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Speeches and Presentations

Natan Obed’s Presidential Election Speech

By September 19, 2015 No Comments

My name is Natan Obed. I am originally from Nain, Nunatsiavut but have lived the last nine years in Iqaluit, Nunavut. I moved to Iqaluit to marry my wife Letia, and we now have two boys; Panigusiq who is eight, and Jushua, who is six. Panigusiq is named after Letia’s late mother, Mary Panigusiq Cousins, who was originally from Pond Inlet and a well-known educator, linguist, and Inuit advocate. Jushua is named after my great uncle Jushua Obed, who was an influential leader for my family in Nunatsiavut.

Despite growing up partially in the south, I have done all I can to learn and pass on my culture, language, and Inuit identity to my sons. As a child I always loved the time I lived in Nunatsiavut most of all, but as a child you don’t decide where you grow up or what language you speak. Before I talk about my vision for ITK or my professional experience, I’d like to share my personal history to give you a better sense of who I am and what I stand for.

My father was relocated at seven years old from Nutak, Nunatsiavut, to Hopedale in 1956. Both his parents died within two years of relocation. Instead of growing up on the land in northern Labrador, he grew up in an orphanage in Newfoundland. He had trouble maintaining his Inuktitut and admitted that he was abused.

He first met my mother at that orphanage, and my father ultimately returned to Nunatsiavut and became the director of land claims for the Labrador Inuit Association in the late 1970s. He was part of the Canadian Inuit team that repatriated the constitution. He was also a minister, even though the Moravian church wouldn’t train him. He ended his career as a counselor. He overcame enormous obstacles to achieve success in his chosen fields.

But to my siblings and me, he was an alcoholic who physically and emotionally abused us and our mother. He didn’t speak to us in Inuktitut, or teach us anything about the land. After many separations, he eventually disowned us and left my mother to raise us on her own with no financial support. I know what it is like to have nothing to eat or not knowing where my family is going to live.

I would likely not be as emotionally strong, sympathetic, or driven to succeed if I had not experienced adversity as a child. These traits have helped me in my hockey career, my academic career, my professional career, and most importantly in asserting my identity as an Inuk.

I have done all I can to ensure the negative cycle in my immediate family stops with me. I vowed at 11 to my mother that I would never drink alcohol and I have kept my vow. I have ensured my children are fluent in Inuktitut. I give them my love and support so that they won’t go through life trying to heal from their childhoods or be destroyed by their memories the way I have had to do or my father had to do before me.

Many Inuit across Canada are still healing from relocation, residential schools, and forced settlement in communities. Many of my peers have similar personal histories, and what I find most uplifting, is that many of us, the sons and daughters of both the tragedy of colonization and triumph of land claims, have the tenacity and will to overcome the collective historical trauma that has so affected our society and found the ability to use the assets we have gained through land claims to lead our society forward.

ITK plays a large part in Inuit self-determination, and I am fortunate to have a long association with the organization. In university I used the ITC library to research the Canadian Inuit land claims movement for my senior honors thesis. My first professional job was at ITC as an environmental policy analyst, just before ITC became ITK. The second time I worked at ITK, as socio-economic development director, I led ITK’s involvement in the Kelowna Accord process to create the Inuit content related to education, housing, and government/Inuit relations.

Working for ITK helped me fully appreciate the value and purpose of Inuit representation, and thus I have become a fierce advocate of ITK.

I believe Inuit have the clearest governance structure of all aboriginal peoples in Canada, and the way in which we speak with a collective voice from the community to the national and international levels is one of the great assets of the Inuit rights movement.

As an organization, ITK functions best when it maintains close relationships on the political and staff level with the four Inuit land claim regions and with ICC-Canada, Pauktuutit, and NIYC, while always communicating clearly with Canadian Inuit about its activities and aspirations.

ITK is also at its best when it advocates at the highest levels of Federal politics; when it participates in the highest level of Federal bureaucratic decision-making; and when it advocates clearly to the Canadian public about Inuit priorities.

I believe ITK’s independence as an Inuit advocate is its most sacred and important attribute, and if elected as ITK President, I assure you no government, no corporation, or outside group will undermine ITK’s independence as we work to achieve our vision.

I have the confidence, knowledge and professional ability to excel as ITK’s President. I know how to chair meetings, manage staff, speak clearly and passionately in public, advocate strategically, and bear the responsibility of running multi-million dollar organizations under strict financial limitations.

At the community level, I have helped run the Iqaluit Inuktitut daycare, Tumikuluit Saipaaqiivik, as an executive member of the board of directors for the last four years. It has been hard work to keep our doors open providing Inuktitut immersion programming for children but we have fought through all the barriers in our way to provide an acclaimed and trend setting Inuit early childhood program.

At the regional level, I have played significant roles in Nunavut initiatives such as the development and implementation of the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy, the Piqqusiliriiviik cultural school, the Nunavut Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, and the Nunavut Food Security strategy.

In Nunatsiavut, I have been a trustee of the Labrador Inuit Capital Strategy Trust for the last seven years. The trust is responsible for the Nunatsiavut Government’s business interests, including an airline, fishing interests, a construction company, and marine ferry and cargo services.

At the national level I have chaired the National Inuit Committee on Health for six of the last nine years. I have helped advance major priority areas such as suicide prevention, mental health, and health research.

My personal and professional experiences have shaped my priorities for the advancement of Inuit. I am convinced that early childhood development and support for those who care for children will improve our socio-economic status and allow us to move beyond the cycle of trauma that so many are caught in from an early age.

I believe that for Inuktitut to thrive, we need to a massive shift in how we approach language use in our communities, schools, and work places. I will make sure that it starts at ITK and starts with me, putting an emphasis on Inuktitut use and acquisition within our organization.

I will do all I can to aid suicide prevention efforts in Inuit Nunangat. I have dedicated a large portion of my professional life to suicide prevention, and will fight for all that is necessary to make meaningful changes to reduce our suicide rate.

I recognize that the ITK President is a person that represents the interests of the board of directors, and above all else undertakes the work that he or she is directed to do. I pledge to lead through hard work and informed decision-making.

I have the experience, passion, and willingness to work with others to excel as President. As aspirational as I may sound, I want to create a legacy for our work today as large and as meaningful as the legacy our parents created with the creation of Inuit representational organizations and the settlement of land claims. The work may be different, but the dream is the same — to be Inuit on our own terms in Canada.