Inuit still waiting for recognition of settlement-era trauma, dog slaughter

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association says it's making slow progress on implementing 2013 recommendations from the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which investigated how the region's Inuit were affected by the era of forced settlement from 1950 to 1975.

Inuit 'want to be able to forgive,' says the Qikiqtani Truth Commission's implementation coordinator

Relocations to settlements and travel to southern communities often resulted in families being separated, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission found. Now, there is a program which aims to help Inuit find the graves of loved ones who never returned from those trips. (Qikiqtani Truth Commission/Library and Archives Canada)

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."

"Inuit spoke up and said, 'We want healing. We want to move forward,'" said Romani Makkik, the implementation coordinator for the commission. 
It's been nearly three years since the Qikiqtani Inuit Association published the final report of of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which looked at government policies "to make the North more like the South and Inuit more like Southern Canadians," from 1950 to 1975. (Qikiqtani Truth Commission/Library and Archives Canada)

"'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 looked into the widespread deaths of Inuit sled dogs, or qimmiit, during the settlement era and found it went on too long to be a "secret plan or conspiracy" from the government. (Qikiqtani Truth Commission/Library and Archives Canada)

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."

The final report of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission says many Inuit left belongings in their seasonal camps when they moved to settlements and discovered their camps had been bulldozed or burned. (Qikiqtani Truth Commission/Library and Archives Canada)

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. 

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association says it's now working with other Inuit organizations to work on the Qikiqtani Truth Commission's 25 recommendations, including promoting the preservation of Inuit culture and teaching more Canadians about Inuit history. (Qikiqtani Truth Commission/Library and Archives Canada)

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."

About the Author

Elyse Skura is a journalist at CBC Ottawa. Find her on Twitter at @eskura or contact her at

With files from Jordan Konek