New national Inuit president strikes all the right notes
“I pay homage to all my predecessors and to all Inuit”
KUUJJUAQ— Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization, has a new president: Terry Audla of Iqaluit.
At the June 6 election, held during ITK’s annual general meeting in Kuujjuaq, 12 of of the 13 voting board members — the outgoing president, the heads of the Inuit birthright organizations from the four Inuit regions in Canada plus two delegates per region— voted for Audla.
Robbie Watt, who also ran for the ITK presidency, received one vote.
Shortly after the election results were announced, Audla, who until recently served as executive director of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., started to chair the meeting. He cleaned up the last bits of business remaining during the AGM and then adjourned the meeting — as if he’d been doing the job for years.
For the next three years, Audla, 42, will head the Ottawa-based ITK.
One member of the board said he had waited to hear the pre-election speeches by Audla and Watt before making his decision about who to vote for.
But if any ITK board members harboured doubts about whether Audla was ready for the job, they just had to listen to his 10-minute speech, given shortly before the ballots were cast. Speaking in Inuktitut and English, Audla managed to hit all the right points.
First he thanked Nellie Cournoyea, the president of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. for nominating him, then noted that outgoing president Mary Simon would leave “very large kamiks to fill.”
Audla also evoked the memory of the late Jose Kusugak, a former president of ITK and “a man who served as my inspiration and my role model for as long as I can remember… a man who went to battle and came home with Nunavut.”
“Today, I pay homage to all my predecessors, and to all Inuit,” he said. “I promised that I will continue this passion and this work if you choose me as president of ITK.”
Audla’s speech, which explained why he is “uniquely qualified to be the next leader of the national Inuit organization,” led all but one of the voting delegates to vote for him.
Audla, a descendant of the High Arctic exiles, who were relocated from Inukjuak to the High Arctic in 1953 and 1955, was born in Frobisher Bay, now Iqaluit, and raised in Resolute Bay.
In February 2011, Audla became NTI‘s chief executive officer, after working for 17 years with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in various positions, including executive director, gaining, he said June 6, “a deep understanding of what Inuit want from the Nunavut land claims agreement.”
In his speech, Audla said he wants to help ITK find alternative sources of “secure funding that are independent,” perhaps with help from the four Inuit regions when they become more “economically productive.”
Audla also said he plans to work on helping Inuit who live in the South get programs as well as take on the fight for devolution, Inuit-specific education, “the right and support to speak our languages,” and “equitable health care.”
And he’ll push for better opportunities for all Inuit.
“I agree that the key is education and that we need to foster and advocate for better housing, employment opportunities, parental ownership and improved standards to better the challenges of our children’s future,” Audla said.
After the election results were announced, Audla told those at the ITK meeting that he would work as hard as possible for the organization.
Delegates also thanked Watt for running, with NTI president Cathy Towtongie saying that Watt lost the election, but he’s not defeated. That’s because he will return to his role as the co-director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Inuit sub-commission.
Audla’s election also meant that Simon said goodbye to ITK after two consecutive three-year terms.
Simon thanked “the Inuit of Canada,” her staff and her fellow board members in a speech that saw her reaching for a box of Kleenex.
“It has been a privilege to be your national leader,” said Simon, offering her “sincere support” to Audla.
But Simon won’t be far: she plans to spend two days a week working at ITK’s National Centre for Education and lobbying for more action on mental health issues among Inuit.
Among others, Jobie Tukkiapik, the president of Makivik Corp., which hosted the ITK meeting, thanked Simon, telling her that “you are the voice” for Inuit.
A feast at the Kuujjuaq Forum wrapped up the meeting.