Levinia Brown admits she was reluctant over Nunavut being made official on April 1, 1999.
“I was one that publicly spoke against having our own territory. I felt we weren’t ready and I didn’t agree with 20 per cent land title to the Inuit,” she says.
Nevertheless, she respected the wishes of the majority.
“I said, OK, let’s go. Let’s make the best out of the new Nunavut now,” says Brown, who served as MLA for Rankin Inlet South/Whale Cove from 2004 to 2008 and was minister of health and community and government and services.
Even though she was initially hesitant, she admired the determination of those who were in favour of division from the NWT.
“I’m very impressed and proud of our population. The West had more population than little old us but yet we won the division. It was because of the great leaders and the people of Nunavut who were so organized and proactive to make sure that it happened,” she says, reeling off a long list of leaders by name and commending their roles and sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices made by their family members.
“They had hope and they had vision,” she says.
Brown has been pleased to see the emergence of Nunavummiut as professionals such as lawyers, teachers and engineers.
“Things like that are happening, it might be in small numbers … but now they’re happening a lot more,” she says. “We have to be kind of patient sometimes because things don’t happen overnight.”
The land claim, she notes, was conceived of in the 1970s, so it takes a long time for agreements to come to fruition.
“It’s never easy negotiating with federal government because they have strong policies and they stick to them,” says Brown.
Despite federal investment and the passage of two decades, one lingering area of concern is insufficient housing, she says.
“I see so much poverty in housing. It’s creating a lot of illness, a lot of sickness,” she says, noting that overcrowding and mould are particularly troubling.
Better health services within the territory is another priority. Although she’s grateful to Northern health staff, the range of equipment and facilities need to be enhanced. The expenses related to medevacs and medical travel are steep, she points out.
She’s also eager to see the territorial government achieve the goal of proportionate Inuit representation at 85 per cent, as opposed to the current 50 per cent.
Brown was in Rankin Inlet on April 1, 1999, the day Nunavut came into its own. She remembers indoor and outdoor activities such as games, dog-team races and a feast.
“It was quite a big thing for our community,” she says, adding that she was a member of hamlet council at the time.
She also did an interview on CBC national radio that day, helping give southern listeners some insight into the significance of the milestone.
“And to tell you the truth, I’m glad we have our own Nunavut government,” she says all these years later.