Iqaluit residents grieve a tragedy far away, yet close to home

Nunavut capital holds vigil for 215 children discovered in Kamloops residential school mass gravesite

Dozens of people walked through the vigil in Iqaluit Square Friday afternoon to honour the lives of the 215 children whose bodies were found buried at a mass grave in Kamloops, B.C. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

T-shirts, shoes, stuffed animals and signs bearing slogans such as “Check every school” were among the items left in Iqaluit Square Friday afternoon during a vigil to honour the lives of the 215 children whose bodies were recently found buried on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Dozens attended the event, standing in silence for two minutes and 15 seconds at the top of each hour – to commemorate each of the children – and placing offerings in the centre of the square.

To respect pandemic precautions, the event, which ran for four hours, had no more than 50 people in the square at a time.

“Not only are we here to mourn and pay respects for these children, we want this to be a celebration of their lives and legacy we are left with,” said Rachel Michael, a service coordinator at the Arctic Children Youth Foundation, one of the organizations that put on the vigil.

“These children are sadly only a fraction of the thousands of children that were taken and never returned home.”

Tristan Kanatsiak said the gathering made him think about how the discovery in Kamloops related to how colonialism affects his community — how many more elders, for example, there could have been to talk to.

“I feel sad,” he said. “I could just imagine how our land would be with all the children that died.”

Vinnie Karetak said he went to pay his respects to the children, and as he walked among the shoes and stuffed animals, he reflected on his own loved ones.

“I thought of my six-year-old child and wondered how someone so helpless and small can be treated in such a way,” he said. “It’s inhumane.

“What happened in Kamloops, it resonated all across the country for Indigenous folks.”

Oolamie Kakkee said that the vigil made her she wonder if she had relatives that accounted for some of the 215 students who were buried.

“Somehow, in my mind, I might have cousins over there, too,” she said.

The vigil gave the opportunity for a community with a shared experience to grieve together, Kakkee said.

“I think it’s OK to gather for a bit,” she said, “just so we don’t feel so alone.”

But moving forward, people are expecting answers.

“In those days, they hardly wrote down whoever got taken away and some people don’t know where they’re buried,” Kakkee said. “There should be closure.”

Karetak spoke of the same concerns, saying that he wants the tragedies endured by Indigenous peoples to be recognized.

“Do we want the government to look at it? Of course. Do we want people to see how it affected us? Anything less would be wrong.

“If people could just see how much pain it caused and it still continues to give,” he said.

And lastly, Karetak said, there is resilience.

“I’m happy that there are survivors. I’m happy that there are people who continue to live traditionally despite all the efforts that the church and the government put us through. I’m happy that I’m able to talk to my child in Inuktitut. I’m happy that I’m able to curse at the church and at the government in my language despite all the efforts that they have [made] to stop this.”

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by Live in the present where you can actually help on

    I hope one day people get as concerned for the kids who are suffering today in Nunavut from abuse and neglect, as they do about kids who died over 100 years ago and whose cemetery got overgrown over the years and whose grave markers got overgrown or rotted away if they were made of wood, as many of them would have been.

    Do we know where every inuit child who died in the past is buried, is their grave marked, and is it recorded who they were and what they died of? We know where very few people are buried before people settled into communities, there are unmarked and unknown and forgotten graves all over Nunavut. Maybe it would be better to focus on making life better for abused and neglected kids in your own communities in 2021, rather than getting so emotional over deaths that happened over 100 years ago, and were probably from disease in the days before antibiotics and modern health care.

    Activists sure are good at manipulating people into being concerned over things they have no control over, things that ended long ago in a far away place and can never be fixed, instead of putting energy into the suffering of live people in their own communities that they could actually help.

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    • Posted by Talk to a RS Survivor. on

      This comment tells me one thing; you’ve never talked to someone who has gone through the Residential school system, nor any family members still affected by it.

      This isn’t a bootstrap situation, they were forced into these schools and robbed of their culture. That isn’t something you “just get over.”

      It’s absolutely asinine for you to even think that.

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    • Posted by Learn from the past or be doomed to repeat it on

      Dude, this was an unmarked grave so you can’t say it was an overgrown and worn down from time. It was buried like a secret meant to be forgotten, nobody is saying this takes precedence over kids today but it’s still a subject that needs to be talked about.

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  2. Posted by Not Impressed on

    Like the poster above, I remain sceptical of these events organized by our performative SJWs. They are so conspicuous in their absence when it comes to actually doing anything constructive about the terrible issues facing our own. The local activists are always focused on things that cost them nothing and not taking on the hard work to protect our people right here. All the world’s a stage, some people just like to hog the limelight.

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  3. Posted by Ultimate Warrior on

    Always good to see the Nunatsiaq Commentariat out here doing the heavy lifting of policing the performative SJWs. That’s the real hard work that needs to be served and protected.

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    • Posted by No Moniker on

      As a frequent critic of SJW non-sense, I agree with you and am embarrassed by the apparent incapacity for nuanced takes here.

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  4. Posted by Soothsayer on

    Real issues and suffering have been exposed here, and above everything else this needs to be acknowledged. If you have or have ever had young children surely you can empathize with the unbelievable and needless suffering endured by the families and the children who were victimized by the residential school system. Let’s focus our attention on that first.

    On the other hand, I agree there are people using this tragedy to position themselves and their causes in particular ways that are not necessarily justified, and while I am often critical of the shallow mimicry and performativeness of the social justice advocates around we can’t let our contrarian posture become a reflexive and habitual call to automatic cynicism either.

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  5. Posted by Somebody Better Do Something on

    Whether it’s the Social Justice Warriors or their armchair critics, someone better do something, more than just words.
    Rise up!

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