Nunavut, Inuit leaders pay homage to Jose Kusugak

“Thank you Jose for everything. You will be missed. Aingai.”


(Updated Jan. 20, 4:50 p.m.)

Leaders from across the Arctic paid tribute to the late Jose Kusugak this week, in a stream of statements that continues to flow from offices inside and outside the territory.

Kusugak, 60, died of cancer early Jan. 19 in the first hour after midnight.

“Jose was a friend, a teacher, and activist and a politician who fought and won numerous victories for Inuit throughout his lifetime,” Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak said.

Aariak said Kusugak served as her Inuktitut instructor more than 30 years ago at the Churchill vocational school.

“He taught us the new standardized ICI (Inuit Cultural Institute) writing system and I credit Jose as one of the key individuals who inspired my love of Inuit language and culture,” Aariak said.

Bill Lyall, the president of Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., said “we have a lost a leader who was an inspiration to us all.”

“His tireless work to promote the Inuit culture and language are appreciated by many. He had a gift for telling stories, a passion to share the history of the Inuit, and the foresight to know the importance of keeping this alive in the rapidly changing world of today,” Lyall said.

Aqqaluk Lynge, the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said he first met Kusugak at a conference in Le Havre, France in 1973. The two worked together on organizing the first Arctic Peoples Conference, held December 1973 in Copenhagen, making Kusugak one of the main founders of the ICC (then called the Inuit Circumpolar Conference).

“At the passing of Jose Kusugak, we lost one of our most influential Inuit leaders worldwide,” Lynge said.

Lynge also said he remembers Kusugak’s speech to the ICC general assembly in Nuuk this past July, when he talked openly about his illness.

“The speech was brought live to all in Greenland and touched every heart,” Lynge said.

Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq said Kusugak was “a dear friend and remarkable leader.”

“His caring nature, wise leadership and vision for the North has left behind a legacy which will not be forgotten for generations of Nunavummiut,” Aglukkaq said.

Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said that from now on, whenever she looks at the ITK logo that Kusugak created while serving as president of the organization, she will think of him.

“From now on, when I look at our logo, Inuit representing our four regions, hands joined embracing the maple leaf, I will remember Jose Kusugak,” Simon said.

“He was brave, honest and loving to the end. We will miss him deeply, and we will never forget him,” she said.

Charlie Evalik, the president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, said Kusugak was a friend to Kitikmeot Inuit.

“It was a great honour to be associated with him, our prayers and thoughts are with the family in their time of need,” Evalik said.

Okalik Eegeesiak, the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, said Kusugak’s sense of humour made him stand out from everyone else and that when he spoke “it was heartfelt and with passion.”

“Thank you Jose for everything. You will be missed. Aingai,” Eegeesiak said.

Cathy Towtongie, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said Kusugak was a treasured friend, colleague and mentor.

“Our thoughts are with Jose’s family at this very sad, very difficult time,” Towtongie said. “His legacy and dedication to Inuit issues encourage me to work hard for Inuit and Nunavut in my role as a leader.”

On Jan. 20, staff at the Government of Nunavut set up a book of condolences on the main floor of the legislative building in Iqaluit.

Until Feb. 28, Nunavut residents may use the book to express their condolences to Kusugak’s family.

Meanwhile, dozens of Nunatsiaq Online readers are paying tribute to Kusugak on the comments are of the newspaper’s recently-published obituary.

You may share your own thoughts on Kusugak’s passing with other readers by going to this URL. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and leave your comment.

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