Winters aren’t just hard in Nunavut; they are severe. Temperatures can plunge to minus 45 degrees Celsius (minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Canada’s northernmost territory, some of which is located above the Arctic Circle. But the beauty is exquisite; views of the northern lights are spectacular there.
“It is one of the most exotic places in Canada, and the most natural,” Mary-Lee Sandy-Aliyak, a recruitment specialist with the Government of Nunavut, says of her territory.
“But it is also a challenging place to live. In addition to the weather, there are no roads or railroads between the 25 communities of this vast territory, one-fifth of Canada’s total land mass. Nunavut is only accessible by air, and during summer, by boat.”
Nunavut – which means “Our land” in Inuktitut, one of the Inuit languages, has been home to an indigenous population for more than 4,000 years. Today, more than 80% of the population is of Inuit descent.
And while the territory is huge, the population is not: 39,000 people. The smallest community is Grise Fiord, with 130; the largest, Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, has 8,500 people.
“There are not a lot of resources for fixing things,” says Sandy-Aliyak, whose job includes helping Inuit employees get training and education to advance their career. “You really have to be independent, whether you make your own clothes, service and fix your own house stuff. You have to know how to do maintenance on all of your things, whether it be the computer, the toaster, the fridge, vehicles – you name it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic could have resulted in an even more isolated way of life. But as countries around the world started to lock down last spring, the Government of Nunavut was gearing up to put Microsoft Teams into place for many of its 5,200-plus employees and additional support workers – scattered around the territory – providing a new way for them to meet virtually. Nunavut was also planning to use Teams as a tool to help government departments and agencies improve and deliver programs and services to remote communities throughout the territory.
Technologically, “we were once significantly behind, however as a result of recent events, we have come a long way,” says Dean Wells, corporate chief information officer for the Government of Nunavut.
“That is changing dramatically with the help of Teams and moving to the cloud with Office 365 and SharePoint online. It was something that was not possible until now because of bandwidth restrictions.”