Tommy Cain Sr. will be remembered for his enormous contributions to life in Nunavik.
One of the signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), he carried this responsibility throughout his life and was always active in regional and community politics. Tommy Cain Sr. was instrumental in the creation of the community of Tasiujaq, successfully convincing the Quebec government to help set up the small village in the 1960s. Tommy was very active with the development of its community council, and became its Mayor. His grandson Billy Cain carries on this tradition as the current Mayor of Tasiujaq.
His career at Makivvik was marked as a member of Board of Directors from 1979-1985, and First Vice-President from 1985-1988. Later in life he acted as a Nunavik Governor until he reached 75 years of age. As a signatory to the JBNQA, Tommy was involved in Makivvik’s 2015 film documenting the negotiation and signing of the agreement. He gave the film its title when he said to Nunavimmiut, “So you can have opportunities we worked to make it happen.” In English, the documentary is called, So That You Can Stand.
He, along with other signatories, was awarded the Order of Nunavik in 2014. The Order is conferred upon Inuit men and women for outstanding achievements in different fields, celebrating the accomplishments of Nunavik Inuit and inspiring Nunavik beneficiaries to strive to reach their goals.
Tommy was also an achiever and pioneer entrepreneur in the tourism industry. He was able to obtain early assistance from the Eskimo and Indian Outfitters Association. With that he was able to acquire and run the Finger Lake Char and Caribou Camp, providing employment to Inuit in Tasiujaq and Kuujjuaq. He was a big man with a big personality, perfect for the hospitality industry. He was the longest serving President of the Nunavik Tourism Association, as well as its predecessor — the Inuit Outfitters Association, formed in 1982.
He put Nunavik on the map by having the Nunavik Tourism Association officially recognized and funded by the Quebec government in 1997. He also worked to have the highest tides in the world recorded at Tasiujaq, with the assistance of Johnny Adams.
Born May 13, 1937, he was a traditional, unilingual Inuk. As a hunter he could expertly spear char with a kakivak and he excelled at hunting and trapping. Allen Gordon is the Executive Director of the Nunavik Tourism Association. He witnessed Tommy’s spear fishing skills firsthand near Tasiujaq.
“I was fishing with him, and it was incredible how good he was with the kakivak,” he said. “I was amazed. He had the knack for that, spear fishing… I just watched him.”
In his youth, he grew up near Quaqtaq and Kangirsuk. Like many Inuit at the time, he experienced starvation, having to eat sled dogs to survive.
“He grew up uneducated in terms of schooling,” Gordon said, “but his school basically was the coast, near Quaqtaq. He grew up near Kangirsuk, as a youngster before he moved into the Tasiujaq area.” And even though his English was limited, he could have a laugh with anyone, Gordon said, including tourists from the south. He was also a great square-dancer.
Tommy was father to Johnny, Kitty, Moses, Uttuqi, Jeannie, Christina, Aquja, Mark, and Willie, and grandfather and great grandfather to many. He passed away on July 27 in Tasiujaq and was laid to rest July 29, in the presence of many community members, under a white, inscribed cross and a bountiful arrangement of flowers.