Despite the fact that he wasn’t part of the negotiating process for 1984’s Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Calvin Pokiak said representing Tuktoyaktuk on the Committee of Original People’s Entitlement (COPE)’s board of directors had a lasting impact on his political career.
“Being a director at the time and being so young, putting a lot of things on my shoulders for the people, I think that really helped me out in regard to what I’m able to do now,” said Pokiak, who was the hamlet’s mayor in 1984 and 1985.
Pokiak was one of several of COPE’s board of directors, which was made up of Inuvialuit representatives from communities in the Beaufort Delta Region.
The role of the director, according to Pokiak, was to share with community members any new information or updates that fellow COPE members brought back with them from Ottawa during a 10-year negotiation period with the federal government that began in the early 1970s.
“It was an honour to serve our people in Tuk here during the negotiations and giving feedback to the community. You gotta have that two-way communications between what the negotiators were negotiating on our behalf,” he said.
Pokiak, who still works for the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, was fresh out of high school when he decided to get involved with COPE.
“I figured that it was something interesting. When I first got elected onto the board, I took it really seriously to move forward with it,” he said. “Then I found out that with the brief education that I had after graduation, I thought maybe I could help out with what’s happening with the negotiations.”
He said that he served as one of the board of directors for eight years until the Inuvialuit Final Agreement was signed in Tuktoyaktuk’s Kitti Hall centre on June 5, 1984.
“What it meant to me was we were able to take control of our own lives and our land, and all the activities that were happening in the ISR. It gave us that option to be more effective in dealing with governments and industries,” he said. “We basically had everything under our control now. That’s a big part. We have control of what happens within our lands.”
Due to prior hunting commitments, Pokiak was unable to attend the full signing event. But before heading out onto the land, he helped organize a major cleanup in the community as a means of celebrating.
“I’ve never seen the hamlet of Tuk so clean before. It was something that meant a lot to us and outland communities that came in. It was a big bash of a party,” he said.
Celebrating Inuvialuit Day is important, he continued, for it allows him to connect with community members of all ages.
“You just have one day to celebrate amongst the Inuvialuit and the non-Aboriginal people that come down to celebrate with us. It’s sort of one big family gathering. That’s what I would call it,” he said.
He added that he doesn’t have anything scheduled for this year’s Inuvialuit Day festivities, however, as he “doesn’t plan that far ahead,” he said.
“I just take it one day at a time. I’m a happy-go-lucky Inuvialuit,” he said.