Apology to Qikiqtani Inuit leaves QIA president filled with hope
Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s long years of work bring a big result
On the eve of the Government of Canada’s formal apology today, Aug. 14, for its traumatizing mistreatment of Qikiqtani Inuit between 1950 and 1975, the president of the region’s representative organization said he’s filled with hope that the future will bring a new relationship between Canada and the Inuit of the Baffin region.
“It gives me so much hope. I’m really holding on to that hope and wanting to continue with the work we’re doing now,” P.J. Akeeagok, the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, told Nunatsiaq News in an interview, done on Aug. 13, one day prior to the embargoed announcement.
Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, delivered the apology this afternoon in Iqaluit, along with announcements of $20 million in financial commitments aimed at helping the Inuit of the Qikiqtani region start the process of healing from the traumas of the modern-day colonial period.
Those include coercive relocations, the abusive treatment of Inuit children in federal day schools and residential schools, inadequate housing in the new settlements that people were forced into, and the widespread killing of Inuit dogs.
“These were not just isolated incidents. These were systematic incidents,” Akeeagok said.
Truth commission’s work led to apology
All of this was documented by the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, an Inuit-run body that from 2007 to 2010 gathered evidence from 345 witnesses at 16 public hearings held throughout the region, along with extensive archival research.
Headed by James Igloliorte, a retired judge from Nunatsiavut, the commission released the first version of its final report in 2010, followed by another in 2013, along with a package of special studies, thematic reports and histories for each of the 13 communities in the Qikiqtani region.
The word “saimaqatigiingniq,” part of the title of the commission’s main report “Achieving Saimaqatigiingniq,” represents the idea of a new relationship, “when past opponents get back together, meet in the middle, and are at peace.”
And to get there, the QTC made 25 recommendations, most aimed at the federal government, divided into four themes: acknowledging and healing past wrongs, strengthening Inuit governance, strengthening Inuit culture, and creating healthy communities.
But Akeeagok said that can’t start without the first step: acknowledging and healing past wrongs, which is why the apology is the most important part of the package.
“So the priority has always been that apology and that acknowledgment of the findings,” Akeeagok said.
Nunavut Quest to get funding boost
In addition, the QIA and the federal government have negotiated a set of concrete measures that will help compensate for the damage inflicted in the past.
One is a $15-million payment that will go into QIA’s legacy fund, for use in restoring language, culture and identity loss over the long term.
Another contribution of about $5 million will provide immediate funding over two years, Akeeagok said.
That includes $2 million for Inuit governance and history programs, and $2.9 million for a qimmit revitalization program
As part of that, the annual Nunavut Quest dog team race, organized every year by Baffin communities, will get a big funding boost: $100,000 a year in an annual sponsorship for each year from 2020 to 2027.
“It really helps celebrate our pride in our identity and our culture. I feel it’s going to be a significant investment,” Akeeagok said.
The subject of a six-part documentary series produced by Piksuk Media in 2012 and shown on APTN, the Nunavut Quest race was first organized in Arctic Bay in 1999 to recognize the importance of sled dogs, or qimmit, within Inuit culture.
That issue is important to QIA, because it’s the slaughter of qimmit during the 1950s and 1960s that gave rise to what eventually became the Qikiqtani Truth Commission.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, QIA and Makivik Corp. in Nunavik started to demand a public inquiry into the past killing of Inuit dogs during the colonial period between 1950 and 1975.
As part of that effort, the QIA began collecting testimony from Inuit in the region.
“The killing of qimmit was a focal point of why the truth commission came about,” Akeeagok said.
Eventually, the QIA and Makivik took different approaches to the issue and, in 2007, the Qikiqtani organization decided to fund and organize the Qikiqtani Truth Commission.
But its mandate went well beyond the killing of Inuit dogs. James Igloliorte, known as “Judge Jim,” was given the authority to look into all of the traumatizing events of the past.
Healing activities for relocatees
Other funding, $1.2 million, will go to a travel and healing fund for Inuit affected by coercive relocations.
The truth commission specifically identified and documented four such involuntary movements of people: the Dundas Harbour relocations, plus the closure of the Kivitoo, Paallavvik (Padloping Island) and South Camp (Belcher Islands) communities.
But that does not rule out work on other relocations not included in that list, Akeeagok said.
“There are many more relocations we are aware of. It doesn’t close the door to others.”
For the future, the QIA and the federal government have signed a memorandum of understanding to continue work on the Saimaqatigiingniq process.
“We will continue to have a discussion to push for more, because we realize that there is a lot more opportunity to close the gap caused by the losses that we face,” he said.
Akeeagok said he’s pleased to have played a “small part” in the process that led to today’s apology, but he said that it could not have happened without strong leadership from Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and from Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
And he singled out a list of Inuit who for years worked for the truth commission and made it successful: Joe Attagutaaluk, Larry Audlaluk, Phillip Paneak, Stevie Audlakiak, Joanasie Karpik, as well as James Igloliorte and Madeleine Redfern, the executive director of the truth commission, and others.
“True partnership brought forward the announcement that’s going to happen tomorrow,” Akeeagok said.