Canada to say sorry next month for past abuse of Inuit TB patients

It’s still unclear if PM Trudeau will fly north to deliver apology in person

Inuit wait in line for medical examinations aboard the hospital ship C.D. Howe, in a photo likely taken sometime in the 1950s. (Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University)

By Jim Bell

The federal government will likely apologize next month for the widespread suffering caused by the mistreatment of Inuit during the tuberculosis epidemics of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, a source familiar with the process confirmed with Nunatsiaq News today.

But it’s not yet clear if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will fly to Nunavut or some other northern location to deliver the long-awaited apology in person, the source said.

Carolyn Bennett, the Crown-Indigenous relations minister, had suggested to members of the Senate Special Committee on the Arctic that Trudeau will make the apology in Nunavut, part of a process called called “Nanilavut.”

“As I think you know, next month the prime minister will travel to Nunavut to give the Nanilavut apology,” Bennett said Feb. 4.

But that’s still not firm — because the Prime Minister’s Office is still working out details of the project, the source said.

Nanilavut is a commitment that Trudeau, federal cabinet ministers and leaders of the four Inuit Nunangat regional Inuit organizations agreed to at a meeting in Iqaluit held in February 2017, when together they formed the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with ITK President Natan Obed and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in Iqaluit in February 2017, when they signed the partnership agreement that contained a federal commitment to respond to the mistreatment of Inuit during the tuberculosis epidemic of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Carolyn Bennett, the Crown-Indigenous relations minister, told members of the Senate Special Committee on the Arctic on Feb. 4 that the “Nanilavut apology” will occur next month. (File photo)

And this past October, officials from Bennett’s CIRNAC department told delegates at the annual general meeting of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. that the Nanilavut initiative will be more than just an apology.

That means it will include measures, which have already started, aimed at helping Inuit find the graves of family members who were transported to southern Canada for TB treatment between the 1940s and the 1960s.

During that period, about one-third of the Inuit population living in Canada became infected with TB, the Canadian Public Health Association has estimated.

Between 1950 and 1969, many Inuit were sent south aboard the Coast Guard vessel C.D. Howe, a multi-use hospital and passenger ship that made annual tours of the eastern Arctic.

The late Robert Williamson, a widely respected anthropologist and territorial politician, wrote when he sailed north on the C.D. Howe in 1953, that the “ship was deep in misery.”

“It was terrible because it was the ship which carried the Inuit away from their homes to the sanatoria in the south. And they were herded together in the foc’sle, in the hold of the ship in three-tiered bunks, mass-fed, mass-accommodated. In the stormy seas they were sick, they were terrified, they were demoralized,” Williamson is quoted as saying in Long Way from Home: The Tuberculosis Epidemic, a 1994 book about that period written by Pat Sandiford Grygier.

In 1956, it’s estimated that about one-seventh of all Inuit living in Canada were languishing in southern sanatoriums and hospitals.

The average length of stay was two-and-a-half years, but some stayed longer and many Inuit never came home.

The families of those Inuit TB patients who died in the south were often not informed of those deaths, and many Inuit were buried in unmarked pauper’s graves.

So the Nanilavut process will include helping Inuit families gain access to records of their missing loved ones and ancestors, as well as a database and other supports, federal officials said last October.

The database is already well under way and the regional Inuit organizations across Inuit Nunangat have been hiring staff to expand its work.

At the same time, various groups, and individual families, have for years been engaged in the task of identifying Inuit who died in southern Canada while receiving treatment for tuberculosis.

For example, in 2010, members of the United Church located in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, southwest of Montreal, identified 15 Inuit buried in Kahnawake’s Protestant cemetery, and erected a monument in their memory.


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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Lazarusie Epoo on

    What they probably dont want you to know is all the clinical trials done on our people. My grandma said they were using all sorts of medication that wasnt proved to have effect on TB during the time they gave it to us. We were lab rats for their experiments.

  2. Posted by Nunavutmiutaq on

    Does this include the people that were picked up by a DC4 (or similar aircraft) in Kivalliq (Arviat)? Oh my heart.

  3. Posted by Lazarusie Epoo on

    Probably why her TB kept coming back 8 times within a 20 year span. Which led to her death due to respiratory issues.

  4. Posted by Anonymous on

    Another Heartless Apology from your Canada’s Prime Minister who does not really care about the Inuit living throughout Canada.
    He apologized to the Labrador Inuit a couple of years ago and crocodile tears came from his eyes.
    Do not Believe anything coming out of a Politicians mouth.
    It’s all Lies.

  5. Posted by Joanne Illuitok Ruben on

    My late mom was sent down to Edmonton for treatment back in 1950’s for 5 years,
    She once said that they weren’t allowed to touch the floor and stay in bed for 5 years. And had cast from head to her hip.

  6. Posted by Nunavutlady on

    Even my late Mother inlaw, she said they werent allowed to move not even an inch if they do they would get hit with a stick not even to go on the floor ????????

  7. Posted by It happened to all races on

    Inuit need to know that being taken away to sanitoriums was not some special treatment inflicted only on them. There were no effective antibiotics for TB at the time, and many families of all races were separated at this time all over Canada and elsewhere. Sanitoriums were often far away, even for those not living in wilderness areas like the Inuit were.

    Removing infected people from homes and communities helped prevent the disease from spreading to those not yet infected, and saved the lives of many. It was the best they could do at the time, they weren’t doing it to be mean, and it had nothing to do with race.

    • Posted by Oh Ima on

      sure keep believing that, it had everything to do with race, Inuit and First Nations were seen as less equal and still to this we are seen as less than human. If it had nothing to do with race, the Government will do everything to make sure TB patients sent to Sanitoriums were sent back home properly and treated with respect.

  8. Posted by Bernie Uluadluak on

    I’m one of the survivors of the Tuberculosis epidemic, I was sent to Clearwater Lake, MB. I am scarred to this day. Awful scary place to be there especially that young 7yrs old in 1968, I was there alone in my room for a year, only the nurses and doctors would come around…

    • Posted by Arviatmiutaq on

      My big brother too was sent out for 5 years. According to my late mother, he came home lost his Inuktituut language, never really got back to living normal in a northern Inuit community.

  9. Posted by Anonymous on

    “They didnt mean harm????????” Why did the Dr. Sexually Abuse us 8 yr olds and probably under when we had no clue why he was doing it!!! I have been demonized mentally and angered upto todau reading this report and comments!!! I’m not the only one will Trudeau mske and take away the lifelong scars that we have had to live with! UGLIES!!!

  10. Posted by Lucy on

    Makivik office had a long list of burial locations of those who never returned home. To this day, many don’t know where their family members died and were buried. They are in empty lots with no headstones or crosses, just green grass, flat

    You can get their names searched if you don’t know. That’s how we found out our late grandfather’s lot was located.

  11. Posted by Kumaarjuk Pii on

    I’m looking on behalf of my deased parents and for my peace for their son Ashevak who went down south for tb and never returned .

  12. Posted by Kinguvaaguvunga on

    I am kinguvaaq to my grandmother whom I am named after. She was sent to Moose Factory, Ontario in 1960’s. And she passed away in April 13th, 1966; was buried there. She was not buried by her families and relatives. She was treated for TB for 5 years and she was NOT allowed to step-off the bed! Can you imagined that?

    I wish I could go see her burial area.

    • Posted by Logic on

      If your grandmother never returned after being sent out for TB treatment, how would you know that she was “never allowed to step off the bed” during a 5-year period? That’s really unlikely. At that time, bed rest was the best treatment they had for TB and patients were kept from moving around a lot, but nobody was held in beds for 5 years without ever getting up. Even if people weren’t able to walk, they still had wheelchairs and lounge chairs for them. My grandfather was in a TB sanitorium.

      It’s sad to see all this activist propaganda getting accepted as fact by our politicians and never challenged, just so they can score political points by issuing apologies for things that happened long ago, and the other side is never heard from, because the activists are careful to only challenge events where the people who really know what went on are all dead.

  13. Posted by rick on

    Think of this.. the federal government had the option of not treating TB patients and letting TB spread among Inuit and probably they’d be extinct by now. The government’s intentions were clearly good and they went with what deemed the best solution at the time. Unfortunately, some of the individuals responsible for carrying out the tasks abused their positions – probably still happens nowadays but at a way lower scale. This does not fit with the rhetoric of we are victims, apologize and apologize, give us money money!

  14. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    I had TB myself and I know many others who also had TB and got sent out in my community It was not a great experience to have to leave my family to go for treatment, my language suffered for a while but fortunately I was able to get it back when I came home and I was lucky I survived and was able to come home.. Some of the hospital staff were not nice but others were nice. I never got prevented from getting off the bed. No one abused me sexually or physically. I don’t understand how people would be able to walk if they had to stay in bed for 2-5 years. Your muscles would be no more good. I feel for people who might have suffered when they were taken out for treatment but sometimes I wonder if people are telling the real truth. Sometimes I know people make up things because they think they will get money for it. I remember when people from my community were saying all their dogs were killed by the cops but I know that never happened. I think it might have happened in some places because of rabies or disease but they never did it here but people say it did because they got on the bandwagon to try to get some money for it. I just wished people would tell the truth.

    • Posted by Allie Salluviniq on

      I was send to Brandon Manitoba for TB about 1954 when I was about 5 yrs. old. I never had any unusual or bad experiences from Dr. or Nurses. In fact when I finally went back home 2 yrs. later, a nurse from the hospital sent me some colouring books. Yes, wasn’t allowed to get off be for I don’t know how long but later on, I was allowed to walk around. Guess part of healing process was plenty of rest in bed. When I went home, I had to take many medications that time. On another point, about dog slaughter, I have not witnessed it my self but I know someone whose dogs were all shot dead by RCMP when they were tied up. The daughter of the Anglican Lay Minister told this incident yrs. later as the father had passed on earlier. They had just came back from a hunting trip and had just tied up the dogs not far from their house and when they went into their house, not long after they heard gun shots from outside so went out to see what was going on. All the dogs had been shot by RCMP as the RCMP vehicle was just driving away. Of course the dog owners were devastated .

  15. Posted by Jack Anawak on

    I hope this will finally give me a chance to seriously look for my Ukuaq (mom) who might be buried at The Pas but have not had the necessary funds to take a trip there. I was informed by my cousin Veronica Manilak that she was at The Pas with my bio mom Avaqsaaq when they were informed that my Ukuaq had passed away by then Father Lacroix who later became the Bishop for the Hudson Bay and would be buried at The Pas . This measure gives me hope that I can finally find the last resting place for my Ukuaq who passed away on March 8 1958 when I was seven years old.

  16. Posted by johnny manning on

    These people in the picture must be Pudlat Pootoogook, Sanniq, Pia and salomonie, and probably Egevalu Pootoogook

  17. Posted by Anna on

    In loving memory of my grandmother I never met.

  18. Posted by Kinguvaaq on

    In 1940’s -1960’s; Inuit used to be “YES” answers/attitudes to white people. They were just listeners, afraid of white people, etc. And that they thought they had no rights or human rights at the time. They were also puppets to the nurses at the time. So i have heard that my grandmother was in that situation in 1960’s as well as with other fellow Inuit; I bet.

    So with my families and close relatives, the government of Canada better of to be open to those who lost loved ones and their bodies were not returned.

  19. Posted by Lizzie on

    I think if both my parents were to get interview they’d tell you story about how they were treated sad stories and how they were treated! thank goodness that’ll never happen to us at least we know the some law.

  20. Posted by Story on

    I survived the war.
    Some of my friends didn’t.
    Many people have trauma.
    There is chaos and pain here.
    I try to keep going.
    I am strong and resilient.

    Once I met a family,
    was suffering with a disease,
    incurable before.
    With the resources and knowledge,
    I did what I could at the time:
    Some did not live,
    Some survived but with deep scars,
    and some healed.
    Everything did not go perfectly,
    There were some good helpers,
    There were some bad helpers.
    Many people have trauma.
    There is chaos and pain here.

    Looking back, many things
    should have been approached
    in a different way.
    I tried to do something.
    The family survives.
    Time is starting over.
    We try to keep going.

  21. Posted by Reality on

    It’s disturbing that Justin Trudeau is trying to score political points for apologizing for Inuit being given the very same medical care as any other Canadian. Decades ago, removing people from the community to prevent the spread of TB was done in mainstream communities too, it was done all across Canada. They couldn’t use the drugs we have now, they hadn’t been invented yet. Lots of non-inuit also died of TB.

    As for the indignation that people don’t know where their relatives are buried … do you know where all the rest of your ancestors are buried? Inuit didn’t carry bodies long distances back then either, you stayed where you died, and so did mainstream Canadians, unless they were very rich. I hate how people are being convinced by activists and media that they were being treated badly, when they were not. Mainstream Canadians did not put all that effort into treating the Inuit for TB just to be mean, they did it to help, and they did the best they could with the technologies of the time.

  22. Posted by Paul Aliktiluk on

    To them. The nurses, I was a dog and a sexual abuse puppet! – Here is what I wrote back in 2011
    Kieron-Leo Mary-anne Paulie
    September 20, 2011 ·
    Life at the Sanitorium
    I was born and raised here in Arviat Nunavut Back in January 20th 1960 – in the Hudson Bay staff house here in Arviat – which use to be called Eskimo Point NWT back then. I was sent out to (Clear water Lake and Ninette Manitoba) for TB treatment when I was just a toddler. I was with some other bunch of kids from around the territory. I remember some of them and they live here in Arviat too., I recently talked to some and I see that they were abused like me., From what I remember in the sanitorium – I use to be taken to the washroom and tied to a chain with a collar around my neck like a dog and they use to put a padlock on to it so I would not get unhold from it., The chain was chained to the wall where I could not get a hold of it because it was so high., The reason why I was done that is because I puked my medication because I could not hold it down in my stomach because it was too strong., They use to give me a bowl and a spoon and a piece of cardboard paper and let me pick my puke back and put it in the bowl and the nurses there use to tell me to eat it or else they will spank me very much – I had to listen because they were big and mean. When they took me to the washroom they would pull down my pajamas and fondle my boyhood and stick their fingers up my rearend and the pain was unbearable it hurt so much going in. Recently I found a picture of me as toddler which was taken in that hospital and as soon as I saw it I trembled like crazy and tears came out fast., the memory of it all that just came to me just like it just happened. it was an on going thing while I was down there and when I went home finally I told my parents when they were alive and yet they could not believe me and said don’t say such things like that, nurses would never do a thing like that. They both died without bringing back the subject I had told them and all this time up to date I am hurting crying out for help silently in my heart with no one to heal my pains. – I went to hell and survived it is how I describe the place.

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