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30 years of Inuit pride

Ottawa gala marks a milestone for Canada's oldest Inuit organization

Kevin Wilson
Northern News Services

Ottawa (Dec 10/01) - Oh, what a night.

The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada turned 30 last weekend, celebrating the occasion with a gala at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa and the unveiling of a new name -- Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

NNSL Photo

ITK president Jose Kusugak: setting old rivalries aside. - Kevin Wilson/NNSL photos

Canada's oldest Inuit organization marked the occasion in style, as little black dresses mingled effortlessly with kamiks and amautis. The 200 or so guests sipped wine and nibbled country foods, before sitting down to dinner. Arctic char, of course.

Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Bob Nault had to send regrets. Prime Minister Jean Chretien wished ITK well in a videotaped message, reminding the gala that he was "Indian Affairs minister when ITC was formed."

The guest list read like a who's who of Northern movers and shakers, as Kilabuks, Amagoaliks, Curleys and Irniqs took their places in the dining area.

Early in the evening, ITK president Jose Kusugak set the tone for the evening by telling the assembled guests he hopes "they hadn't killed each other yet," to peals of laughter.

Politics and old rivalries were set aside, perhaps just for one night, but long enough to reflect on the accomplishments of Inuit across Canada over the last three decades.

Three land claims signed and another one imminent. A new territory. Inuit making decisions for themselves. No longer at the mercy of well-meaning bureaucrats who know little about the reality of Inuit life.

"We were known as friendly, always smiling with round faces," recalled founding president Tagak Curley. That perception, combined with the perceived poverty of the Inuit, consistently hampered them in their dealings with Southerners.

The parochialism nearly extinguished the light of Inuit culture, and by extension, the people who created it.

"Our ancestors may have been poor," said Curley, "but they were rich in culture, a formidable people."

That wealth of culture featured prominently in the evening's festivities. Exquisite Inuit carvings lined the cocktail area. Rankin Inlet elder Mariano Aupilarjuk sang Inuktitut songs, accompanied by drummer Gino Akkak. The crowd was treated to demonstrations of Arctic sports and throat singing from Iqaluit.

Former ITC president Rose Mary Innuksuk told the crowd they all had something in common.

"We all work for Inuit ... we sacrificed our normal lives, we sacrificed our family lives-for Inuit."

As midnight came and went, the party showed no signs of slowing down. Everyone who had something to say got the opportunity to do so, in Inuktitut and English.

Like old rivalries and politics, bedtime could wait for just one night.