Today, Canada Post unveiled a new commemorative stamp recognizing the accomplishments of Inuit activist, linguist and award-winning broadcaster, Jose Kusugak.
Part of the first generation of Inuit children to be sent to residential school, Kusugak dedicated his life to raising awareness of Inuit identity and issues. Many consider him to be a Father of Confederation for the critical role he played in the efforts that led to the creation of Nunavut in 1999.
To describe the place of his people within Canada, Kusugak coined the phrase “First Canadians, Canadians First”.
“He left an indelible footprint on the political space nationally and also across Inuit and Nunavut,” says Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “His political legacy is something I think about in terms of gains he made in relation to Inuktut and Inuit rights, but then also how Canadians see Inuit.”
Teacher and linguist
Born in 1950 in Repulse Bay, Northwest Territories (now Naujaat, Nunavut), Kusugak began his career as a teacher. He worked at the University of Saskatchewan’s Eskimo Language School and the Churchill Vocational Centre in Manitoba, where he taught Inuktitut and Inuit history and later served as a cultural and linguistic adviser.
As head of the Inuit Language Commission in the 1970s, he was involved in developing a standardized, dual writing system for Inuktitut, using Roman orthography and syllabics.
But it was his skill as a communicator that fuels his legacy – a skill he put to use in service of his community.
In 1971, Kusugak joined the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), where he used his natural communication abilities to disseminate and explain the concept of land claims to Inuit communities.
He then joined CBC North in 1980 as area manager for the Kivalliq region, which gave him the opportunity to further spread the land claims message across the Arctic. He spent 10 years with the CBC, after which he went to the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and introduced new areas of programming in Inuktitut.
In 1994, Kusugak became president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. This organization played a pivotal role in negotiating the land claim that created Nunavut.
“Jose is kind of a person that you don’t forget. Whether you were with the political Inuit arenas or with the CBC brass, they always called him brilliant,” says former journalist William Tagoona. “It’s because of his great way of communicating and always with the Inuit perspective behind him.”
In 2000, building on his work in advancing Inuit rights, Kusugak was elected president of the ITC. Its name was subsequently changed to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), which means “Inuit are united in Canada”. After leaving the ITK in 2006, he continued to work in regional politics, negotiating on behalf of the Inuit on a variety of important issues.
Jose Kusugak passed away in 2011, in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
The stamp recognizing Jose Kusugak is part of Canada Post’s new multi-year Indigenous Leaders stamp series. This year, Métis leader Harry Daniels and Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, former Chief of the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, are also being honoured.
Stamp series recognizes three Indigenous LeadersAvailable now