Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit September 10, 2018 - 4:28 pm

Witness at Iqaluit’s MMIWG hearing describes impacts of colonization on language, culture

“It was a feeling that we were not normal”

COURTNEY EDGAR
Elisapee Davidee Anigmiuq gives a tearful speech about the ways colonization in the school system in Nunavut made her take out her language frustrations on her children. She said she would not allow her children to speak English in her home because of her childhood experiences, and in her testimony at Iqaluit's public hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women she apologized to them. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)
Elisapee Davidee Anigmiuq gives a tearful speech about the ways colonization in the school system in Nunavut made her take out her language frustrations on her children. She said she would not allow her children to speak English in her home because of her childhood experiences, and in her testimony at Iqaluit's public hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women she apologized to them. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

When Elisapee Davidee Anigmiuq was a child in federal day school in Iqaluit, she was told by her teachers that she was not allowed to speak Inuktitut. If she did speak her language, the teachers would hit her on the hands with a ruler or throw keys at her from across the room.

The lessons at the day schools were hard for Inuit children, she said. They would have to spell the word “orange” when they did not know what an orange was and would have to draw trees when they had never seen a tree.

Then she overheard a priest criticize her for not knowing how to make kamiks, and she felt the sting of feeling as if she was not good enough even within her own culture.

“It was a feeling that we were not normal. It was like we were wearing a sign that said, ‘Not good enough’ on our chest,” Davidee Anigmiuq said.

“We had to take on another life.”

Davidee Anigmiuq was the first witness at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women hearing on Monday morning held at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn.

This week’s hearings, from today until Thursday, Sept. 13, are focused on the impacts of colonial violence on the Inuit of Nunavut.

Davidee Anigmiuq made a tearful apology to her children at the hearing about how, when they were growing up, she would scold them “in a very unhealthy way” for speaking English at home.

She said she didn’t know where that was coming from until many years later, when through her own personal inner work, she was able to finally understand that her anger was a result of the assimilation tactics she endured in her schooling.

“I was revenging,” Davidee Anigmiuq said. “It was me going against them telling me to not speak my language. It was coming from the deepest part of me that was damaged.”

There is a lot of low self-esteem and people who don’t know their identity, Davidee Anigmiuq told the commissioners, due to the day schools and residential schools in Nunavut between the 1950s and 1970s.

It is for that reason that she has been working with Tukisigiarvik, a community centre that develops cultural programs and teaches traditional skills, including kamik-making workshops, and provides Inuktitut lessons, to help promote cultural healing.

In addition to that, the community centre works with the homeless and near-homeless individuals, as well as providing resources for single women to get back on the land.

Years ago, when Davidee Anigmiuq realized that there was no support to help single women go out on the land, she started a program through the centre to help them get out in the wilderness again.

She said one woman had told her she had not taken a canoe ride since her husband had died. It was about 20 years earlier.

Davidee Anigmiuq said the programs she has developed at Tukisigiarvik have “come back full circle.”

“Hundreds and hundreds of women are learning to make kamiks through this program,” Davidee Anigmiuq said.

“It is all about lifting each other up and gaining strength through our culture.”

A caribou antler and three ookpiks from Rankin Inlet lie in the middle of a handmade quilt that makes up this centrepiece at the Iqaluit hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Tokens on the quilt are gifts given to members of the inquiry through their travels across Turtle Island, inquiry staff member Terrellyn Fearn said. A cedar hat was gifted to the inquiry on Canada’s West Coast, and a turtle shell is from the East Coast. Participants in the inquiry can use the basket, called the Miskwaabimaag Basket, to gift their own stories—in the form of pictures, notes or tokens—to the commissioners. The basket was gifted to the inquiry by Indigenous women in Manitoba to help commissioners “gather the stories of loved ones, families and survivors of violence” a banner set up in the Frobisher Inn reads. The panels on this quilt carry messages like, “root out violence,” “you will be in our hearts forever,” and “to my sisters, there’s no sunshine when you’re gone and our world just ain’t the same.” The quilt and others like it were made through support from the Elizabeth Fry Society by women in the justice system, as well as by participants of community hearings.  (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
A caribou antler and three ookpiks from Rankin Inlet lie in the middle of a handmade quilt that makes up this centrepiece at the Iqaluit hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Tokens on the quilt are gifts given to members of the inquiry through their travels across Turtle Island, inquiry staff member Terrellyn Fearn said. A cedar hat was gifted to the inquiry on Canada’s West Coast, and a turtle shell is from the East Coast. Participants in the inquiry can use the basket, called the Miskwaabimaag Basket, to gift their own stories—in the form of pictures, notes or tokens—to the commissioners. The basket was gifted to the inquiry by Indigenous women in Manitoba to help commissioners “gather the stories of loved ones, families and survivors of violence” a banner set up in the Frobisher Inn reads. The panels on this quilt carry messages like, “root out violence,” “you will be in our hearts forever,” and “to my sisters, there’s no sunshine when you’re gone and our world just ain’t the same.” The quilt and others like it were made through support from the Elizabeth Fry Society by women in the justice system, as well as by participants of community hearings. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
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(8) Comments:

#1. Posted by General Mills. on September 10, 2018

Why is this not about the victims and their families?

#2. Posted by Waiting for the Point on September 10, 2018

@#1 not only not about victims and families, but not about sexual violence or the circumstances of survivors or anything.

I know the focus of this Iqaluit hearing is “colonial violence” and I don’t doubt that there is a connection between the colonial experience and violence against women, but I sure hope someone connected the dots a little better than has been described in this article.

#3. Posted by Sled dog on September 11, 2018

And the relevance of this testamony is?

#4. Posted by Northern Guy on September 11, 2018

Not so very different from my school experience on the prairies in the late 60s. My parents were recent immigrants and only spoke Ukrainian at home. As a result my first language was Ukrainian and I hadn’t learned a word of English when I started school. My teachers yelled at me whenever I spoke Ukrainian. They threw chalkboard erasers at me, hit me with rulers and pretty consistently belittled me. My parents weren’t much help, they wanted to me to learn English and were very subservient to the will of the school officials. That being said I am pretty sure that what I underwent could not be described as “colonial violence”. It was probably pretty consistent with what every unilingual immigrant child experienced in school systems across Canada at that time.

#5. Posted by Alain Dussault on September 11, 2018

#4 Northern Guy The difference between you and the rest on here is that you acknowledged that is how things were back in the day, and you made the most of it and moved on. Meanwhile, others cannot exit the circle of self-pity and somehow enjoy this momentary attention they are getting, hoping it will result in some type of freebies. Residential schools, slavery, apartheid, Nazism are just some of many very evil facts that existed and were considered the norm at a certain part of history. We moved on from them, hopefully learnt our lesson, and now we need to focus on other evils facts we are still living such as racism, homophobia, sexism..etc. If we dwell on the past for self-pity then we are putting our efforts in the wrong place. Let’s learn the lessons and move on!

#6. Posted by Janet Brewster on September 11, 2018

Thank you for sharing Elisapee <3

#7. Posted by All the same we are on September 11, 2018

Very good comment #4.
My mum is white and my dad is a Inuk, and I grew up speaking mostly
English.
My folks thought I would learn Inuktitut at school.
Some of our teachers were very incompetent, stank like dogs, and were
very aggressive and bullying towards children of mixed race.
They told my father to teach his kids at home, but he said it was their
job and people should quit if they can’t do it.
Later I told my parents I would quit Inuktitut , because of pressure from
Inuit schoolteachers, and they said okay.

#8. Posted by 4 and 5 on September 13, 2018

Number 4 and 5 don’t understand the context of Ms Davidee-Angingmiuq’s story of colonial violence.  There was a very specific federal policy targeting Indigenous children across Canada to ‘take the Indian out of the child’.  The Eskimo Education Policy was applied across the Arctic from western Arctic to Northern Quebec.  There was a real concerted effort to relocate all Inuit into settlements and take them away from their subsistence hunting lifestyle that sustained them for millennia.  In the case of Ms Davidee Aningmiuq, her whole family was likely located for the sole purpose of education.  Ms. Davidee Aningmiuq describes how she does indeed move on from historical wrongs - she acknowledged the intergenerational impact on her children, apologized and has moved on by turning her negative experience to something much more positive to reclaim back a part of her culture, and to help others do the same.  Students like Ms Davidee Aningmiuq were not compensated under residential schools.

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