The 1990s have marked a historic change in the relationship of Canada to its Aboriginal peoples. Through the efforts of Rosemarie Kuptana, President of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, and other Aboriginal leaders, the federal, provincial and territorial governments have acknowledged the inherent right of Aboriginal peoples to self-government. Ms. Kuptana played a significant role in securing for Aboriginal peoples an equal participation with other Canadians in national constitutional and political processes.
Born in Sachs Harbour in the Banks Island in Canada’s Western Arctic, Ms. Kuptana has worked for the advancement of Inuit language and culture and has been a tireless leader in the area of human rights since 1975. From 1983 to 1988, she served as the President of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC). During this time, Ms. Kuptana played a vital role in developing a communications system to express and reflect Inuit culture and society.
She has also represented Inuit in other forms, including serving as co-chair of the International Artic Council and, from 1986 to 1989, as the Canadian vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
She also researched and published No More Secrets, an examination of child sexual abuse in Inuit communities for Pautuutit, the national Inuit women’s association. The work has helped Inuit across Canada better recognize and treat this extremely difficult problem.
In April 1991, Ms. Kuptana was elected to a three-year term as president of the ITC, the national voice of Canada’s 35,000 Inuit. In addition to its self-government efforts, under the Ms. Kuptana’s leadership, the ITC has participated in research and represented Inuit on Arctic environmental issues, pursued acknowledgement of human rights abuses in the relocation of Inuit to the High Arctic during the 1950s, assisted in the settlement of Inuit land claims and developed educational and other programs for Inuit youth.
She has received the order of Canada and the Governor General’s Confederation Medal. In 1992, she was named to Maclean’s Hounour Role and was selected as Up Here magazine’s Northerner of the Year.
Ms. Kuptana’s cultural and political influence reaches beyond the Arctic. Whether in Ottawa, Moscow or Geneva, she is recognized as a strong advocate for the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and self-government.