“You can’t marry Inuit 'Qaujimatuqangit; to the new way of life.”
For this man, the past lives only in memory
As a little boy growing up in Apex, Saila Kipanek learned many things from the dictionary his teacher told him not to read.
And when he watched the RCMP kill every one of his family's dogs, the things he learned made him wonder.
He learned that Louis Pasteur was born in 1822 and died in 1895. He learned also that Louis Pasteur first found the vaccine that keeps dogs from getting sick from rabies.
Kipanek, who spoke for more than hour before the Qikiqtani Truth Commission at a public hearing in Iqaluit on the morning of June 19, said that's why he can't believe the government shot all those dogs just to protect people.
"How come, when they discovered this vaccine in the 1800s, that in the 1960s they couldn't use it up here to protect our dogs?" Kipanek said. "When our dogs were killed, we lost everything. The dogs that were slaughtered were the only way of survival for Inuit."
Like many other Inuit who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, he believes the government killed those dogs for only one reason: to destroy the old Inuit way of life.
"I guess they thought we were stupid. They were envious of our way of life. They thought they were better than we were."
Known informally to many as the "dog slaughter commission," the truth commission is actually set up to gather information about many government decisions that affected Inuit between about 1950 and 1980.
Now midway through its tour of the Baffin region, the commission has already heard numerous painful stories from Inuit that all convey one thing: deep and abiding emotional trauma.
"The issues are broader than the dog killings. They include schooling and other matters, housing, relocations, TB sanatoria and so on," said James Igloliorte, the former judge from Labrador who heads the commission.
And at the heart of that trauma there lies the unresolved grief over the loss of a way of life that will never return.
In his comments to the commission, Saila Kipanek said the widespread killing of Inuit dogs meant the death of the old culture he was born into.
And he scoffed at the Nunavut government's attempt to bring Inuit culture into its current operations.
"You can't marry Inuit Qaujimatuqangit to the new way of life. The government has this policy to incorporate IQ into the workplace, but I have never seen it work. It's just words," Kipanek told the commission.
Like many witnesses, Kipanek reached deep into his memory to recall the joy of being a little boy, gliding over the snow on a dog sled with his father.
And he gave the commission a rhapsodic description of a feeling that for him will never be again.
"The sound of the dogs and the sled going over the snow, it was just beautiful. It was music, like the sound of a violin."
When the Eden-like innocence of those days vanished, Kipanek found himself in a world where non-Inuit dominated every aspect of life, treating Inuit as inferior beings who had no choice but to submit to their power.
"I often thought, did they feel as if they were gods?"
That included the officious teacher who tried to stifle his curiosity after he picked up a dictionary he found in a classroom.
"The teacher took it away from me, saying I'm not supposed to use the dictionary."
To make amends for the damage done in that time, Kipanek said the federal government should apologize to the Inuit and erect a monument to commemorate the historic contributions of Inuit and their dogs.
He pointed out that explorers even used Inuit dogs to reach the South Pole, but that Inuit have never received any recognition for the work they did as guides and knowledge-givers.
Above all, though, he says Canada should apologize to the Inuit, in the same way that Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to residential school survivors on June 11.
"The rest of the world needs to know what they did to us."