NTI’s right-hand man not ready to pass torch

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At 72, James Eetoolook says, “I’m not sad about my age.”

He was re-elected as vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. in December and shows no signs of wanting to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labours.

Eetoolook was re-elected with 68.2 per cent of the vote in December, with the rest going to challenger Peter Ohokanoak.

“He’s a young lad and he’s got good potential for the future,” said Eetoolook. “I think he did a good job campaigning as well.”

Eetoolook isn’t ready to pass the torch yet, though.

“I’ve been employed since I was 17. I went to school one year in Inuvik, took a job and never went back.”

He said Nunavut is an expensive place to live, so it’s necessary to have an income.

He said he’s seen a lot of people retiring without anything to do — and he’s seen their health deteriorate because of it.

“You need to work. You need to serve your people. And when you represent your own people, you keep on. If you have potential, use it.”

After close to 26 years in the role, during which he’s served as acting president four times, Eetoolook still sees a lot to be done.

“We still have a huge responsibility with the implementation of the Nunavut Agreement with the Canadian government and the Nunavut government,” he told Nunavut News.

“We need to see [Inuit] be part of the Nunavut that we’ve created. We need to see them employed in government, industry and other organizations.”

Eetoolook says the federal and territorial governments need to take action on bridging the territory’s huge infrastructure gap, both linking the territory to the south and bolstering port facilities so Nunavut’s commercial fishers don’t have to go to Greenland to offload and fuel up.

“I think we can create more jobs, create revenue through renewable resources [through these investments],” he said.

“We are always behind within Canada when it comes to infrastructure and I think we need to see that change. We, as the implementers of the Nunavut Agreement, need to work together with all the governments that we are dealing with. The infrastructure is costly but it is needed.”

His responsibility is mostly to do with environment and wildlife management, with a focus on helping determine rules to balance industrial development with the protection of Nunavut’s land and wildlife, and the rights of Inuit harvesters.

“It’s a huge responsibility and we need to protect it.”