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Inuit leader in northern Quebec renews calls for new riding, Inuit-focussed MP

·3 min read
Pita Aatami, president of the Makivik Corporation, said the Inuit in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec want their own riding and Member of Parliament because they don’t feel represented by the riding’s current MP.  (Submitted by  Cynthia Cartolano - image credit)
Pita Aatami, president of the Makivik Corporation, said the Inuit in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec want their own riding and Member of Parliament because they don’t feel represented by the riding’s current MP. (Submitted by Cynthia Cartolano - image credit)

An Inuk leader in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec says he wants to see a new riding and Member of Parliament for his region, and the Bloc Québécois MP who was re-elected Monday says she might make that proposal.

Pita Aatami is president of Makivik Corporation, which represents about 10,000 Inuit beneficiaries of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. He said Bloc Québécois MP Sylvie Bérubé and her party are not raising the issues in Parliament that Inuit face.

Bérubé was re-elected Monday with 38 per cent of the vote, 12 percentage points ahead of Liberal challenger. She was first elected in 2019 and said she's had difficulty visiting the region, in part because of the pandemic.

She has served as her party's Indigenous affairs critic since 2019.

Aatami said the Inuit are outnumbered in the Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik-Eeyou riding and that the concerns of its Nunavik residents go unheard with an MP that has a different agenda.

3rd largest riding in Canada

Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou is the largest riding in Quebec and the third largest in Canada. It stretches across 854,754 square kilometres and includes 14 Inuit villages, nine Cree and two Algonquin communities and part of Naskapi territory. It also includes the non-Indigenous towns of Val d'Or, Chapais, Chibougamau and Lebel-sur-Quevillion, among others.

The riding includes Nunavik, Jamésie, which includes many Cree communities, and the regional county of La Vallée-de-l'or, which includes the city of Val d'Or.

Elections Canada
Elections Canada

Aatami said there are 87,000 constituents in the riding and 64,000 eligible voters. About 30 per cent of eligible voters are Indigenous.

"Looking at it all, we don't see why the Bloc Québécois would represent us now," he said.

Aatami said they've been asking to have their own riding for many years. He said it hurts knowing their concerns keep going unnoticed.

He said they've tried to reach Bérubé but keep getting an answering machine that answers only in French.

"It's been like this but we're not going to give up because of it. We will ask her once again, 'How will you help Nunavimmiut now that you've been elected?'" he said.

MP will 'possibly' propose new riding

Bérubé said she tried to visit Nunavik with her party leader but it was postponed because there were no hotel rooms available. She said the next time she tried to visit the region, the trip had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.

She said she knows of the different challenges Indigenous communities in her riding face, including housing, lack of infrastructure, access to drinking water, access to high speed internet, and access to traditional food.

Mélanie Picard/ Radio-Canada
Mélanie Picard/ Radio-Canada

"I said during the election campaign, one of my priorities is to organize as soon as possible a tour of Nunavik to meet important community stakeholders and hear their concerns," she said in French.

She added that it takes about 10 years to establish a new riding.

"I will possibly propose it because I believe it would be very timely that they have their own riding so that you can make your own decisions," she said.

'White MPs have no clue who we are'

Aatami said Nunavik residents want someone who knows who they're representing.

"White MPs have no clue who we are and the issues we face here," he said. "We are being represented by people who are way out there and this needs to change."

He said he will be meeting with his officials to find someone at the federal level who can propose the idea back to Ottawa.

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