Nunavut candidates support flags remaining at half-mast on federal buildings

Would-be MPs share ideas on how government should advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

Flags on federal government buildings, including the Qimugjuk Building in Iqaluit, continue to flag at half-mast. They were lowered in May to honour Indigenous children who died at residential schools, following the identification of unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C., in May. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn

Flags on federal government property should remain at half-mast to honour Indigenous children who died at residential schools, but much more needs to be done for reconciliation, say Nunavut’s candidates for the Sept. 20 federal election.

The Canadian government has kept flags on federal buildings lowered since May, after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said it identified the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Similar announcements soon followed from other First Nations about graves at other former residential school sites. The federal government hasn’t indicated when it will raise its flags.

Conservative candidate Laura MacKenzie said many Inuit don’t understand the symbolism behind flags being placed at half-mast because it’s a western tradition and there aren’t federal buildings in some of Nunavut’s smaller communities.

“People need to be aware: what is half-mast?” she said. “That’s a federal government type of thing that was brought up north.”

MacKenzie says real action needs to happen, such as having more Inuktitut-speaking counsellors who are trained in trauma therapy, as well as better health care, safe spaces and transitional housing, and that she is prepared to work with the Conservatives on reconciliation if elected.

Liberal candidate Pat Angnakak said the Liberals have “addressed some of the concerns” but that “we have to go a bit further.”

“[Lowering the flags to half-mast is] a sign of respect,” she said. “And I think Prime Minister Trudeau making that decision, means to me, that he’s taken seriously the death of children at residential schools.”

NDP candidate Lori Idlout said she agrees that the flags on federal property should continue to be at half-mast.

“As an Inuk, I’ve felt the impacts of intergenerational trauma, I’ve seen it among my friends, among other Inuit, and I know how serious and difficult it is to go through a healing process with the residential school experiences.”

Idlout, who is currently campaigning in her hometown of Igloolik, said, if elected, she will be an advocate for “finding ways to deal with intergenerational trauma so that we have more Indigenous Canadians that are proud of their heritage, proud of their strength as Indigenous people.”

The Government of Nunavut lowered its flags to half-mast on May 30 for 215 hours — one hour for the remains of each child discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Its flags were then raised.

“The initial gesture was done to stand in solidarity with our Indigenous communities,” wrote Cate Macleod, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq Savikataaq’s press secretary, in an email. “We hope the flags at federal buildings [will] remain at half-mast as we continue to recover children at former residential school sites.”

Anyone in distress can contact the 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for emotional support and crisis referral if needed.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society emergency crisis line is also available 24/7 for counselling support: 1-800-721-0066.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Laura, Pat, & Lori. on

    I very much agree with your comments about the flags at half- mast for the graves and the
    residential school survivors.
    But why on earth are leaders and experts avoiding the abuse (sexual, verbal, & physical)
    which Inuit people put up with for decades from their own Inuit people ( some from close
    relatives ), and in their own communities ?
    The truth has to be for everyone, and all races in Canada !
    Good Luck Ladies

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  2. Posted by Lots of graves at home to search for on

    When are they going to find all the unmarked graves of inuit kids in Nunavut from bygone days? Serious question. If it matters so much that graves remain marked for all eternity, you need to set the example for that right at home in Nunavut. Flags at the territorial legislature must remain lowered until this is accomplished, or else there is some serious hypocracy going on.

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  3. Posted by Pain In The Groen on

    Did Laura really support keeping the flags at half-mast? If so, she is contradicting the words of her leader, Erin O’Toole. He said today, that we should be proud to raise our flags again and that it was time to put them back up from half-mast.

  4. Posted by WHY US EURO- FOLK. (Descendants of which we are ! ) on

    I agree with all comments in this topic, well done !
    Our leaders etc. will make a big noise about incidents very far away, but completely
    ignore the problems in their own communities.
    Flags at half-mast is many centuries old, and was initially to let people know there had been
    a tragedy on board the ship.

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  5. Posted by Enough on

    More self flaggelation or virtue signalling. Let’s just make significant gestures even more meaningless.

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  6. Posted by Simply dumb on

    Don’t people understand that you cheapen the gesture when you keep flags at half staff indefinitely. In other words, when the flags stay down forever people forget why they were put at half staff to begin with. It’s like a funeral or a moment of silence, if they go on indefinitely the point is lost. Time to put the flags back up and let’s get to work on reconciliation. It’s common sense for goodness sakes. What the matter with us?!?!

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