Jose Kusugak, celebrated Inuk leader, appears in new postage stamp

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The new Jose Kusugak stamp, part of a series of Indigenous leaders featured on postage stamps by Canada Post, was unveiled on Tuesday in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Pauline Pemik/CBC - image credit)
The new Jose Kusugak stamp, part of a series of Indigenous leaders featured on postage stamps by Canada Post, was unveiled on Tuesday in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Pauline Pemik/CBC - image credit)

A celebrated Nunavut leader is being commemorated in the form of a postage stamp.

Jose Amaujaq Kusugak was an Inuk activist who played a critical role in the creation of Nunavut in 1999 and was a longtime defender of Inuit rights, language and culture. He died in 2011 at age 60 after a battle with cancer.

His stamp features his name, written in Inuktitut syllabics over his photograph.

"It's the first ever stamp with Inuktitut on it so this is so important because that is what Jose ... most cared about – language," said his wife, Nellie Kusugak at the unveiling ceremony in Rankin Inlet Tuesday evening.

Pauline Pemik/CBC
Pauline Pemik/CBC

Originally from Naujaat, Nunavut, Kusugak began lobbying Inuit leaders in 1971 for a standardized Inuktitut writing system. He later served as chair of the Inuit Language Commission. Kusugak also worked for CBC North from 1980 to 1990 as the broadcaster's area manager in what is now Nunavut's Kivalliq region.

Among his many leadership roles over the years, Kusugak served two terms as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit organization, from 2000 to 2006.

Kusugak coined the phrase "First Canadians, Canadians First" to describe his people, according to a news release from Canada Post.

Kusugak was also part of the first generation of Inuit children who were sent to residential schools.

Rod Hart, chief customer and marketing officer for Canada Post, said the agency is in "a unique position to really care about Canada" and that it does so through telling stories via stamps.

"We've done this for decades and decades. And it is an amazing way to look back and understand the key moments, the key people that have really helped shape Canada, its culture, its economy, its political environment," he said.

"We were just so pleased and proud that Jose Kusugak … was honoured in this stamp, in this way, for this year."

The Kusugak stamp is part of Canada Post's new, multi-year series of stamps that pay tribute to Indigenous leaders.

Pauline Pemik/CBC
Pauline Pemik/CBC

Two other stamps are also being rolled out this month.

One features Harry Daniels, a Métis man from Saskatchewan whose legal battle, Daniels v. Canada, would lead to the recognition of Métis and non-status First Nations people as "Indians" as per Canada's constitution in 2016.

Another will feature Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, Canada's longest serving chief in Okanese (roughly 90 kilometres east of Regina) for nearly 40 years, and someone who worked to reunite Indigenous families with their children in care. She also helped the Okanese First Nation define and write its own legislation regarding child and family services.

All three stamps will officially be released on June 21, on National Indigenous Peoples Day.

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