Truth body’s work ranges well beyond dog killings
Judge Jim’s commission hits the half-way mark
James Jonathan Igloliorte, a big man with a gentle smile, likes to let people talk.
For the 58-year-old retired judge from Hopedale, Labrador, that's a good thing – because over the past six months he's heard a lot of people talk.
Since its first public hearing in Kimmirut this past January, Igloliorte's Qikiqtani Truth Commission has heard from more than 150 witnesses, mostly Inuit.
"Inuit are comfortable about giving us their oral histories. It's not difficult," Igloliorte said in an interview given near the close of the commission's public hearings in Iqaluit last week.
And though he and the commission's small staff are only about half-way through their Baffin-wide tour, some definite patterns are now emerging.
The first is that no two communities are alike.
"The pattern we see emerging is the uniqueness of each community," he said.
To that end, the commission is compiling histories of each Baffin community, illustrated with maps and old photographs, bringing Inuit oral stories together with archival information dug up from archives in Ottawa and Yellowknife by the commission's hired researchers.
Madeleine Redfern, the commission's executive director, showed Nunatsiaq News some draft copies of those histories, each held together with plastic cerlock binding.
She said once they're done, each will serve as a permanent record of a given community's history – the kind of resource that for most Baffin communities does not exist right now.
At the same time, Piksuk Media Inc., an Iqaluit film production company, is making a video record of each hearing. Redfern says digital video clips from this work will be included in electronic records of the proceedings.
Piksuk will also produce their own documentary of the truth commission's work.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association set up the truth commission last year after 10 frustrating years of lobbying governments to acknowledge the truth, from an Inuit point of view, on the widespread killing of Inuit dogs in the 1950s and and 1960s.
But its mandate extends far beyond the alleged slaughter of Inuit dogs and includes most government decisions of government that affected Inuit at the time.
So "Judge Jim," as he's known to the Inuit and Innu of Labrador, says Inuit witnesses are talking about a long list of interconnected events: the early days of schooling, inadequate housing, the evacuation of tuberculosis patients and coercive relocations.
"Even when we are hearing people talking 40 or 50 years after these events, their recollections are highly detailed," Igloliorte said.
And if there's a common thread, it's "the apparent trauma that we are seeing," Igloliorte said.
Though these painful recollections cover the period when the old eastern Arctic way of life came to an end, to be replaced by life in permanent settled communities under the total dominance of an all-powerful federal government, Igloliorte says he's been struck by the forgiving nature of the Inuit testimony.
"When you have people telling us that they have no feelings of animosity or ill-feeling towards the police today, that's quite remarkable," he said.
He's also been struck by the desire for reconciliation that he hears in the words of the Inuit witnesses.
Many witnesses ask not for financial compensation, but for an apology. Others, such as Saila Kipanek of Iqaluit, have asked for the erection of a monument.
The commission will not tour during the months of July and August, and will resume their public hearings in September, when they will likely make a return visit to Iqaluit.
In the fall, they'll also visit Igloolik, Hall Beach, Clyde River, and Pond Inlet. They've set aside time in November and December to visit any communities that have been missed or to re-visit other communities.
After December, they'll go to work on the production of a final report.