Since I’ve started my new job as Community Economic Development Officer for Arviat, people have often asked me what exactly my job entails, and I’ve spent much of my first two months in the position trying to figure that out myself.
Although the job has a lot of different aspects, in general it’s the job of the CEDO to both maximize the community’s economic benefit and growth, and facilitate long-term economic planning in accordance with the priorities and wishes identified by the community. It’s an interesting job for someone who’s relatively new to Arviat.
An Acronym-rich environment
The first thing I had to do was get familiar with the agencies, organizations, and government departments that I would be working with. This turned out to be largely an exercise in acronyms: ED&T, KPID, KIA, NNI, NTI, CCB, PoPP, P3, SBSP, ACDP – these are all agencies, departments, programs, or policies I work with on a regular basis, and this is not an exhaustive list. This is fairly usual for anybody working in what is essentially a government job, but it was letter overload during my first few weeks.
The second thing I had to do was get a handle on the economic activity taking place in Arviat. Although Arviat does not have a great deal of economic activity and has a high unemployment rate, there was still a lot to learn. For the purposes of this column, I can break down the economic activity in Arviat into three categories: local, territorial, and traditional. All three of these areas have a great impact and importance in Arviat.
The local economy consists of local businesses, and there are quite a few: the Northern Store (successor to the Hudson’s Bay Company), the Co-op, and Eskimo Point Lumber Supply are the main retailers. There are two hotels and a bed and breakfast, and numerous contractors offering heating and plumbing, electrical, heavy equipment, and construction services.
But one of the most important employers in Arviat (and all of Nunavut) is the government. Due to the Government of Nunavut’s (acronym: GN) policy of decentralization, government agencies, departments, and offices are scattered around the territory as much as possible, rather than being centralized in Iqaluit. Therefore Arviat is home to offices for Nunavut Arctic College, Nunavut Housing Corporation, and the Department of the Environment among others.
While these local offices and businesses do employ a large portion of the working population, many others are employed elsewhere in the territory. Usually this means in the mining industry, although jobs in government, heavy equipment operation, construction, and expediting are held by Arviammiut in numerous other communities throughout Nunavut.
But it is the mining industry that has the greatest economic impact in Arviat, and the greatest potential for economic benefit in the future. Agnico-Eagle Mines operates a gold mine at Meadowbank, just north of Baker Lake, and at any given time approximately 60-65 Arviammiut are employed there, the most of any Nunavut community except Baker Lake itself. While Meadowbank is currently the only operating mine in Nunavut (and is slated to close in 2017), Agnico-Eagle is in the early stages of constructing a second mine at Meliadine, near Rankin Inlet. Being so much closer to Arviat, the potential for employment and secondary economic benefit from this project is huge. In addition, there are several other mining projects in the works throughout the territory, as well as dozens of exploration projects.
While mining is currently getting a lot of attention in Nunavut, the traditional economy should not be overlooked. Arviat especially is known as a community with strong traditional roots. Inuktitut is spoken as a first language in over 90 percent of homes here, for example: one of the highest percentages in Nunavut. Traditional activity such as hunting, trapping, and fishing provides much-needed sustenance and income to the community, and part of my job is to support such activity.
Just as important are arts and crafts production. Many people in Arviat earn some or all of their living by producing artworks, mainly carvings and sewing. Carvers in Arviat work frequently in both soapstone and antler, and occasionally in granite as well. Seamstresses create parkas and windpants as well as more traditional clothing like amautiks and sealskin mittens. They also create beautiful wall hangings, usually depicting scenes of wildlife and traditional activities such as hunting. Part of my job is to support these artists by helping them access funding programs for tools and materials, as well as to assist them in selling their work and participating in development and marketing activities such as attending trade shows and art festivals.
All of these activities contribute to what is the most enjoyable aspect of my job, the chance to meet people not just from Arviat but from all over the territory. This includes community members as well as leaders and organizers from business and government, and it’s very interesting to be in a position so involved in current events and activities. Although I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of challenging work to do, I think it will be a lot of fun doing it.