Canada apologizes to Qikiqtani Inuit for sled dog killings, relocations

“Life can go on now”

John Amagoalik, sometimes known as the “father of Nunavut,” stands in front of a QIA poster at Wednesday’s apology ceremony at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn with a photo of himself and his quote: “In order for forgiveness to be given there must be truth and an acknowledgement of what happened.” (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

It was standing room only at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn when Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, apologized to Qikiqtani Inuit on Wednesday, Aug. 14.

Bennett apologized on behalf of the federal government for colonial practices imposed on Inuit from 1950 to 1975, including sled dog killings, forced relocations and family separation.

“Without any consultation, and often without any clear explanation, the Government of Canada promised Qikiqtani Inuit a better life by beginning to administer southern solutions on the northern way of life. However, in reality, we forced the removal of your children, robbed you of independence, and did not treat you with the dignity you have always deserved,” Bennett said.

This mistreatment was documented by the Qikiqtani Truth Commission from 2007 to 2010, through interviews with almost 350 witnesses during 16 public hearings across the region.

The apology comes in response to the commission’s final report, released nearly 10 years ago in 2010.

QIA flew in 40 elders from across Nunavut’s Qikiqtaaluk region to attend the apology.

“As the Qikiqtani Truth Commission outlined in its final report, the changes to Inuit life from 1950 to 1975 were rapid and dramatic,” Bennett said.

Crown Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett and QIA president P.J. Akeeagok sign the memorandum of understanding between QIA and the Government of Canada as part of Wednesday’s apology to Qikiqtani Inuit. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

“We failed to provide you with proper housing, adequate medical care, education, economic viability and jobs. We took away your independence by imposing our own priorities and forcing you to survive in a difficult environment and in locations that were not of your choosing, nor your traditional home.”

Others who spoke at Wednesday’s apology included former Nunavut premier Eva Aariak, Qikiqtani Inuit Association President P.J. Akeeagok, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Aluki Kotierk.

Bennett also announced a memorandum of understanding between the QIA and the Government of Canada to work in partnership in response to the commission’s findings.

That partnership includes $15 million for QIA’s legacy fund, over $2 million for Inuit history and governance programs, and over $1.2 million for a travel and healing program for Inuit affected by the Dundas Harbour relocation and the closing of Kivitoo, Paallavvik and south camp communities.

Another $2.9 million will be dedicated to a qimmiit revitalization program, with $100,000 being given annually to the Nunavut Quest sled dog race from 2020 to 2027.

“We recognize and pay tribute to Inuit resilience. It is my hope that we will rebuild trust and embark upon sincere efforts towards achieving Saimaqatigiingniq,” Bennett said.

Saimaqatigiingniq refers to when past opponents get back together, meet in the middle, and are at peace.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett delivers Canada’s official apology to Qikiqtani Inuit for forced relocations, sled dog killing and family separations that occurred from 1950 to 1975. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

Listening to Bennett and others speak that afternoon, Pangnirtung elder Joanasie Qappik, 83, said when an apology such as this one is made, it influences everyone.

“When there is forgiveness, then everyone comes into peace,” he said in Inuktitut.

“When there’s been a conflict, whether it be about the dogs, relocation, or any type of issue that is surrounding the problem … until there’s apology, everyone around them will be feeling it, the animosity.”

Qappik said although the apology took many years to happen, he feels forgiveness was needed.

“The way it was done, through the Inuit way, they’ve always dealt with issues like that, to get to the point and that’s what we felt today…. Apologizing the Inuit way in order to reconcile.”

“Now that there’s been an apology, we can now say that [we] are no longer worried.”

Simon Nattaq, an Iqaluit city councillor originally from Hall Beach, said his father’s sled dogs were killed by RCMP.

“Instead of becoming angry about it, instead of fighting back, what we chose to do was peacefully to work it out such as how we dealt with it today. What you witnessed today,” he said in Inuktitut.

“Everyone who was here witnessing the apology was at peace, they seemed peaceful and content.”

“Life can go on now,” he said.

QIA president P.J. Akeeagok presents Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett with a gift during Wednesday’s apology ceremony. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

Madeleine Redfern, Iqaluit’s mayor and the former executive director of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, said the commission heard that the history of mistreatment of Qikiqtani Inuit is complex.

“There is no single experience,” she said.

“There were so many times where people had experienced such a tremendous amount of harm, whether it was being removed and separated from their family to be sent down south for tuberculosis treatment, not knowing where your loved ones were.”

Bennett’s apology marks the third apology the federal government has made to Nunavut Inuit this year. In January, Bennett apologized in Arviat for the federal government’s forced relocations of the Ahiarmiut between 1949 and 1959.

In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized in Iqaluit for the mistreatment of Inuit tuberculosis patients the decades following the 1940s.

But Wednesday’s apology was necessary, Redfern said.

“It took this long for the recognition and the realization that an apology is needed and necessary. At the same time, I remember a Cape Dorset elder saying that you can’t demand an apology…. That an apology needs to be sincere, and it comes from the person or the entity that has done wrong,” she said.

“So in many ways I do believe, despite the fact that it has taken 12 years, it’s much more meaningful if it really is sincere.”

Redfern also said she felt a sense of hope in the room during the ceremony.

“For many, many Inuit, this is a step in a process. A necessary one. A difficult one. There’s a lot of hope that this will be the beginning of true change.”

Although the truth commission was only required to produce one report from its findings, it produced several sub-reports in addition to histories of the 13 Qikiqtani communities.

That information, Redfern said, is critical in order to move forward.

“The legacy of this commission is that body of work. And it came from Inuit sharing their most traumatic and painful experiences to an Inuit commission. I think that was significant.”

“It’s not going to be easy. Reconciliation is not just words. Reconciliation is not just a single event. It’s an ongoing evolution of the relationship. A commitment to do better. And it is a shared history. And it’s a shared reality. And it’s a shared future,” she said.

  • The federal government's apology to Qikiqtani Inuit was an emotional event, delivered on August 14 by Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations. The event featured many speakers, including Qikiqtani Inuit Association President P.J. Akeeagok and elder Joanasie Qappik. (Photos by Kahlan Miron)
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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by Ron Brault on

    One small step at a time,,progress is slow,hopefully it is meaningful.Kee
    p working at it.

  2. Posted by Neverending on

    These things have already been apologized for. The liberals are just doing it again because an election is coming, and apparently they think inuit are easily manipulated into voting liberal for endless pandering and handouts.

    The people of Grise Fiord and Resolute are probably the happiest and most functional communities in Nunavut. The first years were hard, but that is true for any people who relocated over history, and it’s just not true that they were forced to move, that is activist rhetoric. Do inuit really expect a life that has no struggles or diffiulties, ever? That’s not historically how they lived, there were countless challenges that they faced, year after year.

    • Posted by Moving forward on

      No they have not! Show us when and where the federal government apologized to the Inuit of Qikiqtaaluk?

      Your knowledge of our history is inaccurate and limited based on your tantrum.

      Acknowledging the wrongs committed only helps us move forward, if we don’t learn from the past things like this will happen.

      In today’s day and age it is hilarious and sad at the same time reading all the ignorance and intolerance from people outside of Nunavut, thinking we are so privileged for receiving a apology that should of happened long ago, when we see these kinds of comments still today it shows us all the level of thinking is still very low and that much more education and knowledge is still needed today to move out from this mentality that some of you still hold towards Inuit and other indigenous people.

      Congratulations QIA and the region for your hard work and the Liberal government for seeing this through.

    • Posted by Just Beginning on

      Neverending, please explain to me how these things have already been apologized for? How could they have apologized for something that they originally refused to acknowledge ever happened? The dog slaughter has finally been acknowledged in the Baffin thanks to QIA’s independent work. I don’t know how meaningful the apology was to our elders who are still with us, but it’s been acknowledged and apologized for, FINALLY. Here’s hoping the other regions won’t have to commission their own independent work in order to receive that apology as well. As for the relocations, I would love to see you say they didn’t happen to actual relocatees. You have no idea the damage those relocations did. They experienced the kinds of hardships that would probably make someone of your ilk wet your pants. Go and sit with real people who had these experiences and ask them what it was like, educate yourself, and form your opinions based on their accounts of their personal and very real histories.

  3. Posted by Over the rainbow on

    Once again the privileged Inuit get money !
    I am Inuk when do I get my share ?
    A lot of dogs were killed because the owners had bought
    skidoo and we’re letting them starve.
    People could have stayed on the land if they wanted to.
    Don’t believe everything our greedy organizations , and
    selfish people tell you.

    • Posted by Malcolm on

      I think most of us know who the privileged ones are in Canada but good try.

  4. Posted by Bert Rose on

    Congratulations to the people that now live in Qikiqtarjuaq.
    It has been a difficult job getting recognition for the damages done in the closing of Padloping and Kivitoo.
    joanne and I lived with you and shared your pain in those troubled times
    Umilialuk.

  5. Posted by I wish on

    I wish my mother was here to be at this event. She would tell me stories of experiencing RCMP coming over to their camp and shooting all their dogs. This effected her so much. She cried at times when telling the story.
    Let’s move forward…my mother taught me to always try and move forward, but not to forget.

  6. Posted by iWonder on

    Dear Greed; what is motivating all this emotion and anger you are pouring out? Why does it bother you so much that an apology was offered for something you probably have no real personal experience with or understanding of? Your reaction seems disproportionate and strange to me.

  7. Posted by REALLY Nunatsiaq?? on

    This is censorship at it’s best. You only post what you think you want people to hear. Don’t have a comments section at all if you don’t want people to speak the truth.

  8. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    I was the last teacher in Paallarvik (Padloping Island) and was there when the coercive meetings between government and Inuit took place (in my classroom, the only public meeting place in the community) in the spring of 1968. These led to the unfortunate closure of that wonderful community later that spring. I moved back to Qikiqtarjuaq (then Broughton Island), and all except one of the Paallarvingmiut moved there too. A very sad story.

  9. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    I am mystified by the inclusion of a Dundas Harbour relocation in the news report. Certainly, Inuit were relocated to, and then from, Dundas Harbour in the 1930s, but the relocations were done by the Hudson’s Bay Company, not the government.

  10. Posted by Northern Fender on

    Not a Liberal supporter, but this apology is something that I completely support. I am always completely aghast at the decisions made by the governing elite from this time in respect to indigenous affairs, and when I am curious as to why the good people in the general public did not speak up, It seems that there was a general apathy and lack of knowledge. Kudos to the people that worked so hard on this, and I truly hope that we can build on this and maybe someday achieve reconciliation.

  11. Posted by Kinmiit on

    It happened not only there but in other communities, don’t cry over spilled milk. It’s history-it happened, learn from it and move on. I may as well sue for being Inuk, for my hair being black, my skin brown, my English not perfect, sounds like one too many apologies and compensation. Thought Inuit are suppose to be resilient and forgiving instead of squeezing every little bit of money as you can from the Federal Government-opportunist! Nunavut Land full of opportunist! Let’s see, what else can I request an apology or compensation for? Work in earnest and not seek every opportunity to gain money or recognition!

    • Posted by Inuk on

      It is much more then “squeezing every bit of money” as you say! This is part of our history and having the government live up to what they did and taking ownership of it helps us move forward and also have closure.

      I don’t get why you would attack this and try to portray Inuit as not being resilient and forgiving. I don’t get you at all, if you are a Inuk you really don’t sound like one at all.

      Maybe it is time to reconnect with Inuit.

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