Fresh start for ITC, as delegates gather in Inuvik

Mary Sillett and Okalik Eegeesiak are candidates for the leadership of Canada’s national Inuit organization.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT Mary Sillett will present a leaner, more efficient national Inuit organization to board members at ITC’s annual general in Inuvik this weekend.

As incumbent president of the Inuit Taprirsat of Canada, the sounder financial outlook will surely strengthen Sillet’s leadership bid, although she was careful, going into the meeting, to share the credit.

“We worked very co-operatively with groups to write off certain debts, we downsized the office considerably, we cut down incredibly on travel and administration, and we’ve been really fiscally responsible,” says Sillett, who will run against a single challenger, Okalik Eegeesiak, for ITC’s top executive spot.

Eegeesiak, a former manager of the Canada Employment Centre in Iqaluit, and currently assistant executive director at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., ran unsuccesfully during last June’s federal elections as the Progressive Conservative candidate for Nunavut.

“Right now there are two candidates and it’s the delegates who, at the end of the day, will vote,” Sillett says. “It’s not necessarily the person with the most experience who’ll win.”

Deficit shaved by nearly two-thirds

At the time of Sillett’s succession to the presidency two years ago, following Rosemarie Kuptana’s resignation, the organization was laboring under a $731,000 debt.

“We knew that if we didn’t get our finances in order, there would be no ITC,” she recalls. “That had to be a priority.”

Today the debt has been trimmed to about $230,000 and will continue to shrink, Sillet says, thanks to a restructured, smaller board of directors.

The delegation gathered at the Inuvialuit Corporate Centre will also be markedly smaller than it has been in the past, consisting of executives from ITC and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), and three delegates from each of the four Inuit land claim areas.

More co-operation with ICC

A recent change to the way executive members serve both organizations required ITC and ICC to work more closely, too, so as to avoid chasing the same federal program funding.

The elected president of ITC is automatically appointed to serve as vice-president of ICC responsible for national affairs, and the elected president of ICC automatically serves as vice-president of ITC.

“That link that forces the executive to communicate,” Sillet says. “We have to talk to each other about what we’re doing, we have to talk to each other about where we’re getting our money from.”

Also on the agenda this weekend are several renewable resource issues, including the fur lobby.

Though funding for ITC’s fur program ran out earlier this year, delegates to the Inuvik meeting will be reminded of the success of the lobbying effort, particularly in Europe. The signing of the International Agreement on Humane Trapping Standards brought to an end a very long and expensive campaign to counteract anti-fur sentiment.

Any future fur program run by ITC will likely focus on implementing the agreement, Sillett says.

Delegates also plan to discuss Canada’s new gun-control legislation, which goes into effect Jan. 1, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and a meeting which aboriginal leaders expect to have with provincial and territorial leaders during a special premiers’ meeting in Winnipeg in November.

Joining constitutional talks?

Now that Canadian premiers seem intent on reviving the national unity debate, ITC has joined other aboriginal groups to demand a place at any future constitutional talks.

“National unity is a big issue, it’s a national issue, it’s a proper issue for ITC to be addresssing,” says Sillett, who is optimistic about ITC’s future, and confident that it will continue to have an important role to play defending the interests of Inuit.

“I’ve always felt that this was a great responsibility and it was an honor to work in a job where you really believe in what you were doing and where you made a contribution to the betterment of the Inuit.”

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