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Nunavut mourns Bobby Kadlun
His efforts ensured that Inuit have a territory to call home: Towtongie

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bobby Kadlun, a top Nunavut land claims negotiator, died the weekend of Aug. 1 at his home community of Kugluktuk.

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Bobby Kadlun, top negotiator for Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut. - photo courtesy of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Cathy Towtongie paid tribute to Kadlun last week from Rankin Inlet.

"His commitment to ensuring the land claim benefitted Inuit was legendary. From his beginnings with the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) and the guiding role he played in the formation and leadership of the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, Bobby had a reputation as being a negotiator who got what he wanted," said Towtongie. "He was particularly committed to ensuring the territory of Nunavut was created through the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement."

Kadlun, who went to work on oil rigs in the Mackenzie Delta when he left high school, jumped head first into a life that would see him face off with top Crown negotiators.

He blazed the trail quickly, like wildfire. From ITC, to president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, to a leader in the organization he helped form in 1982, Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, known by the acronym TFN.

Kadlun would tell interviewer Holly Dobbins in 2004 when she was working on NTI's oral history project the first letter was for Tough, the third was for Negotiators and the second can't be printed in a family newspaper.

A few years later, Kadlun walked into the offices of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee (CARC).

"I was sitting in my office, and I remember this well, in 1985, and in came unannounced two Inuit," said Terry Fenge, who worked at CARC. "One was Bobby Kadlun and the other was Lucasi Ivalu. Lucasi was from Iglulik and Bob was from Kugluktuk, which was then Coppermine. They asked me if I would come and join TFN. There had been a hiatus at that time, but they wanted to get things back on track," said Fenge.

Kadlun would see negotiations through to the agreement-in-principle in 1991.

"Bob was one of those rare individuals. He was a leader as well as a negotiator. And, in the negotiations, he was a man who could master both details as well as generalities. And it's rare to have in a negotiator someone who can be both of those things."

Fenge says Kadlun led by example, directed by a clarity of vision.

"He knew what he wanted, what Inuit wanted, and he knew that he had to try as chief negotiator to ensure that he was able to deliver an expansive, comprehensive land claims agreement. But also use the negotiations to deliver what the government of the day had not agreed to, which was the establishment of a public government. So a land claim settlement and the Government of Nunavut."

He fought the federal policy of extinguishment of aboriginal rights all the way.

"To get a good deal you've got to encourage political changes as well, right, especially if the (federal government) wants extinguishment," Kadlun told Dobbins in the 2004 interview.

"I was totally, totally opposed to extinguishment. If you want extinguishment, then we've got to change it. And basically, that's the deal right. It kind of happened in that way."

"So, signing it, did you think you had done a good deal," Dobbin asked.

"Yeah. We got Nunavut, eh?"

"Bob took us through," said Fenge. "After the agreement-in-principle, I remember sitting down with Bob and Paul Quassa - they both operated very much together - we agreed that they could take the agreement-in-principle, over the next couple of years, to a final agreement."

But Kadlun would attempt suicide in 1991. He was never the same after that and would not be present for the signing of the final Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in 1993.

Fenge feels that his friend and colleague's suicide attempt had at least two contributing factors. One was the loss of Contwoyto Lake to the Northwest Territories, an area that was very much a part of the Inuit homeland.

Or, as Fenge describes it, the "Inuit heartland."

The second was the overall experience of years of tough ongoing negotiations.

"It's my personal view, but I think the stress and strain of representing his people got to him. I think there is a really important lesson here for many people such as me, who are white advisers, that we didn't at the time realize the sort of pressure that a number of the Inuit negotiators and leaders were under as they represented and negotiated on behalf of their people in adversarial negotiations with the Crown."

Fenge lists his friend's many qualities: "He could be quite a taskmaster. He was a man of decided opinions. He was an articulate man. And because he was committed, the federal government took him very seriously. He was honest, upstanding, fearless. He would not back down. He had a wonderful wry smile and he could be very warm. He was very professional. He could be very demanding.

"I think relatively few people are aware now, 25 years later, of his giant contribution to the Nunavut (Land Claims) agreement."

Towtongie offered condolences to Kadlun's family on behalf of the NTI board of directors, adding, "He was my personal friend and I often thought about his negotiating skills. His efforts ensured that Inuit have a territory to call home. May he rest in peace."

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