Storm in Iqaluit delays PM’s apology to Inuit for TB epidemic’s historic traumas

Trudeau speech in Iqaluit re-scheduled to Friday morning at 9:30 a.m.

People gather inside the lobby of Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn, waiting to hear from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau’s apology, for the suffering of Inuit who were treated for tuberculosis in the south during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, is re-scheduled for Friday morning at 9:30 a.m.. (Photo by Beth Brown)

By Jane George

(Updated at 9:30 p.m.)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology for the suffering many Inuit endured while undergoing tuberculosis treatment from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, is now scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Friday morning, at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn.

The apology was originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon but was postponed to Friday morning after his aircraft turned around. Iqaluit had been hit by near-blizzard conditions, with low visibility and winds gusting up to 70 kilometres an hour, making it too dangerous to land at the airport.

In Ottawa, during an early morning news conference Thursday, Trudeau said the apology would be another defining moment on “the road to reconciliation.”

The apology is part of a process called “Nanilavut” or “let’s find them,” which will contain measures aimed at helping Inuit find the graves of family members who were transported south for TB treatment and never returned home.

In another initiative, the federal government committed $27.5 million over five years in its 2018-19 budget for TB eradication in Inuit Nunangat.

Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, visited Iqaluit on Thursday in advance of Trudeau’s planned visit. (photo by Beth Brown)

Among those gathered at the Frobisher Inn, where Trudeau planned to speak, was Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, as well as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and many Inuit from the four Inuit Nunangat regions.

By about 1 p.m., it became clear that Trudeau’s aircraft could not land, and his speech was postponed. At about 3 p.m. the City of Iqaluit suspended all municipal services and Government of Nunavut offices shut down due to the worsening storm.

Later on Thursday evening, the prime minister’s office confirmed Trudeau will do the apology on Friday morning.

Among the Inuit gathered for the apology were Lizzie Putulik and Lally Annahatak from Kangirsuk in Nunavik. Their aunt Maggie was sent south for TB treatment as an eight-year-old. She never returned home.

Putulik brought with her a precious 2003 copy of Makivik News containing a story about her aunt, as a testimony to the impact of TB treatment on the Inuit families left behind.

Putulik and Annahatak, like many other women in Iqaluit for the apology, wore beaded amautis in honour of the special occasion.

The long-awaited apology also came up in the Nunavut legislature on Thursday.

Lally Annahatak and Lizzie Putulik of Kangirsuk came from Nunavik to witness the planned apology from Trudeau. (Photo by Beth Brown)

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa said that he still struggles with the issue of Inuit TB patients who never came home.

“We expect those who leave to come back,” he said in a member’s statement.

But many did not. Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie said a family member sent away for TB treatment never returned. For 20 years, she looked for her: E3468 was her disc number.

In question period, Iqaluit-Niaqunngu MLA Pat Angnakak spoke of how families are still suffering as they look for traces of their relatives.

“A lot of my colleagues here spoke of this today in the house this morning because their relatives were taken away after being diagnosed with TB,” she said. “Many were sent away on the hospital ship—the C.D. Howe—and a lot never came home. They are still missed every day. Some families do not even know where their loved ones are buried.”

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said he hopes the apology will bring closure.

“It is sad that it took so long. I think it should have been noted and apologized a long time ago,” he said.

Last March in Ottawa, Jane Philpott, then the Indigenous services minister, with ITK’s Natan Obed, announced a plan to eliminate TB across Inuit Nunangat by 2030, and reduce the rate of active TB by at least 50 per cent by 2025.

From January 2016 to December 2017, 40 new cases of TB were diagnosed in Qikiqtarjuaq, with 70 per cent of the cases being among children and youth.

Ileen Kooneeliusie, a 15-year-old from Qikiqtarjuaq who had TB, died of the infectious disease in Jan. 2017.

Nunavut carried out a campaign to screen for TB in 2017 and is now holding its third community-wide screening clinic in Cape Dorset.

With files from Courtney Edgar

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Huvaguuq on

    Come on Kivalliq MLA’s, many many Inuit were sent to Manitoba, not by ship, but by plane. Scream for apology too!!!
    We too are still searching. Yes, you are all too young to understand historical pain, but…..
    Mom in Law died still expecting daughter to come home on each Calm Air flight.

  2. Posted by Huvaguuq on

    Let us not forget the inland Eskimos who were evacuated by plane not ship, only to crash, be buried somewhere foreign, never to come home.

  3. Posted by Mark Christie on

    This is a very important apology that the government owes to the Inuit. But an honest apology must come with change. You can’t say sorry and then continue the wrong behaviour. To that end, the news reported today that Nunavut suffers a rate of TB that is 300 times higher than the rest of Canada.

    The rate of TB in Nunavut has been tragically high for many years and a series of governments have made a series of promises and yet what has been done?

    One of the main causes for the spread of TB is overcrowding in homes. What has the government said it would do about that? And who will hold their feet to he fire on these issues?

    No hollow apologies – say you are sorry and mean it and and then make it right!

  4. Posted by Apologize to your own people ! ! on

    Our leaders do nothing about the real problems us Inuit
    have to face everyday, all the poor conditions such as poor
    housing, education, sky high food prices, suicide, alcohol
    and drug abuse. They do not give a damn about their own
    I agree shipping people south for treatment was rough,
    but it would have been way way worse if the Canadian
    government had done nothing. Thank you Canada for
    doing what you could, and continue to do.
    Thank you TB. doctors for saving the lives of my mother and
    two siblings.

  5. Posted by C. D. Howe on

    Proposed Headline: Government apologizes for saving Inuit lives during TB epidemic.

  6. Posted by Inuujunga on

    Us too have to make changes, NOT just the Gov’t. Stop depending on the gov’t on so much which we must do for ourselves as well. Why are you giving the gov’t so much power to rule for us?? That’s exactly what we’re doing, giving them power to rule.
    Now that we know TB is very high, make the effort to get yourselves and your families tested RATHER THAN WAITING FOR THE GOV’T TO TELL YOU TO GET TESTED AND THEN BLAME THE GOV’T YOU TESTED POSITIVE.
    Im very saddened about the high rates of TB and so much more we experience, but im also saddened that my own people are so dependant on the Gov’t to fix everything.
    I see dependency on the gov’t as a cop out to blame rather than look/deal with so much ourselves (ie, get tested for TB, seek mental health help, GET AN EDUCATION TO SUPPORT YOURSELF AND NOT DEPEND ON THE SYSTEM TO FEED YOU OR PAY YOUR RENT).
    We scream resiliency, YET screaming dependency.

  7. Posted by Northern Guy on

    TB incidence can be directly to correlated to poverty, food insecurity and low educational outcomes. When Southern Canada was in the grips of its TB epidemic the average Canadian was poor, malnourished and under-educated. Those same descriptors can be used for much of the population of modern day Nunavut. It isn’t just government’s job to alleviate these issues each person/each family has to take agency for their choices and find ways to improve.

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