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By Teevi Mackay
Two votes. That was all it took to win the Presidency of QIA (Qikiqtani Inuit Association) for PJ (Pauloosie) Akeeagok. QIA is the designated Inuit organization for the Eastern/Baffin region of Nunavut, or more appropriately, the Qikiqtani region, set out by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Well, that is not all it took, but the two votes certainly counted.

Any voter, who actually did vote in this election, can say “my vote counted” and any eligible Nunavut beneficiary could have easily discounted this, especially with the low turnout of 31 per cent.

Akeeagok says that this was part of his campaign, letting all beneficiaries know that, yes, their vote counts, and it was strikingly and evidently so for this election. After the first unofficial results on December 8, Akeeagok unofficially lost with 755 votes while Mikidjuk Akavak led with 758 votes. With the recount on December 14, Akeeagok officially won with 756 votes. Akavak closely trailed with 754 votes, two votes away from a tie and three votes away from winning.

“I lost and won in the same election and I’m fortunate to know what it feels like to lose,” Akeeagok says, speaking humbly of the experience.

“At the end of the day that proved right, in terms of every vote counting,” says Akeeagok, and added that he received about 50 messages from Inuit saying, “My vote counted.”

“It was my first time putting myself out there: it’s a lot harder than it looks. I could say that now: having to convince people that you have a vision… That was the most challenging and rewarding part with people saying, ‘you know what, I believe you’ and people saying, ‘you know, I’m voting for the first time’.” Akeeagok felt humbled to learn that many have confidence and hope in him.

From the smallest Nunavut town to the biggest political Qikiqtani job
Grise Fiord, the smallest and most Northern town of Nunavut, (and most Northern nationally) with a population of approximately 120 people is where Akeeagok calls home. Like Grise Fiord being unique in its own right, Akeeagok resonates that through uniquely and impressively being the youngest ever elected QIA President.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from; it’s how hard you work to get to where you want to go,” says Akeeagok.

QIA-President-family
PJ enjoys a day at home with his children, Ryan (left) and Jazmine, after a hunting trip, 2013. Photo courtesy PJ (Pauloosie) Akeeagok

Akeeagok’s foundation is family and this has grounded him. He merits his grounded nature to his parents. Akeeagok has the same approach today being married with two young children.

Some of Akeeagok’s experience and outlook
“I was fortunate to talk to many of the people who made the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement a reality, through helping produce Staking the Claim, a documentary about the building and shaping of Nunavut. These leading negotiators worked really hard to get to where we are and it’s one of those things you want to keep pushing on, what they’ve started.”

“My upbringing gives me that positive outlook as well. There are so many good things around us that we should always be thankful for: family, being able to go hunting, and what’s important — being able to speak Inuktitut. You have be optimistic — there’s always two different ways to see a situation. I’m always a positive thinker… if it’s not working, let’s make it better instead of complaining.”

A vision of unity for now
QIA President Akeeagok
During Akeeagok’s campaign he visited and heard from Nunavummiut. He says that Inuit feel that QIA is not connected with Inuit. Akeeagok’s goal as President, he says, are the goals of those he serves, Inuit, and first and foremost—children—or early childhood development in order to set the foundation for their future, Nunavut’s future.

Akeeagok would also like to be accountable to Inuit through consultations and aims to communicate more with Inuit about QIA’s work. Also, part of his platform is sustainable resource development to give Inuit more opportunities economically and to enable more social development.

“It comes right down to making sure they (Inuit) are informed: what are you doing (QIA), what are you going to do and what the plan is. To me that information is going to be very key for accountability because I’m representing Inuit in our region. In order to make very good decisions, you have to be informed and Inuit have to be informed of what QIA is, what roles and responsibilities it has, what we’re going to do and what we’ve done.” And to sum up accountability, he says, “Communication is the number one thing I’m going to work towards.”

“People really want someone who will listen to them. People want to have someone represent them who will not look at their own interests; it’s the people’s interests… I’m there for them,” says Akeeagok.

What else keeps Akeeagok grounded besides family?
“Hunting keeps me grounded. It’s a different feeling when you’re hunting or going camping with family; that’s the precious moments that I always look forward to every time. You not only get connected with the land but with yourself more, and I think that’s what really holds me together: being able to go hunting. When you’re hunting you get to speak more Inuktitut, too.”

That is what it comes down to for QIA President Akeeagok — his identity, which he is very connected to and that, in turn, connects him to the people he serves, Inuit.