Ongoing Challenges for the Inuit People of Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 Oct 2005, p. 73-81
Kusugak, Jose, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Canadians as a fair-minded people. Finding values of fairness and sharing in the day-to-day politics in Ottawa - some difficulties. Living in a political world. The Inuit - the Aboriginal People of Arctic Canada - their self-determination struggle. Describing the Inuit place in Canada. Some facts. An explication of the land claims that are the foundation of the relationship between the Inuit and the Government of Canada. The Arctic - open for business. Use of resources. What land claims don't do. Costs of living in the North. A picture of what is happening in some of the Inuit communities and what they are trying to do to change the situation.
Date of Original
13 Oct 2005
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Full Text
Jose Kusugak
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Ongoing Challenges for the Inuit People of Canada
Chairman: William G. Whittaker
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Kamal Hassan, Director, The South-East Asia Group, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Natalia Ignatenko, Grade 12 Student, Earl Haig Secondary School; Rosemary Waterston, Founder and Director, The Seltzer-Chan Pond Inlet Foundation; Philippe Delacroix, Consul General of France in Toronto; Jocelyne Soulodre, President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business; Paul Wells, Senior Political Columnist, Maclean's Magazine; John Longbottom, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, Aboriginal Market Development Executive, IBM Canada; Sylvia Morawetz, Principal, S.A.M. Solutions, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Greg Missal, Vice-President, Government and Regulatory Affairs, Tahera Diamond Corporation; Roberta Jamieson, CEO, National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation; and Clint Davis, National Director, Aboriginal Banking, BMO Bank of Montreal.

Introduction by William Whittaker

For five thousand years, the people and culture known as the Inuit have occupied the vast territory stretching from the Chukchi Peninsula of Russia, east across Alaska and Canada to the southeastern coast of Greenland. In this geographic region known as the Arctic, Inuit culture developed and their history unfolded.

The Inuit are a founding people of Canada and their history is an epic tale of human settlement and the endurance of culture. Their compelling life story has been well-chronicled, perhaps no better than by Farley Mowat in his two seminal works "People of the Deer" (published in 1952) and "The Desperate People" (published in 1959) which tell the story of the Ihalmuit--"the people from beyond"--who inhabited the barren lands of central Keewatin District, now Kivalliq. In these books, he details the Inuit culture, their reliance on a single resource for income and the devastating impact of market collapses and the impact of European institutionalization, particularly residential schools. I would like to quote from the ending of Mr. Mowat's recent book "Walking on the Land" (published in 2000) which updates his two earlier books and which is quite profound in its interplay between traditional and more modern Inuit life. In this quotation, Elisapee, a contemporary Inuit is mourning the death of her uncle Ohoto who had led a more traditional Inuit life.

"He was my uncle, you know, and sometimes the only one I felt close to in Arviat. I loved him very much. When I felt real lonely, as if I didn't belong there because I had been south for so long, he would be kind to me and make little jokes with me so I loved him, but I guess not enough, because one winter night he went away"

"He was completely blind by then. He and Nanuk had separated because he didn't want to be a trouble to anyone and he felt he wasn't able to look after things"

"Then one winter night, he went out of the community, got lost and froze to death...That is what the police say happened"

"My uncle did not get lost! He went walking on the land""

Contact between the Inuit and the Europeans began in the late 1500s when the first Europeans sailed into Davis and Hudson Straits and Hudson Bay. Between the arrival of Martin Frobisher in 1576 and the famous disappearance of Sir John Franklin in 1848, 22 European explorers entered Inuit territory.

With each trip, the map of the Arctic became more Europeanized with Inuit lands being claimed by Europeans. Now, some 400 years later, Inuit lands and resources along with the Inuit's right to control them within the framework of the Canadian Constitution are being returned to them, a process officially recognized on April 1, 1999 with the creation of Nunavet.

Having spent the past 35 years settling comprehensive land claims agreements and establishing various self-government regions, the Inuit of Canada now collectively manage over $1 billion in capital and own several companies that provide thousands of jobs to Canadians. Inuit are full tax-paying citizens of Canada and live in municipalities not reserves. Today, Mr. Kusugak, as President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which literally translated means "Inuit are united in Canada," will deliver a state of the union address on the place of the Inuit in modern Canada.

Mr. Kusugak's resume states he was born in an igloo at Naujaat (formerly Repulse Bay) in 1950 and is one of 11 children. He first became involved with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (then the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada) in the early 1970s working on the standardization of written Inuit and chaired the language standardization program from 1974 to 1977. From 1980 to 1990, Mr Kusagak was Area Manager for the CBC in the Kivalliq Region of Northern Canada. From 1994 to 2000, he was President of Nunavet Tunngavik Inc., the Nunavet land claims organization. He was elected President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in June 2000.

Please join me in welcoming Jose Kusagak, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Jose Kusugak

Thank you very much Mr. Whittaker.

That was a very kind introduction because my wife and my children will probably be watching and I have six grandchildren and one more coming. We are a very fruitful family.

It is nice to be here in Toronto at the Empire Club. If I am sweating, it is just because I was born in an igloo and under lights like this my pores open up every time.

In the more than 30 years that I have been travelling across Canada speaking to all kinds of people on all kinds of subjects, there is one common theme. Canadians are a fair-minded people. I believe as Canadians we believe in fair play. We certainly showed it in times of disaster like the tsunami last December, hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the earthquake this week in Pakistan. We showed it 25 years ago during the Ethiopian famine. In fact the Inuit of Canada on a per-capita basis were the largest donors during that horrible crisis.

It is easy to find fairness and sharing in times of disaster. I regret to say it is harder to find those values in the day-to-day politics in Ottawa in determining our place in Canada and to ensuring a fair quality of life and standard of living for our people. Bob Dylan said it well: "We live in a political world." In the political arena it is not Inuit who write the rules or have home-ice advantage or first pick in the great political draft. This is not a complaint. This is fact. But what we can do is get the crowd on our side because in the end it is about Canada.

Inuit, the people I serve, are the Aboriginal people of Arctic Canada. Until 30 years ago we were known as Eskimos, but in our self-determination struggle we insisted that we be identified in our own language as Inuit. We have created a saying to describe our place in Canada, which is "first Canadians, Canadians first." We think our connection to Canada is clearly stated in our logo--four Inuit representing the four Inuit regions surrounding the maple leaf in the middle shown in snow white. Canada is reflected in the name of our national organization, which we changed at our 30th anniversary to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. I was impressed by how quickly Canadians learned and embraced the three Inuit words--Inuit which means "people," Tapiriit which means "are united" and Kanatami which means "in Canada." Inuit are united in Canada.

We live in 53 communities across an area that covers more than a third of Canada. With only two exceptions our communities are only accessible by ship or aircraft. We are one people divided by modern political boundaries from east to west--Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunavut (the new territory) and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories. These regions also reflect the four comprehensive Inuit land claims and indeed, to understand the Inuit place in Canada, you have to understand something about the land claims that are the foundation for our relationship with the Government of Canada. They were signed in 1975, 1984, 1993 and 2005.

These four agreements vary in size and complexity and reflect the interest of each region. They confirm land ownership for about 10 per cent of the region and financial compensation for land, resources, and Aboriginal rights surrendered. From the Inuit perspective it means for about one and a half billion dollars our negotiated claims cover one-third of Canada's rich untapped natural resources. We negotiated those claims. Some of them took more than 30 years to settle. We fought hard for what we have and mainstream Canadian public opinion has a direct bearing on our success. We were young baby boomers with our hunter trapper elders who together went head to head with government at a time when there were no books on how to settle these claims.

Canadians didn't think it was fair that all of our lands and all of our rights could or should be taken away. We think we gave up a great deal in those settlements but at the end of the day it was our choice and we believe all the settlements are fair for both sides.

I know there are bankers in this room, and I can point to a few, who are aware that capital is managed by our department corporations, much of it invested in stocks, bonds and money markets. Some has been invested in regional companies such as marine and air transportation companies, which provide much-needed jobs and training for our people. The result is that the Arctic is open for business. Falconbridge and Inco have negotiated partnership agreements with Inuit for nickel mines in Northern Quebec and Labrador and Inuit are looking at other mining possibilities including diamonds and the Inuit of the Western Arctic have long recognized the economic opportunities associated with the construction of the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline. They play a prominent role in working with government, industry and Aboriginal communities to advance the project in an environmentally and socially responsible manner while ensuring it provides meaningful and ongoing economic benefits to the Aboriginal peoples along the pipeline route.

Although the federal government has been both financially and politically supportive of this project, it must continue to be vigilant in monitoring its progress and the competing Alaskan pipeline project and willing to take the necessary measures to ensure the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is not unnecessarily delayed or jeopardized.

I think that it is important for people to understand what the land claims don't do. Inuit issues were not settled once and for all with the signing of the claims. And the Inuit land claims are not designed to replace or provide for basic services that all Canadians are entitled to. What is not in the claim includes health care, education, housing, economic development and training, national transportation, infrastructure and environmental protection; everything that is associated with one's basic rights as Canadians and one's basic responsibilities as Canadians including taxes.

Inuit are taxpayers and always have been. In deciding to work with public government such as the provinces, territories, and municipalities we also pay the same taxes all Canadians love so dearly such as the GST, PST and income taxes. We pay the same taxes but we are not taxed equitably or in my view fairly.

Because of distance and transportation costs, most goods and services cost three times higher in the Arctic communities than in the South. First we pay the GST on the primary product. We pay again for the higher fuel costs and transportation taxes. In the end we pay three or five times more tax than southern Canadians for the same product. For example, a piece of four by eight plywood that costs $22.47 at Home Depot here in Toronto costs $140 by the time it is shipped to a particular Arctic community. Inuit are paying just over $22 GST and PST on the $140, not $3.50 on the $22.47.

People in southern Canada have just got a taste of higher gas prices going up to $1.40 per litre in many places. They have always been that high in the Arctic regions and they are not going to go down. In the past few weeks, people have been sending us pictures of costs of food in their communities. Here are some juice prices in Pond Inlet. Fruit punch at $41.69, Kool-Aid at $52.49 and milk at $12.99. Potatoes, and these are pictures I took myself in Rankin Inlet at $19.99, when you can get the same amount of potatoes here in Toronto for $0.99. Eggs at $6.75, barbecued chicken at $14.99, and so on.

Inuit know we have the highest cost of living in Canada. We are all outraged at the sponsorship scandal and blatant waste and corruption. The federal government spends $7 billion a year on Aboriginal people. The Department of Indian Affairs alone spends about $5 billion a year, yet we can't see how much of that is spent on Inuit and whether that is fair when compared to Indians or other Aboriginal people.

Let me paint for you a painful but fair picture of what's happening in some of our communities and what we are trying to do to change the situation.

We have a housing crisis so severe that it will cost more to correct than the cost of settling our land claims. We have a housing emergency due in part by the department's decision 10 years ago to withdraw from providing public housing for Inuit. The other reason is our high birth rate and population boom. The unemployment rate in most of our communities is the highest in Canada. You saw evidence of our cost of living and our average annual wage is far below the national average. We have overcrowding in our communities. We have hidden homelessness and we have a growing population of Inuit youth who have little hope in their lifetime of ever getting their own home because our waiting lists are way too long. When we were going to a restaurant last night we saw some homeless people around the hotel. Here they can actually live outside all year over some heat vent and so on. We can't have that in the Arctic so any homeless person has to go into a house and live with other people so homelessness is hidden.

On top of this, our environment including our fish and wild life that we depend on for most of our diet and very survival is threatened. Almost every day now we see scientific reports confirming the Arctic ice is melting. Wild life habitats are shrinking, global warming and climate change is happening now in the Arctic, so what are we doing about it? We are doing the only thing we can. We are working within the system to bring about change. We are trying to point to the government the folly and unfairness of many of their approaches and policies.

The Department of Indian Affairs spending estimate contains a line that says Aboriginal people will enjoy a comparable standard of living in two generations. That's 50 years. We say that is not fair play and not acceptable. Yesterday, I met Premier Gordon Campbell in Ottawa. He agrees it is not acceptable either. We are on the same page and we will be telling the Prime Minister and the premiers at the First Ministers' meeting on November 25 in Kelowna that we need a 10-year economic development initiative for Inuit. Ten years, not 50 years.

We are looking for a clear and substantial financial commitment and investment into new housing programs and education. Inuit will continue to remind the Prime Minister of his statement the first time he met with us that Canadians' treatment of Aboriginal people has been "shameful" and we must now turn that around and build a new relationship in what he has called transformative change.

It's now been more than two years of process and promise. I must say I am encouraged by the effort made by the current Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott who I believe is committed to bring about fairness for all Canada's Aboriginal peoples. He is the first minister in a very long while to set Inuit bearing on his compass. I wish more people in the federal government would have a compass that points north. I believe Mr. Scott and I share a mutual challenge.

We have a federal bureaucracy that year after year continues to spend millions of dollars on Aboriginal peoples, but it has failed to close the socio-economic gap between Inuit and the rest of Canadians. It is not unfair for all Canadians to demand better accountability and it certainly is not unfair for Inuit and other Aboriginal people to expect better. I have said over and over we believe we are facing a total economic emergency in the Arctic. We believe in the interest of fairness. Canada must respond to address that emergency. We believe fair-minded Canadians also demand it.

Recent disasters around the world have illustrated the basic needs of every human being--food and shelter. You have seen our food costs are double and triple what you pay here in Toronto for example and our homes are overcrowded. Inuit were contributors to Canada's gross national product during the fur trade and I was born into that even though we were living in igloos at the time. My father and my mother were both working at the Hudson's Bay Company.

We want to contribute again in the knowledge economy but we can only do so as healthy people with sound homes. From fur trade to e-trade we are not looking for handouts. I think in biblical terms we need fish-nets and knowledge and not necessarily fish because there is still a lot of fish in the Arctic. Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Sylvia Morawetz, Principal, S.A.M. Solutions, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Ongoing Challenges for the Inuit People of Canada

Canadians as a fair-minded people. Finding values of fairness and sharing in the day-to-day politics in Ottawa - some difficulties. Living in a political world. The Inuit - the Aboriginal People of Arctic Canada - their self-determination struggle. Describing the Inuit place in Canada. Some facts. An explication of the land claims that are the foundation of the relationship between the Inuit and the Government of Canada. The Arctic - open for business. Use of resources. What land claims don't do. Costs of living in the North. A picture of what is happening in some of the Inuit communities and what they are trying to do to change the situation.