassa: "We don’t have any facilities to house them here, and that is something I want to see fixed immediately."


Want to meet with Greenlanders

HNN: "Broadening out the perspective, do you feel inspired by someone else outside of Nunavut?"

Quassa: "I am always interested in meeting with Greenlanders because we have the very same culture.
I know that they have had their government way longer than us. I have always looked up to them, and I want to meet with Greenlanders as soon as I can, because we have a good working relationship."

HNN: "Is there anything particular in Greenland that you feel inspired by?"

Quassa: "They are very strong in retaining their language, and I think that is something we can learn from them because language is so vital. That is why I envy Greenlanders. They have everything in their language and that is how we can do as well."

HNN: "How will you achieve that? What are the first steps?"

Quassa: "We have to make sure that our government, private sector respect the language – not just verbally, but also written language. I am going to make it mandatory for all companies to learn Inuktitut. So many of our own Inuit say, that we are still using English in our own government in our homeland – and that has to change."


Sharing of resources

HNN: "Besides language, is there anything in Greenland that inspires you, or do you think – the other way around – that Greenland could learn something from Nunavut?"

Quassa: "Oh definitely, there is a great chance for us to exchange and then share resources – Inuktitut resources – I think we can do way more of that. The other one, of course, is economic reasons. Greenland is very good at that and that is something we can learn here in Nunavut."

HNN: "Economic reasons – what, more specifically, do you think of? Mining? Fisheries? Or something else?"

Quassa; "Fisheries is vital and important. As you know, we are a marine people. We have to have that strength; we have to retain that. Just like Greenlanders are doing."

HNN: "Are there other countries than Greenland you look to for inspiration?"

Quassa; "Oh, definitely; the circumpolar world. All of us from Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka – though I think Alaska, Canada and Greenland are more advanced than the Chukotka region. I am very pro-Inuit because I am Inuk, and this is what I want to see."

Unique territory

HNN: "You emphasized in your speech, that you were born in an igloo. Does that mean something special to you?"

Quassa: "Yes, yes, I think I am the last generation that was born in an igloo. We should always make sure that we remember the past and use it for the future."

HNN: "What about relations with the government of Canada? How could those be enhanced?"

Quassa: "Again, we have to ensure that they fully understand that we live in a very different environment. We are very different from southern jurisdictions and you know, this is the unique territory of Inuit, who governs themselves. We are the very first Indigenous people in Canada who got that – and I am very proud to say that it was me who signed the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. I think I got everything, yeah."

HNN: "In Greenland, there is a lot of talk about independence in the future. Do you have the same ambitions?"

Quassa: "Well again, I think that is something ICC has really fought for, and I think as Inuit we can all do it together. If it is something Inuit wants to see, then we would also support it."

HNN: "So, is it more likely for Inuit that for Nunavut?"

Quassa: "Yes."

Following the selection of Premier, seven minister were also selected in a secret vote by all 22 elected politicians. Of the 13 candidates, David Akeeagok, Pat Angnakak, Jeannie Ehaloak, David Joanasie, Lorne Kusugak, Joe Savikataaq and Elisapee Sheutiapik came out on top. Now it is up to Premier Quassa to decide which portfolios they will get. This will be made public on Tuesday.