Search begins for graves of Inuit who left for TB treatment and never returned

NTI will arrange travel for two family members and provide grave markers

Inuit children with tuberculosis are seen in school at the Mountain Sanatorium in Hamilton, Ontario. They were among the many Inuit removed from their communities between the 1940s and 1960s to receive TB treatment. (Johanna Rabinowitz Collection, Archives of Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation and the Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University.)

By Courtney Edgar

After last week’s long-awaited federal apology to Inuit for historical trauma the Canadian government caused in its treatment of Inuit with tuberculosis between the 1940s and 1960s, the Nanilavut project officially began.

The database went live on Friday, March 8. By Wednesday, March 13, a first gravesite was found through the initiative.

Any Inuit seeking help to locate the burial sites of their lost loved ones who never returned after leaving for TB treatment during those years can contact Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. or the regional centre where they are a beneficiary.

Once a gravesite has been found, NTI will arrange travel for two family members and provide a grave marker for the site.

Officials from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami say these trips will likely be scheduled once the snow has melted so that gravesites are more accessible. Some have plaques already but some may need one.

In addition, the Inuit organization has set up mental health resources for those who participate and need support. Mental health workers from Ilisaqsivik, Pulaarvik Kablue and Cambridge Bay Wellness Centre are involved.

A 9,000-record database

The Nanilavut project has been planned and organized since 2010.

The federal government announced $27.5 million in funding over five years to support an Inuit-specific approach to tuberculosis elimination. This includes funding for enhanced prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of TB and latent TB infection.

However, the Nanilavut project is a different initiative and, according to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, “the exact funding figures for this recently launched initiative are not yet available.”

CIRNAC has confirmed to Nunatsiaq News that federal funding for Nanilavut “is and will be provided to the four land claims organizations for the range of supports for families and Inuit communities.” This funding will go toward project managers for Nanilavut, regional and community-based events and monuments across Inuit Nunangat, travel support, enhancements to gravesites, as well as health support and tuberculosis awareness.

Since 2010, a working group has been researching and inputting data and hospital records into a database.

The database will be added to as new information becomes available.

According to ITK, family members can still submit records and information to add to the database now.

The current count is about 9,000 named records in the database. But these records may include some duplicates with different spellings of the same name or refer to the same person with a different name, officials at ITK explained.

Each record includes varying degrees of information about where the person was sent and when, medical records and if there is information about a death or burial.

The process

Now, project managers have been hired at nearly all of the regional centres, says Shirley Dagg, project coordinator for Nanilavut at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

She has been working on the file since January 2018.

Anyone interested can submit an inquiry form, which Nanilavut staff will use to verify those who register are related to the person whose information they are seeking.

Then they fill out a consent form.

Family members cannot access the database themselves. Only the Nanilavut project managers will have access to it, in order to ensure confidentiality.

Dagg says the search process can take anywhere from one week to four weeks after someone contacts the regional organization. This can be done in person, by phone or by fax.

“Once the project manager completes the search they will provide the information for the person,” said Dagg.

“But it’s only what’s been collected. Some may lead to cemeteries … some may lead to a dead end.”

Still, Dagg knows this project is an important step to many Inuit across the country and encourages anyone with questions about family members who never came home to contact their regional organizations.

Inuit who are living in urban centres like Montreal, Ottawa or Winnipeg can also get help to seek answers and closure with Nanilavut.

Any Inuit in Canada can call the office of the region where they are a beneficiary to seek answers.

“It’s a dark part of Canada’s history, but it is a first step to begin the healing process to put closure to the dark memories,” Dagg said.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jeannie weetaltuk on

    I would like to find my grandma grave Martha tuckatuck or it may say masta tukattak she was never returned as my father(Rupert weetaltuk) says he he died still wondering where she was buried

  2. Posted by Eva Arragutainaq on

    Charlie Ouyerak died from tb , my father Johnassie Arragutainaq went there with a group of people but he never found his grave and they made up one for him . I remember my father coming home upset for not finding and told my mother he didn’t find him. Now I want to find this grave , I wanna know why we are punished for what he did . We are forever punished because of what he did .

    • Posted by Rob M Adams on

      Eva, I feel that you might be right and I sense your hurt and pain.

      What is in your life that still generates this feeling of being punished?

  3. Posted by Knowing on

    Are inuit going to catalogue all the people who died around the same time back home in Nunavut and are buried out on the land? And all those who died before them? I am glad people will find out where their relatives are buried, but to put it in perspective, people have always died, and nomads did not travel long distances to bury relatives in cemeteries. Communication back then was difficult, no phones up north, mail was infrequent, people were nomads still out on the land. It’s not the horrible injustice that everyone is making it out to be. They did what they could to save people’s lives and protect the people back home who weren’t sick yet. They buried people in cemeteries, same as they did with southern patients who died. The distance was too far and the ship sailings too infrequent to have done it any other way.

    • Posted by T on

      They could’ve had the courtesy to let the family know of the deceased.

      • Posted by Reality on

        Maybe they tried but it’s hard to track down nomads who are out on the land, and are reached at a trading post once or twice a year? Even today it’s hard to track down people in the communities to get messages to them. Back then it would have been nearly impossible.

  4. Posted by Question on

    Will that include who have passed away in Moose Factory, Ontario who have never been returned home between the year 1940’s-1960’s?

  5. Posted by Bernie Uluadluak on

    My grandfather on my mother’s side was sent out for Tuberculosis to Churchill, MB around 1957, 1958 and died October/1959 & was never returned to Eskimo Point, NT. I was named after my grandfather. Before he was sent out my grandfather’s last words to my mother was; Do not worry, I will come back home to you and gave his Hunting bag, pana, kettle and whatever was in the bag. My grandfather’s ID was E1-37.

  6. Posted by Jeannie weetaltuk on

    Hi my father died on Oct 04 2018 Rupert weetaltuk and before he died he wondered most of his life about his mother (Martha Takkatak) where they have been taken her and wondering if she ever coming home in near future and as a young boy and growing up as an adult she was never returned home and my father was wondering where they buried her she was a wife of Gilbert weetaltuk if it found in near future and thx if understandable

  7. Posted by Jeannie weetaltuk on

    Hi my father died on Oct 04 2018 Rupert weetaltuk age of 79 and before he died he wondered most of his life about his mother (Martha Takkatak) where they have been taken her and wondering if she ever coming home in near future and as a young boy and growing up as an adult she was never returned home and my father was wondering where they buried her she was a wife of Gilbert weetaltuk if it found in near future and thx if understandable

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