This side of paradise

Kivalliq Inuit agree to share historic homeland with Canada and the world


Perhaps Lorne Quassa Kusugak said it best.

“The elders here today from the Kivalliq have used that land as theirs to live on, and their ancestors, and their ancestors. But if you go there today, you will feel like you’re the first person ever to step on it. That’s how well they have taken care of that beautiful land.”

Kusugak, the mayor of Rankin Inlet, was one of many Kivalliq Inuit who flew to Iqaluit to witness last Saturday’s signing ceremony for the Ukkusiksalik National Park Inuit impact and benefits agreement.

Kusugak also served as master of ceremonies for the event, which featured a qulliq lighting by Theresie Tungilik, the singing of “O Canada” by children from Iqaluit’s summer music camp, a drum dance by Commissioner Peter Irniq, and many rambling speeches.

The deal gives the Kivalliq Inuit a $3-million economic development grant, a youth scholarship fund, and a strong say in planning and operating the park.

It gives Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who signed the agreement with Tongola Sandy, president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, and Paul Okalik, premier of Nunavut, the right to brag that he’s keeping a promise to create 10 new national parks and five marine conservation areas by 2008.

But for the Inuit of the Kivalliq, the creation of the park is also a way of honouring their ancestors and telling the world about where they came from.

Located around Wager Bay in the northern Kivalliq, Ukkusiksalik was once home to the Aivilingmiut and Ukkusiksalingmiut peoples. Rich in sea mammals, fish and caribou, the area was a vital source of food for their descendants, who now live scattered throughout Nunavut, in communities like Repulse Bay, Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Coral Harbour and even Iqaluit.

Cathy Towtongie, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., told the invitation-only audience that her grandfather, a man called “Wager Dick,” or “Iqumajuq,” once lived in Ukkusiksalik.

“It seems only fair that today’s Inuit impact and benefit agreement supports Inuit entrepreneurs, given the history of Ukkusiksalik,” Towtongie said.

Towtongie’s grandfather was the first Inuk to manage a trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company – at Wager Bay.

“He managed the post from 1925 to 1931, and brought up his children to love and respect the land and its riches,” Towtongie said.

So before giving their consent to the park’s creation, the Inuit of the Kivalliq, led by chief negotiator David Aglukark of Arviat, drove a hard bargain.

Paul Okalik praised Aglukark, who couldn’t attend the Iqaluit gathering, saying the Inuit owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Towtongie also honoured the memory of her uncle, the late Louis Pilakapsi. One of the Kivalliq region’s great Inuit leaders, Pilakapsi worked for years on negotiations related to the park’s creation.

In the end, the people of Repulse Bay, which is closer to Wager Bay than any other community, weren’t left out either.

On Saturday afternoon, two chartered planes carried elders and various dignitaries to Repulse, where they enjoyed an old-fashioned, Nunavut-style community feast and dance.

During the festivities, Elizabeth Seale, Parks Canada’s Nunavut superintendent, spoke of travelling to the park with Kivalliq elders in 1996 and learning about its history.

“All those stories make up the stories we will tell the public forever,” she said.

To complete the ceremony, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the MP for Nunavut, handed over a $3-million cheque to Tongola Sandy.

The transaction finalized negotiations that began about 25 years ago.

“Thank you for being very patient,” she said.

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