As an Inuit truth commission began public hearings this week on the alleged RCMP slaughter of Inuit sled dogs several decades ago, the panel's lead commissioner said it will likely take time for Nunavummiut to come forward with their stories.
Residents in Kimmirut, Nunavut, appeared before the Qikiqtani Inuit Association's truth commission Tuesday to Thursday, as part of the panel's year-long tour of 13 communities across the territory's Baffin region.
The $2-million panel seeks Inuit accounts related to the alleged killings of sled dogs during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as the impact of the federal government's efforts during that time to relocate Inuit into modern settlements.
Chief commissioner Jim Igloliorte told CBC News that he was very pleased with the cooperation received from the people of Kimmirut. Given the potentially sensitive and difficult topics, he said the testimony process will likely take time.
"For people to volunteer and voluntarily give their statements, we think it's going to mean a slow start anyway. And we allot about one hour for each person to come before the commission and testify," Igloliorte said.
"We're not surprised that it might be slow starting, but we want this effect to snowball over time for people to understand and appreciate that we're not intimidating. This is not a formal process, and that the questions are generally of a nature where we're simply trying to establish stories and histories from Inuit."
About 30 people were scheduled to testify in Kimmirut, located 120 kilometres south of Iqaluit on Baffin Island.
Gotilia Judea, the first Inuit elder to testify, recounted how an RCMP officer shot two of his family's dogs when he was a young boy.
Speaking in Inuktitut, Judea said he remembered the gun used by the officer: "It was a 30-30, a big 30," he said. "I remember it was a lever action. I remember he quickly came up and shot the two dogs."
The panel is inviting all community members to testify under oath, either during the public hearing or in private sessions, Igloliorte said.
"It's working out very well, and I think, even though we're asking questions which are quite disturbing, and bring back a lot of anguish and hard memories for people, they're quite willing to share that in public or in private with us."
The commission travels next to Cape Dorset, on Monday.