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In the words of Jose Kusugak: We will always be Inuit

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ITK logo contest winners. (Top, from left): First place by Putulilk Ilisituk, second place by Chris Dewolf and third place by Mary Ugyuk. (Bottom, from left): honourable mentions by Sammy Kudluk, John Metcalfe and Chris Eccles. © ITK

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is celebrating 50 years of Inuit unity and representation this year. Our organization was founded in 1971 to amplify the voices of Inuit across our homeland in the face of shared challenges and concerns. Our founding leaders chose the name Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (Inuit will be united in Canada) in recognition of the work that lay before them. 

In 2001, we took another momentous step as an organization. That year, the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement-in-Principle was signed. Nunatsiavut was the last of our four regions to complete negotiations with the Crown. At our annual general meeting in Nain, our Board of Directors passed a resolution to change the name of our national organization to reflect the shift. So we became Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (United Inuit of Canada). 

With a new name came a new logo. Twenty years ago this year we held a contest in search of a new visual identity to help tell the story of who we are and what we do. It had to be something that would bring us together as four distinct regions working together as one, and it had to resonate with Inuit and demonstrate the significance of our work in shaping a prosperous future for Inuit. 

At that time, I was Director of ITK’s Department of Social and Economic Development. The late Jose Kusugak, my mentor and friend, was President. We received more than 200 contest entries from across the country and laid them out on our boardroom table and pinned them to the walls. We loved seeing them all. There were a number of common elements among our favourite submissions. 

First, there were various depictions of Inuit in traditional clothing. Some of the best featured four Inuit, representing the four regions of Inuvialuit Nunangat, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, and the four settled land claims agreements. There was the ulu, the distinctive and multifunctional tool invented by Inuit. 

Then, there was the maple leaf. Jose in those days had become known for telling a story about how Inuit view the concept of identity, coining the phrase that Inuit are First Canadians, Canadians First. “We will always be Inuit,” he said. 

Putulik Ilisituk of Salluit, Nunavik, captured the essence of the four central characters who would form our final logo. His submission featured a family representing the four regions of Inuit Nunangat. Their distinctive hoods, their style of dress and their clasped hands caught our attention. He took the top prize. 

The second and third place winners, Chris Dewolf of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, and Mary Ugyuk of Taloyoak, Nunavut, both featured the ulu and maple leaf. Honourable mentions went to Sammy Kudluk of Kuujjuaq, Nunavik; John Metcalfe of Nain, Labrador; and Chris Eccles of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, all featuring similar elements of Inuit wearing winter clothing and Canadian iconography. 

We delivered a binder full of these visual concepts to our designer as inspiration for a single cohesive identity. Jose and Nancy Karetak-Lindell, then MP for Nunavut, unveiled the final artwork in 2002. You have likely seen it in these pages. It features four Inuit, two men and two women, wearing silapaaqs and atigis, encircling a maple leaf and ulu. Its complexity and simplicity has stood the test of time. 

Our relationship with the Crown, and with Canadians, has evolved considerably since 2001, but the maple leaf at the centre of our logo, and Jose’s words regarding our responsibility as partners in the reconciliation journey, continue to reflect the role ITK plays at the national level. 

Unity is the central theme in who we are and what we do. Our ability to foster a shared identity and national vision for our collective future is the cornerstone of our success as an organization over 50 years. 

Natan Obed 

President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 

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