In a surprise move, Jean Dupuis has resigned from his position as chairman of the Nunavik Health Board.

The sudden move came after a series of articles in The Nation about the miserable state of health care and social services in the Inuit communities of Quebec.

In Dupuis’s place, the board of directors of the health board elected a reformer who has called on the health system to be closer to the people.

Eli Weetaluktuk, the executive director of the Innulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq, was elected as the new chair in a vote of nine to four on June 27. He will stay on at the health centre while serving as chair.

Dupuis resigned on June 21. In a press release announcing the sudden development, the health board said Dupuis “resigned for personal and family reasons.”

Health board spokesman Martin Meunier strenuously denied that the resignation had anything to do with criticisms of the health system: “That’s not the reason at all.”

But one former health board official said she heard the criticisms played a role. “Apparently he was fed up with being backstabbed,” said Lizzie York, who was the executive director of the health board for 15 years.

Dupuis is an influential person in the Inuit world. He is director of Nunavik operations at Air Inuit, a board member of the Canadian Polar Commission and, until last year, was also the chairman of the Kativik Regional Government. He was chair of the health board’s board of directors for nine years.

Dupuis has not returned repeated phone calls.

Weetaluktuk was attending a health board assembly and was unavailable for comment.

In May, he blasted the health board for failing his people. The Inuit of Quebec have one of the world’s highest suicide rates, but Weetaluktuk said the health system isn’t doing much to help. It doesn’t take into account traditional Inuit healing methods, traditions or culture, he said. Few of its professional staff are Inuit.

“We are made to feel ashamed of our culture and traditions while our young people are killing themselves because they are confused,” he told The Nation.

“Unless we are allowed to pursue our traditional methods of intervention, we will continue to see suicide.”

Weetaluktuk’s criticisms caused a big stir inside the health board. Minnie Grey, the board’s executive director, dismissed his concerns at the time, saying he should act not complain: “It’s very easy for people to go out and make a complaint”

Minnie Grey has not returned several subsequent phone calls.

Lizzie York, the former executive director, said Weetaluktuk’s election as chair is a sign that people want changes in the health system. But she said there isn’t enough time to make any real reforms before his term is up. Weetaltuktuk will be chairman only until the end of Dupuis’s term, which was to end in December.

Another critic of the health board, Inukjuak Mayor Siasie Smiler, was hopeful about the change at the top: “I think it’s a good change. It’s a good move for the board. As much as Jean Dupuis was a fair and good chairman, I think it’s important we have an Inuk chairman.”

As if to highlight the stakes involved, Inukjuak was recently shaken by the deaths of two young people – one lost to suicide, the other in an alcohol-related tragedy. “It hasn’t been a good year for us at all. We’ve lost so many young people to suicide,” Smiler said.

A 1995 study from the Nunavik Health Board reported that Inuit aged 15 to 19 have a suicide rate 25 times higher than the Quebec average.