Leading the Way at the Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada

    In an unassuming office space in downtown Ottawa, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the new president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Canada, reflects on the importance that International Politics can have on the role of Inuit in Canada.

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    Nancy Karetak-Lindell, ICC-Canada President

    Nancy Karetak-Lindell was appointed the leader of the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada in April 2016 and will hold the position until July 2018. I sat down to speak with her on her first day in the Ottawa office, May 28, 2016. This initial discussion revolved around the importance of setting a path for future generations, as well as the important role that she can now play, both as the head of the ICC-Canada and as a member of the international executive council of the ICC. We spoke again in October, after her first summer and fall working for the ICC. This discussion focused on the important outcomes that the ICC can have and how to ensure this is felt on a community level.

    Her Past

    Karetak-Lindell’s past has played a lasting role in the leader she has become. She grew up in Arviat, Nunavut, in a family with a strong mother as a female role model and a supportive father, allowing her from an early age to learn that helping others was crucial. As a young woman, she was never taught she couldn’t do anything. Her five sisters, along with herself, watched as their mother attended meetings in a male-dominated world, including hamlet-council and working with the church. Above all, the lesson of her youth which can be traced through every career she has chosen and potentially even every decision she has made, is that you cannot wait for others to solve your problems, but you must deal with issues head on, both for yourself and for those who do not have a voice. Her father, an RCMP officer, exposed young Nancy to a world of community members who needed help, of people in pain, and people needing someone to be that voice.

    As a teenager she, like many Inuit children, was sent to residential school. But at the age of 16, she was brought to Ottawa by her uncle, Tagak Curley, who was the first President of the Inuit organization now known as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), to finish her education in a more academically challenging environment. At this time, she saw the movement of Inuit fighting for their rights on a national scale. Although she explained that at that young age she didn’t know all the names and faces, nor all the issues being dealt with, this experience helped shape her as an Inuit leader.

    Nancy Karetak-Lindell has worked with and inspired northern youth throughout her life, both in large groups and in one-on-one
    situations. © The Gordon Foundation

    She contemplated university, but a call to be back home beckoned. She headed back North and started a life involving marriage, children and family. But the lessons of her youth were strong, and when a mentor recommended finishing a term for someone who resigned on the education council, she accepted. Her desire to help with overall community development could not be ignored. This led to becoming a council member, as well as a member of boards, and finally a Member of Parliament. She has worked her way through many different levels of government, from local to national and now finds herself on the international stage. But, although the scope of the work may be different, the passion remains the same: the desire to be the voice for people who can’t or won’t or are too timid to voice their concerns.

    The Role of ICC in the World

    Karetak-Lindell had a busy first summer and fall as the president of ICC-Canada, travelling across Canada, as well as heading to Greenland and the U.S. The opportunities presented gave her a further understanding of the ICC in Canada, but also the ICC and the role it plays in the international field.

    The ultimate lesson learned throughout the summer was that Inuit people have a plethora of opportunities to participate, but not always the funds. As Karetak-Lindell explains, “There is a real opportunity for Inuit to be fully engaged, but unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to be actively involved in every file, and the manpower, because we need a lot of technical help with some of the working group projects because it is all very scientific. We do have excellent staff at ICC-Canada and wish that we could do more.”

    This was a lesson that Duane Smith, Karetak-Lindell’s predecessor, also experienced and passed on, “She will have to prioritize certain issues, because you can’t cover everything that is expected. That is what I found when I was there. You have to try and juggle them as best you can.”

    The Importance of Being a Role Model

    Karetak-Lindell’s role as the president of the ICC-Canada has placed her once again in a position where she is a role model to youth across the country. She has had experience mentoring northern youth through her role as the first director of the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship Program (2009-2012), a public policy-oriented leadership program for emerging northern leaders run by The Gordon Foundation. As the Foundation’s director of operations, Megan Lorius, says, “Nancy’s knowledge and experience, combined with her encouragement and warmth, established the Fellowship as a supportive, mutual-learning environment of respect.” For Karetak-Lindell, the importance of being a mentor cannot be overstated. She believes that giving back to people and the community is fundamental in her career. Above all, she wants youth who look up to her to remember to, “Believe in yourself, don’t underestimate what you can do as a person, and never forget where you come from.”

    Nancy Karetak-Lindell worked as the first Director of the Jane
    Glassco Northern Fellowship Program. Here, she speaks to the first group of cohorts during one of their sessions in the Northwest Territories. © The Gordon Foundation

    Throughout her experiences, and the lessons she has learned so far as the head of the ICC-Canada, she has recognized the potential and importance of engaging youth, and if possible, bringing Inuit youth to the table. Although she recognizes the wonderful Inuit youth who already participate and engage, she believes there is room for more. Bringing a young Inuit to the Arctic Council meetings, for example, was something that struck a chord with her. Not only to allow the youth to learn about the international engagement and some of the important files that the ICC participates in, but to see Inuit at the negotiating table, participating in discussions, and being listened to on an international scale. This is what Karetak-Lindell wants to show the next generation: that Inuit people are being heard, that the opportunities for Inuit to make decisions that directly impact their lives are available. It is the job of the next generation to follow through on the work of past generations and take advantage of these opportunities.

    Although she has only been in her position for less than a year, many believe her passion and experience will lead her to success. As Duane Smith says, “Inuit had faith in her being an MP for a number of years so she has demonstrated her skill and experience and now they have tasked her with being the representative for Inuit of Canada internationally and so far, she has done a good job of it.”