Current Initiative

Jose Amaujaq Kusugak Scholarship Program

Anita Uuttuvak

a-UuttuvakJose Amaujaq Kusugak: What kind eyes, eyes that told you the story of his life in one glance. Jose gave up so much of himself, his free time and his personal life with his beautiful family in Nunavut in order to see Nunavut become a reality. His experiences in life made him intelligent, strong and irreplaceable as a figurehead of the Arctic, a safety net for many Inuit of Nunavut. He was our leader, our home and our heart. The loss of such an inspirational figure has been tragic for our nation. I would be honoured to continue this legacy through my post-secondary studies and my future career in Inuktitut.

I was raised in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, by an Inuk father and a British mother. I have three siblings and a huge extended family. Growing up, my entire family used to go out hunting, camping and fishing together every spring time. This was like going to Wonderland for me as we got to go on all sorts of adventures, thrill rides and eat incredibly good food. To this day, I look back on those memories fondly as we used to travel in packs the size of armies! But in order for me to get my post-secondary education today, I had to give up this lifestyle in order to accomplish my dreams in preserving Inuit culture through my favoured field of social science.

Inuit history and culture was very much valued in my household growing up. Although my mother is not Inuk, she has spent a good majority of her life dedicating herself to preserving Inuit culture and language through her work and passion for the North. My grandmother on the other hand, Ilisapi Uuttuvak, is an Inuk legend who has had an enormous impact on my life. This amazing woman has enriched me with pride about Inuit philosophies on problem solving, child rearing techniques and Inuit language. As a single parent of two young boys, raising them on my own while accomplishing my dreams away from home, I still try very hard to instill Inuit ways into my own family’s life.

With my education I aim to promote Inuit rights in order for Inuit to have easy access to mental health services in our Inuktitut language. By keeping people healthy and able to communicate problems effectively, we can keep our culture alive through the comfort of our own homes. Inuit would not have to leave Nunavut in order to get better. Something Jose stated before he died was that people should take better care of their health and not to be afraid to talk about it before they die. This is something I truly abide by, believe in and support.

As all Canadians around the world, Inuit have the human right to a service in our own language, to be able to relate to the person educating them about their situation in their own language. Even though I am not a teacher at this point, I would be able to use my knowledge to teach others life skills on how to be healthy by incorporating world ways with the traditional knowledge instilled by our Elders. Ideally in the future it would be best if we could do this in a common written and oral Inuktitut language, but until that time, at least we can all understand the yes and no of our eyebrow gestures!

Knowledge is most definitely powerful and the best tool to survive in life today. To be a leader is to challenge the internal and external issues of our territory and to counsel future generations to a better life. Using my studies to accomplish my goal of becoming an expert in the field of psychology, I would like to work toward advancing our way of living in contrast to other Canadians throughout Canada. Like Jose, even though half the time I wish I was out fishing, I am here representing Inuit by being a voice to tackle the issues on mental health and a better education in the social sciences field.

Had I been given the opportunity to do my degree up in Inuktitut, I would have done so in a heartbeat! Incorporating Inuit traditional knowledge with other circumpolar regions and bringing in new practices of the social science field, being around professors that understood the Inuit script of how language is communicated with illustrated examples of our history while piggybacking the language imitative of Inuktitut would be the ideal learning environment for me. Unfortunately, this is just not an option for me at this time. Since mental health is not taught in Nunavut in Inuktitut just yet, I have to start somewhere. I am currently attending the University of Ottawa to complete my degree in psychology.

I was told by my grandmother that when someone dies, learn from their life. Looking at how Jose accomplished his goals through exposing himself and not being shy of presenting correct Inuit traditions. He became very gifted in the aspect of public speaking. Therefore, despite the very little time I have in life at the moment as a full-time student and a single mother, I still try very hard to make time to do presentations about Inuit culture to my professors at school, and to the elementary school my two sons attend in Ottawa. I even helped my oldest son at the age of six publish a book about hunting with his grandfather and uncle in the Arctic. This book was printed and distributed in the schools in the area in which he was attending school in Nova Scotia. What I learned from Jose was if there is a will, there’s a way! If you want something done in life, you go out and do it.

I am passionate and dedicated to completing my education and to promote and preserve the Inuit language. With Jose dying it just didn’t feel right, and it is sad how much we are missing out without him being in our lives anymore. I remember he was showing me around Arviat one time in a car, and he teasing said, “Hold on as we are climbing up the biggest hill in Arviat!” He knew I was from Mittimatalik so going up this slight rise in the road was going to make me laugh. Josekuluk, what a worldly, kind and an incredibly smart man. I miss him, and I would be extremely honoured and humbled if I were chosen to continue his legacy through this scholarship funding. He was one of a kind; a true a superhero in my books. May he live on through our dedication of his memory forever.