Kangiqsualujjuaq is the easternmost town in Nunavik, northern Quebec, near potential uranium mine sites. In recent years, it’s seen an alarming decline in the George River caribou herd population. And it’s got an alarmingly high number of children in foster care—more than 25 in a town of just over 700. At the helm of these challenges—to mine or not to mine, protecting the land and local families—is the town’s 28-year-old mayor: Hilda Snowball.
In her three years as mayor, she’s taken part in regional consultations on Plan Nord, the Quebec government’s strategy for developing the region, particularly with regards to uranium mining. Many townsfolk didn’t like the sound of it. They were worried uranium mining could endanger their fishing camps, and destroy any tourism potential in Mont-Pyramides, a proposed provincial park nearby. If mining projects were to go ahead, they’d want to see more guaranteed benefits for locals.
So in November 2014, on behalf of Kangiqsualujjuaq residents, Snowball co-signed a statement declaring the town’s opposition. Following regional consultations, Quebec’s environmental impact review board issued a report this past July recommending against uranium mining in the area.
It was a small victory for the town. But Snowball wasn’t done. After all, it was the issue of children in foster care that prompted her last-minute decision to run for office three years ago. (She was just elected for a second term.) She planned to tackle it with a family centre, one where struggling families could get counselling from fellow Inuit, and take part in traditional activities such as sewing, cooking and woodworking. It would help strengthen family ties and keep kids out of foster homes. This fall, the centre found a home, began renovations, and is set to open at the end of this year.
It'll also provide employment. “All staff will be local,” says Snowball.
The non-profit family centre, she says, will host guest speakers with information sessions on topics such as mental health, or how to become more actively engaged in local politics. And unlike any existing provincial social services programs, the centre, she says, will be run according to Inuit customs. Her end goal, she says, is to “raise better youth.”
And luckily, the youth of Kangiqsualujjuaq won’t have to look far for a role model.