Inuit still waiting for recognition of settlement-era trauma, dog slaughter
Inuit 'want to be able to forgive,' says the Qikiqtani Truth Commission's implementation coordinator
The intergenerational trauma associated with the slaughter of sled dogs and the forced movement of Inuit from seasonal camps to permanent settlements still lingers in communities across Nunavut's Baffin region.
But the Inuit who endured long periods of poverty and separation from family members say they are ready to forgive.
Nearly three years ago, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission published a final report on what Inuit experienced from 1950 to 1975, when Inuit were compelled to leave their seasonal camps and settle in communities when government policies aimed "to make the North more like the South and Inuit more like Southern Canadians."
"'We want to be able to forgive for what happened to us, so that our future generations can have a healthier life.'"
Now, Makkik says the Qikiqtani Inuit Association is better equipped to speed up the process of implementing the commission's 25 recommendations, which she says has been moving "at a slower pace."
"I really believe a lot has been done," she said. "But there's still a lot that could be improved."
Communities still grieving
At the Inuit organization's annual general meeting this week, board members expressed their desire for the federal government to issue a formal apology for its harmful assimilation policies.
Stevie Audlaqiaq, the association's community director for Clyde River, says Inuit testimony about the dog slaughter is still heartbreaking.
"These people lost their dogs when they most needed them," he said in Inuktitut. "It's really painful still and sometimes that brings tensions."
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission gathered interviews in each of the Baffin region's 13 communities, hearing stories of many people whose sled dogs were shot soon after they moved from seasonal camps.
The loss, which the commission found "went on far too long to be the result of a government plan or conspiracy," was traumatic for Inuit who had a deep connection with their teams and made it difficult for them to leave communities to hunt.
"I really feel what you're feeling," Makkik responded to Audlaqiaq's concerns in Inuktitut. "It's really painful and it brings so much anger and that's the reason why we're here today."
Fight for recognition continues
The three-year-old recommendations range from promoting Inuit history to strengthening the role of Inuit traditional knowledge and values in government to improving access to government programs that create healthier communities.
With such complex goals, Makkik says it's been difficult to take large steps forward. But she says a new working group, which will include other Inuit organizations, should be able to put together the political and financial resources to make things happen.
"I think we've been able to gain some momentum over the last 6 months."
Audlaqiaq hopes that momententum will be strong enough to bring recognition to the Inuit who suffered from government policies, before it's too late.
"I was fighting hard for this for my father-in-law, but he has now passed away," said Audlaqiaq. "I wanted the organization to have already done this when he was alive.
"I really believe these people are owed money for these wrong doings and also an apology," he said. "I'm going to be pushing this until they get it."
'Just at the tip of it'
In Nunavik, the Inuit region of Northern Quebec, Inuit received an apology and financial compensation from the provincial government for the killing of sled dogs.
But the Qikiqtani Inuit Association says rather than investing time and money in a legal battle for compensation, they want to focus on political lobbying.
In fact, P.J. Akeeagok, the president of the regional Inuit organization, says he's spoken with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett about the commission's findings.
With the political climate for Indigenous people evolving and the government talking about a nation-to-nation relation with Inuit, Makkik says "this is the time to be talking."
Joe Attagutaluk, the secretary-treasurer for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, is a bit more hesitant.
"We can see that we are just starting to move on these. We are just at the tip of it," Joe Attagutaluk, the secretary-treasurer, said in Inuktitut.
He says Inuit can and must have reconciliation with the government, since it's evident many have not yet "come to peace" with their experiences.
"We need to strengthen ourselves first."
With files from Jordan Konek