David Okpik, a well-known community leader and long-time defender of environmental issues in Nunavik died peace-fully on July 23 at the Tusaajiapik Elders Home in Kuujjuaq. He was 86.
David was born on the land on November 13, 1933 near the current location of Quaqtaq. He was a prolific hunter, but also developed a keen interest for geology.
He was nicknamed locally as “David the Hunter” for his expertise and success in harvesting country food. After he broke his arm in a fishing accident David turned his attention to prospecting. “My arm still aches but I can use it, and my family still needs (country food) to eat. But I don’t do as much of that now,” he said in a 1998 interview published in Makivik Magazine.
He was self-educated and learned to speak English partially by listening to whatever music the operators at the weather station at nearby Cape Hopes Advance had around. From 1956 to 57, he worked as a labourer for a mining company at the Oceanic Payne Bay site across the river from Kangirsuk. “In those days, Inuit were like slaves,” he recalled in the interview, describing the heavy tasks and patronizing attitudes of his superiors. Today, he added, everyone respects each other in the field, and it is especially gratifying when the younger Inuit and the elderly can work side-by-side out on the land.
In 1985 his keen interest in geology drove him to discover a unique archeological site that had been an important quarry and habitation site for early Inuit populations in the region near Quaqtaq.
As an elder, David was a mentor for the younger generations and remained very involved in local and regional issues. He was one of Quaqtaq’s first mayors after the community was officially founded in 1978 and was also a key representative of the KRG in defending the environment.
David was a member of the Kativik Environmental Quality Commission (KEQC) from 1979 to 2009 and was a member of the Environmental and Social Impact Review Panel for the territory north of the 55th parallel from 1997 to 2000. He was then appointed to the Kativik Environmental Advisory Committee in October 2000.
But perhaps his most famous claim to fame was his role in the 1992 adventure feature film entitled Shadow of the Wolf, where David played the character Pualuna in a movie portraying Inuit life in the 1930’s.
His son Jaaji Okpik, wrote a tribute on Facebook, sharing that his father had been battling dementia and Parkinson’s disease for close to a decade.
“He taught me what it means to survive and where there is will there is always a way!” he wrote. “I know now at least that he is finally with my mother singing her her favourite song and he is no longer suffering.”
A funeral service was held on July 24 in Quaqtaq with a private burial. He is survived by his daughters Elizabeth, Annie, and Victoria, his sons Harry, Jimmy and Jaaji, as well as several grandchildren and close family members. David is pre-deceased by his wife Maggie and his daughter Joanna.