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Photo Frobisher Bay couture tente 1956

The Emergence of an Aboriginal Political Leadership

Abraham Okpik
Around February, 1965, I had a letter from the regional director at the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources asking if I would like to move to Yellowknife. … [They] needed a liaison officer to work with hard-rock Inuit miners from Rankin Inlet. …

In Yellowknife I had to work with social development, so I started working under the direction of social programs. … So, I got my appointment [to be a territorial councillor] shortly after. … When I made my presentation at the first meeting in November or October, I said, “This is Canada, but how come the East doesn’t have a member on this Council? There must be a reason. Is it that colonial rule is not over yet?” …
In 1965, Abe was sent to Yellowknife to work with social programs and started attending meetings of the Territorial Council. He was invited to become a councillor himself in October, 1965, and was sent to Ottawa when another councillor retired. He was the first Canadian aboriginal person to be ever appointed. He argued that the Eastern Arctic lacked representation, and in July, 1966, electoral boundary officers from the federal government came up North to divide the territory into three separate districts, who would each have their own representative. The federal government named the first Public Health minister for native people. Abe acted as translator for different dialects and also advised the elected members on matters such as education.

In 1969, the Indian Brotherhood and the Eskimo Brotherhood of Canada became two separate advocacy groups. That same year, the Canadian government published its White Paper regarding land claims, but the aboriginal peoples of Canada and the Inuit strongly opposed it. It was around the same time that the co-operative business model and the credit union started gaining ground in the North, providing some stable economic alternatives to the collapsing fur trade.