'Language is the most 'important; cornerstone of Inuit culture.'
New KIA president makes Inuinnaqtun a priority
As a musician, Joe Otokiak of Cambridge Bay knows how to whip up a crowd, while as a skilled Inuinnaqtun interpreter, he's able to translate the most complex discussions.
Now, as the new president of the Kitimeot Inuit Association, Otokiak, is set to guide the organization for the next three years.
Otokiak narrowly won the presidency in the March 18 regional election.
Otokiak received 267 votes, or 27 per cent of 954 votes cast in the region, beating out Joseph Aglukkaq who received 239 votes, Peter Taptuna with 214, Stanley Anablak with 210 and Jason Ross Koplogina with 27.
"I was holding my breath," Otokiak said about his nail-biting election victory. "I didn't hear until after 10:30 p.m. because the results from Kugaaruk were late in coming."
Otokiak said he campaigned hard on community television and radio as well as in person, sending out campaign messages in Inuinnaqtun, English and Inuktitut.
The Kitikmeot was ready for a change, Otokiak told beneficiaries, to elect "someone who had been in politics before, not only at the local and regional level, but at the national level."
In the past, Otokiak, 53, has served on the KIA board of directors, as well as on the Nunavut Implementation Training Committee and the Nunavut Planning Commission. He's also a former Cambridge Bay mayor and councillor, and a former speaker of the Kitikmeot Regional Council
"I stressed in my campaign that we have to make sure that our government and signatories to the claim adhere to that claim and implement what they have to," Otokiak said.
When he starts work April 1 at the KIA office in Cambridge Bay, Otokiak also wants to start dealing with issues that are close to his heart.
"Language is the most important cornerstone of Inuit culture," he said.
Otokiak said he will push for Inuinnaqtun to be on an equal footing with Inuktitut in Nunavut.
He said that following his election unilingual elders told him they were relieved to have a KIA leader who fluently speaks and understands Inuinnaqtun and English.
As president, Otokiak, a parent and grandparent, plans to work on improving social and economic conditions for youth. To this end, Otokiak said he's ready to embrace mining developments that meet environmental standards.
"We need to work along with them because they're a means and way for our young people to get involved in building a good life," he said. "The mining sector can open doors for us."
Among his other priorities: helping low-income beneficiaries and hunters to become more self-sufficient, easing the housing shortage and lobbying Ottawa for tax breaks for Inuit.
Otokiak said he's looking forward to working with KIA staff and other recently-elected board members: Teddy Apsaktun of Kugaaruk, Peter Akkikungnaq of Gjoa Haven, Bill Lyall of Taloyoak, Donald Havioyak of Kugluktuk and Peter Kapolak of Bay Chimo-Bathurst Inlet.