Watching from the sidelines

Outgoing ITK president says politics is in his blood



One of the most recognized faces in Inuit politics is taking the summer to fish, spend time with his grandchildren and ponder his future.

Jose Kusugak, 53, who is credited with modernizing the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) since winning the three-year presidential term in 2000, is not running in the June 12 election. The longtime advocate of Inuit language and health-care rights wants to spend the summer camping with his extended family while considering his next career move.

“As hard as it is to say good-bye it’s just as easy because I’m going home to someone that I totally miss, my wife. I know politics is in my blood. It’s not the sort of thing you can ignore,” Kusugak said.

Of his trials and tribulations over the past three years, he said it is people’s perception of him that means the most.

“What I’m most proud of is being in the communities and people coming up to me and saying thank you for putting Inuit Tapiriit back at the frontlines. They say it looks like a new organization,” he said.

He would not confirm or deny if he’ll run for a seat in the 2004 territorial election.

“I’ve thought of it,” he said, pausing. “I can’t say…. I’ve worked on the NGO [non-governmental organization] side and 11 years with CBC before that. I like the idea of advocating for Inuit rights but as a servant of people you go where you’re needed. I can’t say no I haven’t considered [running for MLA]. I haven’t given it serious enough thought to even think about when it is, and would I be eligible as a resident because I’ve been in Ottawa for so long? I don’t want to say I’ve seriously thought about it because I haven’t,” he said.

Nor has he ruled out a career as a consultant.

“The one area I have considered is what would life be like in the private business world. Consulting work and curriculum development in Inuktitut. That’s something I’d love to do,” he said.

Kusugak served as president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. from 1994 to 2000 before joining ITK.

During his term as ITK president, Kusugak revamped the organization’s name and logo. He is credited with developing the organization’s catch phrase “Inuit are First Canadians and Canadians First.”

His lengthy career behind the camera earned him a reputation for having the right answer at the right time.

“One of the really good things about being in the media and going into politics is you know how to answer questions. When my wife was teaching the Northern Studies class at Arctic College and she took her class to CBC, I was president of NTI at the time. One of the students asked Theresa Blackburn who is the toughest guy to interview and she said Jose Kusugak because I was known to reporters as being [prepared],” he said.

An outspoken advocate for Inuit rights, Kusugak found himself making headlines when he was criticized for answering a reporter’s questions differently in Inuktitut than in English.

Similarly, Kusugak’s leadership has been the source of several editorials in Nunatsiaq News.

“It doesn’t really matter whether or not the media is fair toward you. It’s how you deal with it, how you respond to them, that matters” he said.

He says the incoming president will easily pick up where he left off. But will Kusugak ever return to ITK?

“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” Kusugak said.

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