National Inuit org elects a new leader: Natan Obed
Obed wins 54 per cent of the vote in Sept. 17 ITK election
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Only a half an hour after giving a speech to 13 delegates at the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay, Natan Obed took his oath of office Sept. 17 as the national Inuit organization’s new president.
And Obed, 39, likely won by his deft handling of the major criticism levelled at him by delegates around the table — that his mastery of Inuktitut is less than fluent.
Cathy Towntongie, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., asked Obed twice about how he would deal with speaking to an elder.
“The fact that I don’t speak fluent Inuktitut is just part of who I am,” Obed told Towntongie, who wanted to know if the university-educated Obed had lost his identity while studying in the South and whether he had learned any “ancient customs” during his childhood.
To that, Obed, who was raised in Nunatsiavut before moving to Iqaluit nine years ago, said that in Nunatsiavut, where relatively few people speak fluent Inuktitut, Inuit are just as Inuit as Inuit anywhere else.
As a child he said he had learned respect for elders and the environment, just to mention some of what makes him Inuk.
Asked again by Towtongie about how he would communicate with an elder, Obed responded that ITK is more than one person. And he said that while he may not be able to speak personally to every beneficiary, ITK will be responsible to all beneficiaries.
Obed, whose children have attended the Inuktitut childcare centre in Iqaluit, also told Adamie Delisle Alaku, a trilingual vice-president from Makivik Corp, that he’s been studying Inuktitut as well as the Nunatsiavut Inuttut dialect — and that he can understand much more than he can speak.
In his pre-election speech, Obed offered many persuasive reasons why ITK delegates from Canada’s four Inuit regions should choose him — for his experience at ITK and at other Inuit organizations, his involvement in Inuit task groups and commissions, on health and education, and his commitment to social issues such as suicide prevention.
Oded said he’d continue to be a “fierce advocate of ITK,” and would work to bring Inuit needs closer to lawmakers in Ottawa.
“I believe Inuit have the clearest governance structure of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and the way in which we speak with a collective voice from the community to the national and international levels is one of the great assets of the Inuit rights movement,” he told the delegates.
In his speech, Obed also brought delegates an understanding of his own hard childhood, one filled with poverty, abuse, loss of culture and hunger, promising to work on alleviating the trauma suffered by many Inuit.
“I would likely not be as emotionally strong, sympathetic, or driven to succeed if I had not experienced adversity as a child. These traits have helped me in my hockey career, my academic career, my professional career, and most importantly in asserting my identity as an Inuk,” Obed said.
“I have done all I can to ensure the negative cycle in my immediate family stops with me. I vowed at 11 to my mother that I would never drink alcohol and I have kept my vow. I have ensured my children are fluent in Inuktitut. I give them my love and support so that they won’t go through life trying to heal from their childhoods or be destroyed by their memories the way I have had to do or my father had to do before me.”
Obed is the first Labrador beneficiary to serve as president of ITK since Mary Sillett, who held the position in 1996 and 1997 as interim president when the organization was still called the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.
But he’s not the first ITK president who communicates primarily in English. Sillett, and former president Rosemarie Kuptana, communicated mostly in English when they held office.
The two other candidates also spoke at the meeting — with Audla’s speech raising pointed questions from some delegates about his achievements and way of working.
Komaksiutiksak, who works at the Larga Baffin medical boarding home in Ottawa, represented himself as a self-reliant Inuk who knows about Inuit issues and Inuit approaches.
But the ITK delegates struggled in their questions to learn more about Komaksiutiksak and how his strengths and weaknesses would benefit ITK.
Among the other issues raised by the delegates to the candidates: how they would balance the relationship between ITK and Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada, which have the same board members and face the same issues of low resources and big needs.
After the election, which was witnessed by incumbent Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, whose Conservative government’s cost-cutting came up repeatedly during the AGM and at an ICC meeting in Cambridge Bay this week, most of the delegates rushed to the airport to catch a charter back to Iqaluit.
They’ll meet again for the ITK AGM to be held next year in Nunavik, likely in the Hudson Strait community of Salluit.
You can watch the election on Isuma TV here.