NNSL Photo/Graphic

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Finding a voice
First KIA president remembers early struggle, victories

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The memories of a very challenging but amazing time came flooding back for Arviat's David Aglukark when he was recognized for being the first president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) during its annual general meeting in Rankin Inlet earlier this month.

NNSL photo/graphic

David Aglukark became the first president of the KIA in 1974 and served two terms. - Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

The honour of cutting the sealskin ribbon to officially open the new hangar facility in Rankin was also bestowed upon Aglukark during his stay in the community.

Aglukark became the first president of the KIA in 1974 and served two terms.

He was chief negotiator for the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) - now known as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. - from 1983 to 1993, the chief negotiator for the Ukkusiksalik National Park and was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal among numerous accomplishments.

Aglukark, 73, said Tagak Curley was organizing the TFN around 1972.

He said before then, Inuit had no vehicle for sitting down with the federal government to discuss what the elders of that period were thinking.

"The government had no idea what our elders wanted to do because there was no way to effectively communicate with the Government of Canada at that time," said Aglukark.

"It wasn't that the government didn't want to discuss the issues with us.

"We didn't have a leader to come up with a brilliant idea on how to connect with the government.

"It just so happened that Tagak (Curley) did and it all grew from there."

Aglukark said Curley and a group from his office came to Arviat to host a public meeting to find out if the community would be interested in getting involved with an organization to look after the needs of Kivalliq Inuit.

He said he discussed it with his wife and decided he wanted to get involved.

"The first challenge was to move to Rankin Inlet from Arviat.

"I was married to a woman from Arviat (Dorothy) and she didn't really want to live in Rankin.

"But, after a while, she humbled herself and we made the move.

"That was the start of my involvement."

Aglukark said the first year was a constant struggle, with very limited office space available and needing to hire staff and get organized.

He said as challenging as it was at the time, it all came together.

"It's amazing how far the KIA has come today.

"The real reason for the regional Inuit organizations to be born at that time was the discussions going on with the federal government for Inuit to be self-sufficient.

"From there, we found more ways of connecting with our elders to see what they really, really wanted to talk about and what they really wanted because they were nervous if nothing began with Inuit at that time, we may lose our culture and language.

"They were also nervous that, one day, huge development would start and Inuit would be pushed aside.

"Most of those elders have passed away, but I think we accomplished a lot of what they wanted us to."

Aglukark said before the establishment of national and regional Inuit associations, the nervousness being felt by elders over finding themselves without a say on what might happen on their own land was very real.

He said they did not want to be pushed aside or moved somewhere else, so developers or government could move in and control things without Inuit input.

"The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement has addressed those concerns because, today, we are able to sit down with the Government of Canada at the same table, side by side.

"Having taken part in that process and seeing Inuit now having a strong voice is what I remain most proud of.

"We established something that no aboriginal anywhere in the world had ever done - and that is to create a new territory.

"We have Nunavut and I'm very proud of that."

Aglukark said he was humbled to be recognized by the KIA during its AGM, and all the attention he received.

He said he couldn't help but think back to how hard the actual negotiations for creating Nunavut were, especially being away from family for months at a time.

"It was very heavy for our wives, sons and daughters, but at the end of the day, we knew we had done something nobody else in the world had accomplished up to that time.

"Back when the agreement of principle was signed, it seemed nothing much was said of our accomplishment at that time.

"So, I suppose, my wife and I have been waiting for this for a long time.

"In fact, we didn't even think about it anymore until we received the call on what was going to happen in Rankin this month so, yes, it was a real humbling time and a real blessing for us."

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.