Eegeesiak ousts Sillett as president of ITC
IQALUIT The new president of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada paid tribute this week to departing president Mary Sillett by vowing to continue chipping away at ITC’s debt.
Okalik Eeegesiak, assistant executive-director with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., was elected to a three-year term last Sunday by delegates attending ITC’s annual general meeting in Inuvik.
“Mary has done a great job of downsizing ITC, and she started a job that I’ll have to finish,” said Eegeesiak, who will also serve as Canadian vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC).
If the lobby group’s remaining $230,000 debt is to continue to be a priority for the Iqaluit native, so will be ITC’s role in the next round of constitutional talks.
“I’ll have to get myself updated on that issue, for sure, right off the bat,” said Eegeesiak, who credited her victory in part to the political support she received prior to the annual general meeting from certain unnamed “key people.”
“I’ve always had the backing and support of the organizations I’ve worked for,” she said.
Back in Ottawa, Sillett accepted her defeat gracefully and said she leaves the national Inuit organization with a strong sense of accomplishment.
“Regardless of what the results were, I don’t think anyone can dispute that I did a good job,” Sillett said. “I feel good about that, no one can take that away from me.”
Sillett assumed the presidency of ITC after Rosemarie Kuptana’s resignation in 1995.
Both Eegeesiak and Sillett speculated that Sillett’s bid for the leadership was hampered because she doesn’t speak Inuktitut fluently.
“Despite all of the progress made, people will not vote for you because there is a feeling that a national leader, especially of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, should be able to speak Inuktitut fluently.
“That’s always been an issue from day one.”
After living in Ottawa for several years, Sillett said she now looks forward to resuming her life near friends and family in her native Labrador. And even after 25 years of lobbying for Canada’s Inuit, she said she isn’t ready for retirement.
“It’s a really really good time to be in Labrador. It’s a time when Labradorians are involved in land-claims negotiations, where Labrador Inuit, Labrador Innu and Métis are fighting for self-determination and having a say in how development occurs. So it is an exciting time.”
In a separate meeting, also held last weekend in Inuvik, Sheila Watt-Cloutier was acclaimed to the presidency of ICC-Canada, and will serve as ITC’s vice-president.