Inuit youth shine at Ottawa university symposium

‘I want to see more unapologetic Inuit, standing up for their rights,’ Kimmirut’s Lexie Padluq says

A Feb. 25 Carleton University symposium on the High Arctic relocations featured a youth panel hosted by law and human rights student Aliqa Illauq, top left, and featuring, clockwise from Illauq, Siku Rojas, Megan Dicker Nochasak, Lizzietina Nowkawalk Echalook, and Lexie Padluq, with interpreter for the hearing impaired, bottom middle. (Screenshot of Carleton University Centre for Indigenous Initiatives symposium)

By Lisa Gregoire

If you’re looking for proof of Inuit resilience, or hope for the future of Inuit society, you would have found plenty of both during a daylong, online event hosted by Carleton University’s Centre for Indigenous Initiatives in Ottawa.

Entitled, “The Inuit Relocations: Intergenerational Impacts and Inuit Resilience,” the sold-out virtual summit of predominantly female Inuit leaders, academics, students and performers drew hundreds of online participants Feb. 25 and featured high-profile keynote speakers such as climate and human rights advocate Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, celebrated author of The Right To Be Cold, delivers her keynote address. (Screenshot of Carleton University Centre for Indigenous Initiatives symposium)

But some of the most memorable insights came at the end of the day, during a panel of Inuit youth.

“Our generation is following the footsteps of those who came before and having a bit more space to follow our aspirations and dreams,” said Siku Rojas, 18, of Iqaluit.

Rojas was one of four youth who shared their thoughts on identity, pride, culture and education during a discussion hosted by Clyde River-born Aliqa Illauq, a fourth-year student in Carleton’s law and human rights program.

Rojas told the panel about their hopes for the next generation of Inuit.

“Not just being inspired and having aspirations,” they said.

“That’s hard to obtain when you’re thinking of basic needs like food and shelter. But if we, as a generation, work with each other, and care for one another, the next generation will be able to unleash the strongest Inuit spirit, to be our ultimate selves.”

Kimmirut’s Lexie Padluq said her culture makes her a better version of herself, partly because of the pride she feels in her ancestors’ abilities and accomplishments. Padluq is a second-year Nunavut Sivuniksavut student working toward a degree in Indigenous Studies at Trent University.

“In the future,” she said, when asked about her hopes for the next generation, “I want to see more unapologetic Inuit, standing up for their rights and not accepting anything less than anyone else.”

Megan Dicker Nochasak, 22, from Nain, Nunatsiavut, said she carries with her the strength of those who came before.

“I’m proud of how resilient we are, how we bounce back,” she said.

“We have endured so much within our culture but we’re still here today, to talk about these things.”

Dicker Nochasak’s grandparents were relocated from Hebron and Nutak, Labrador, in the 1950s to communities further south.

True to its title, the symposium began with stories about High Arctic relocations — those who were uprooted from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet and planted by the federal government in Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay in the 1950s.

Mary Flaherty set a sombre tone by sharing childhood memories of happy, traditional family life in Inukjuak and then the horrors of freezing and starving in the months-long, 24-hour darkness of a Grise Fiord winter.

Flaherty’s keynote was followed by a panel of three Inuit women who described ways in which they are promoting and regaining power, control and self-determination in their fields.

Heidi Langille, who fosters Inuit children in Ottawa and who helped found the hugely successful Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families, described getting kicked out of an Ottawa school in Grade 8 for complaining about the brief Indigenous portion of the history lesson: it mentioned only alcoholism and suicide. She’s been fighting to make space for Inuit ever since.

Peesee Pitsiulak, dean of Education, Inuit and University Studies at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, talked about the necessity of decolonizing school curricula and course materials. (Screenshot of Carleton University Centre for Indigenous Initiatives symposium.)

Peesee Pitsiulak, dean of Education, Inuit and University Studies at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, talked about the ongoing struggle to incorporate Inuit language and culture in northern school curricula and course materials.

“We have to work together as our ancestors did to make sure we are heard,” Pitsiulak said.

“If we’re going to be as strong as our ancestors were, we have to know where we come from, be proud of it, be aware of our culture, even if you don’t speak Inuktitut. Just speaking Inuktitut does not make one Inuk.”

Despite the technical challenges of hosting an online event during a pandemic — aggravated by poor northern phone and internet service that prevented one youth panelist from participating — the symposium was relatively seamless and included several pre-recorded cultural performances.

Throat-singing duo Tarniriik — Cailyn Degrandpré and Samantha Kigutak-Metcalfe — were one of three pre-recorded cultural performances showcased during the symposium. (Screenshot of Carleton University Centre for Indigenous Initiatives symposium “The Inuit Relocations: Intergenerational Impacts and Inuit Resilience.”)

The first was by Tarniriik, the young throat-singing stars who sang during Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony in 2015. Samantha Kigutaq-Metcalfe and Cailyn DeGrandpré, now high-school students in Ottawa, performed flawlessly, ending each song with a laugh and an animated high-five.

The symposium also showcased a video from Baker Lake’s Nelson Tagoona. Tagoona gave a mind-bending throat-boxing demonstration — a unique mash-up of beatboxing and throat-singing — but he also sang a haunting tune called “Living Life,” the lyrics of which he wrote during “a really hard time” at the Mamisarvik Healing Centre in Ottawa.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Resist! on

    I hope one day the inuit realize that they are not the only folks alive whose ancestors had hardship and difficult times. It’s a global phenomenon which has always existed and will never go away. Inuit have been brainwashed by activists to believe that they have been targeted and abused by others, when it’s usually not true. Not everything went perfectly in the past, but that doesn’t mean that others were trying to do harm, and inuit themselves have made a few mistakes here and there. It’s just part of being human. The future won’t be perfect either, but it will be better if people stop obsessing over narratives they are fed about the past.

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    • Posted by So true on

      Yes , indeed , Inuit are not alone in the struggle to make sense of the past wrongs. No doubt it must have been a hell for those that relocated. It would be nice if those on the symposium could indicate why only certain people went on that ship , and not others? Were they forced to go, or were they tricked into going, either way, it’s interesting why they went in the first place. Many other relocation places in Canada had the government cutting off the services to the communities that would otherwise not relocate, like in Newfoundland and Labrador, people had no choice but to go , for school for their kids , medical services and other vital services, did Inuit in inukjuaq have the same treat? I know it was for the flag too, but what really made them go?

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    • Posted by What? on

      Not sure the purpose of your comment. This symposium was an opportunity for young people to learn more about inuit history, including the disruption caused by European colonization. This disruption has a direct impact on the major issues faced by many inuit in inuit nunagat today. Why does it offend you so much that they take the time to learn their specific history? — a history that was omitted by the school system until very recently? By saying of ‘well, all people suffered’ you are actually supporting the system that seeks to deny history and that continues to create barriers for inuit. May be a good time for you to unpack your own biases.

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  2. Posted by Also served, Also entitled ! on

    I am glad for the people in this story whose families were moved from Nunavik to the
    High Arctic. I wish them well for the future.
    There is also a lot of mixed blood Inuit with strong European connections who are also
    deserving of respect because their ancestors fought for the freedom of the Western
    world in both World Wars.
    I respect the efforts of my Inuit ancestors as much as my European ancestors, but I
    wish to hear more about it on the media about European effort.

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    • Posted by My ancestors fought for country on

      My two grandfathers, plus three uncles fought in World War Two. One uncle was killed in battle at sea. We all endured hardship. Inuit are not the only people on this planet to get pushed around. But Inuit are amongst the people that seem to not be doing well in having a future of going into healing for some reason. Not enough is taught to people today about what others went through and came out with hope. Like the Jews during the war. We are all humans with unspeakable things done to us, but we owe our descendants a future with knowledge passing as to what happen, but not to allow the hurts to get into the health of our descendants, and to continue.

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  3. Posted by Noble People of Nunavut on

    Good comments on this article, but I would like to point out that N.N. has always
    welcomed comments from all people of all races.
    I remember people complaining about Inuit who were supporting seal hunting in front
    of Parliament buildings in Ottawa.
    I said to them ” If you have an issue with something you can do the same”.
    As can all races and cultures in Canada.
    If some people choose to remain silent, or shout it from the rooftops on a certain issue, then
    It is up to them.

    • Posted by I remeber that on

      The seal hunt commentary, which I took part in, was basically about the annual NS protest that had not only become very rote, but could barely be connected to any real policy or oppression, unless you count Europe closing its market to seal skin imports (which includes an exemption for indigenous products anyway, incidentally). The entire spectacle just had a real hollow ring to it.

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  4. Posted by Southerner in the North on

    The article is wholly about forced Inuit relocations. No comparison is made to the experiences of any other peoples, yet a number of commenters jumped in with “the Inuit didn’t have it so bad / or as as bad as _________ (fill in the blank)”. What a load of whale waste. I’m not well read on the forced relocations, but I’ve read enough accounts to understand that these relocations were almost universally to support political objectives and that they were traumatic experiences for the Inuit. I’ve had Inuk colleagues tell me that their family members were told by missionaries that they would “burn in Hell” if they didn’t relocate. So quit trying to minimize the Inuit experience to serve your own purposes.

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    • Posted by KABLUNARUQ ( Inuit and Celtic person) on

      All peoples in Nunavut have every right to express their opinions or stories from the past
      as much as anyone else !
      My Celtic ancestors were forced off their land by their clan chiefs over 200 years ago and
      ended up in Cape Breton.
      My Inuit ancestors were in the central Arctic.
      People who were relocated from Northern Quebec, it was known as the Starvation coast.
      Life can be very tough world wide.
      You cannot pick and choose, make the best of it.

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    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      Want to add a resounding agreement with you on this, I have found these comments quite bizarre to be honest. I believe the fashionable term here is ‘whataboutism.’

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    • Posted by Lead the horse to water on

      Man leads horse to the water hole, and forces it to drink. It seems accordingly now the missionaries were also involved in the forced relocation. I’ll caution anyone about the word forced. I’m not sure if Inuit were forced. Maybe they were lied to into believing that life will be good up on Cornwallis island , but I don’t think they were forced. I need more be information about being forced. I know many of the relocated, and never heard any of them say they were forced. It was a deceitful plan by the federal government and Inuit that left inukjuaq were taken into going, and need to own their part in that move. Don’t forget the Inuit that didn’t go, and refuse to believe.

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      • Posted by Southerner in the North on

        Oxford University Press offers one definition of “forced” as: “obtained or imposed by coercion or physical power”. Just because there was a veneer of choice and some Inuit chose not to relocate doesn’t mean there wasn’t coercion. Moreover, the Government of Canada giving Inuit a “choice” when it knew it wasn’t going to live up to its promises is yet another form of coercion. You can cut it any way you want, but Inuit were never given a fully-informed, freely-exercised honest choice about the relocations.

  5. Posted by What is wrong with honest opinions ? on

    So Pork Pie, is it only certain political Inuit, and their highly paid toady southern friends
    who are to have an opinion, in Nunavut ? Very bizarre as you say.
    There are many people in Nunavut who disagree with you !

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    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      We are all entitled to our honest opinions and should all be able to share them on this forum. I don’t begrudge you that and I hope you don’t begrudge me either. Of course we are not always going to agree, share your best reasoning and i’ll share mine, maybe we will see the world differently, maybe now. Thanks for asking.

      • Posted by honest opinions ( part2 ) on

        Thank you for your prompt and intelligent reply !
        Much appreciated !

  6. Posted by Inuk on

    I am very proud of these young Inuit ladies, they have very bright minds and will do very well in life.
    The problem I see for Inuit land is young Inuit men are to a point being left out, I am saying this without trying to take anything away from these great ladies. When some of us are noticing today is we do not see many young men in such positions or opportunities, I feel that young men are not getting the same level of support and encouragement. I wish for everyone to get support and opportunities equally. We see the violence, incarceration rates for young men, the suicide rates are highest for young men. We have moved very fast in the last 60 years and I applaud the hard work and accomplishments by today’s bright young ladies but we are starting to forget the young men. For a healthy society we need everyone to be supported. Leaving one behind will impact everyone.
    I don’t know if this is the right place to voice my concern and please I don’t mean to put a negative light on this great story or the wonderful intelligent ladies. It is just very difficult to get this conversation going and no one wants to talk about it or to take it on.

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