As the business development arm of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Kitikmeot Corp. was expected to bring economic life to one of the most sparsely populated regions of Nunavut. The company dabbles in everything from real estate development and travel planning to serving the region’s mining industry through road-building and catering. But according to Kitikmeot Corp. president Charlie Lyall, escalating rates of substance abuse among residents, as well as generally low levels of education, is hampering the company’s efforts to deliver work to the region.
“We’re having a hard time finding Inuit educated enough to train,” Lyall said at the Kitikmeot Inuit Association’s annual general meeting earlier this month. It’s a troubling state of affairs given the rapid growth of the mining sector in Canada’s Far North, an industry Kitikmeot Corp. documents identify as the one with “the most potential to provide training and employment opportunities for the Inuit of the Kitikmeot.”
Growing drug and alcohol use is making the task of training and hiring the Inuit doubly hard, Lyall said. For instance, of the 40 people who applied for training to work in mining, all but four failed the requisite drug test, reported the Nunatsiaq News. According to census data, Kitikmeot has one of the lowest education levels in Canada. Meantime, while controls on alcohol are tight and booze has to be shipped in from Yellowknife, that’s done little to stop residents of the region’s largest town, Cambridge Bay (population 1,500), from imbibing. According to a 2009 report, the RCMP in Cambridge Bay dealt with more than 2,000 calls last year and alcohol was behind nine out of 10 of them. The widespread availability of drugs—as well as potent homebrew—only adds to the problem.
Though Lyall emphasized the importance of education in his statement, urging the Inuit youth of the Kitikmeot region to earn at least a Grade 12 education before leaving school, his message also hinted at the necessity of a broader cultural change. The Inuit, Lyall argued, would have to adapt to a changing economic market by learning new skills. “The day of the hammer,” he said, “is over.”