Spring convocation: Inuit leader receives honorary degree

(Edmonton) Charlie Kakotok Evalik, a business executive and champion of the Inuit community, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta June 15. Evalik has been a key player in the transformation of the north as a contributor to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the creation of the new territory of Nunavut.

Evalik told the commencement audience that the addition of Nunavut to the map caps a half-century of his culture’s adaptation to mainstream Canada.

“The pace of change, which compelled Inuit to move from a traditional land-based lifestyle to join southern Canadians in a global, 21st-century culture, all in the space of the last 50 years, has been simply breathtaking.”

Evalik’s pride in his Inuit culture was shown when twice during his address to the graduating class he spoke in his native language, Innuinaqtun.

“I am sure this is the first time that convocation at the University of Alberta has been addressed in my language,” said Evalik. “It is also the first time I have ever spoken to a crowd of this size.”

As a community leader and CEO of the Nunavut Resources Corporation, one of Evalik’s goals is to improve education in the North and give Inuit people more control of their lives. 

“If Inuit have the knowledge and skills to achieve control they will choose to preserve their language and culture and make decisions about what happens to their land and communities on their own, using the democratic system they share with the rest of Canada,” he said.

As the U of A students move ahead to new chapters in their lives, Evalik reminded them that not everyone has the same opportunities as they do and he urged the graduates to use it wisely.

“I urge you to remember that a university education is also a privilege and that responsibility is the constant companion of privilege.”

To read a full transcript of Evalik’s convocation address, click here.

To watch the entire June 15 convocation ceremony, click here.