Kilikvak Kabloona, an Inuk from Baker Lake, is the chief executive of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), which oversees the effective implementation of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement. She obtained a diploma from the Thompson Rivers University, a bachelor of commerce from the University of Calgary and, most recently, an Indigenous language proficiency certificate from the University of Victoria. Ms. Kabloona is the former associate deputy minister for quality of life with the government of Nunavut – a position specifically created to respond to the suicide crisis in Nunavut. Beyond her official positions, she is also a founding member of the Quanak Collective, which fosters citizen engagement in Nunavut and supports leadership in the next generation of Inuit youth. Outside of her work, Ms. Kabloona is an avid hunter, cross-country skier and enjoys preparing traditional foods such as seal, walrus, whale and caribou.
How does your Indigenous identity influence your day-to-day living?
It’s who I am to my very core. That includes my responsibilities to my community; the knowledge that I gained from my family and their ancestors before them; my way of thinking through my traditional language; and the way I understand myself and others.
How is your Indigenous language incorporated into your work?
My language shapes the way I see the world in every way. For example, in Inuktitut, you put the verb first and the individuals doing the work come last. So my entire life has been built in that framework where the activity is the most important thing, and that is built into the way I think and relate to others. I mentioned to you that it’s uncomfortable talking about myself, and I think that’s because I view what I am able to achieve in my work as the most important thing, not necessarily myself.
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How is Inuit traditional knowledge relevant in your life today?
As a child, most of my formative experiences were on the land and involved traditional teachings. Now as an adult, I still use these knowledge and principles regularly in my work. For example, as Inuit in Baker Lake, my family and I ate caribou as our main diet. So I grew up following my dad on his hunting journeys. Part of that was knowing that there are no trees around – so from the beginning, we had to plan and execute a proper strategy to be able to feed our family. And by strategy, I mean we first needed a good sense of our surroundings because we’d always have to find the highest hill to get proper visuals of what was around us. In business terms, that was like a needs assessment or a SWOT analysis, figuring out the lay of the land and planning our next moves. After that, when seeing the animals and approaching them, we needed proper execution so that we don’t scare them away. It requires a lot of planning, a lot of foresight, patience, commitment and courage. So yes, I do use those Inuit traditional knowledge teachings every day in my work. I learned them on the land growing up, but they are something that applies directly to my work now in how I approach and solve problems.
How can we tangibly learn from Inuit traditional knowledge to create a better future for all of Canada?
As I mentioned, our language creates a unique way of thinking. This different perspective needs to be valued, empowered and utilized. For example, our knowledge and experience in the cold could be better harnessed. There are so many words for snow and ice in Inuktitut, and that’s because we have come to understand over thousands of years that the way the snow was formed matters in how it behaves. If we could apply that deep understanding to modern engineering, we’d have better tires and roads. That’s what turning local traditional knowledge and practices into contemporary and innovative solutions looks like.
How do you define leadership?
Leadership is about listening to the views of those you lead. It’s not about deciding what something will look like single-handedly – it’s about supporting everyone else.
Do you find politics to be different among Indigenous people than politics in Ottawa?
When I was running for political office in Nunavut, I realized that it is possible to know every adult in the room. It’s literally possible to just pick up the phone and call people and discuss topics with constituents, and a lot of that happens still all the time. You just pick up the phone and call somebody. In most of the political world, you don’t have that same level of connection, engagement, familiarity and accountability to community.
What are some challenges that you face as an Indigenous leader working with many Canadian institutions, businesses and leaders?
To work in a system that was not designed by or for us takes a lot of emotional energy. It’s draining to have to think and communicate in a completely different way from how I was raised and how I live. Further, constantly being faced with the colonial history of Canada and the modern manifestations of it within its institutions can be tremendously emotionally draining.
What’s a good first step for non-Indigenous peoples seeking to learn more about Indigenous cultures?
Well, in Nunavut, newcomers are expected to acculturate. By that, I mean eating local foods, learning local history, speaking the original language of that place, and more. Everyone is able to make steps in that direction wherever they are in Canada. From coast to coast to coast, we are all surrounded by a great diversity of local Indigenous peoples, cultures, traditions, languages, art, food, etc.
How can non-Indigenous people be better allies, supporters or advocates for Indigenous people and issues?
I think the most important thing is to decide to be an ally and take ownership of what that means. After creating that respectful and responsible foundation within yourself, then the important listening, reading, conversations and learning can happen.
Are there an Indigenous learning materials that you recommend?
Well, in terms of learning about Nunavut, I say that the [land claim] agreement is mandatory reading. In terms of books, I really like Arthur Manuel’s writing. For films, I think there are a lot of great movies available from the National Film Board – I especially recommend Angry Inuk.
What advice do you have for Indigenous youth reading this column?
Be true to yourself. Learn your language and culture – it gives you strength. Further, applying it in your modern day-to-day life gives you an advantage.
Is there an innovative idea that excites you lately?
We need an Indigenous university in the North based on Inuit knowledge. It would be a way to facilitate Inuit language and culture transmission amongst our people across generations, but also for other Canadians and people from around the world to come learn about ice and Arctic sovereignty, climate change – all of these important pillars of Inuit life.
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