Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology to Inuit March 8 acknowledges the human rights abuses visited upon Inuit Nunangat during the tuberculosis epidemic between the 1940s and 60s.
Inuit were unceremoniously ripped from their homes once screened, without consent, as positive for TB.
One of the horrors, and not the least, was the federal government’s practice of burying those who died in carelessly marked graves near the many racially segregated sanatoriums throughout southern Canada. Finding loved ones’ graves, and some measure of peace, within this nightmare has largely been left to still-mourning Inuit families.
The Nanilavut (let’s find them) Initiative, officially announced with our nation’s apology, will finally help the many Inuit who continue to search for lost loved ones – with a comprehensive, multi-sourced database, some funding, dedicated staff, and other offerings.
It is for each affected Inuk to weigh the value of Trudeau’s apology, and determine how useful Nanilavut will prove to be.
A sizable contingent of national media travelled to Iqaluit to report on the apology, which is of national importance. Canada, “the True North, strong and free,” exists in no small part due to the goodwill of Inuit who have called Inuit Nunangat home since time immemorial. It is each Canadian’s task to be aware of the deep trauma these abuses left behind, including the heavy mistrust of health care many Inuit still harbour today.
With a wall of cameras aimed at Trudeau, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., president Aluki Kotierk, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, reporter after reporter decided to grill Trudeau about the SNC-Lavalin affair – a story which already unceasingly dominated national news and which had enjoyed its own subject-matter press conference in Ottawa the previous day.
Obed concluded the Iqaluit media event by rightly calling attention to this egregious behaviour.
“Inuit matter. This story matters. It is a Canadian story. I recognize there are other stories that matter, as well, but I do hope, in the future, there can be more respect given to the place and time, and the people who deserve having their story told,” he said, noting that behaviour reflected the work that needs to happen on reconciliation.
According to the Canadian government, tuberculosis poses a significant health risk to poor and malnourished people, with more than 95 per cent of TB cases and deaths in developing countries. These are conditions familiar to Inuit, yet Inuit Nunangat is a part of Canada, which is, by all accounts, a developed country.
Inuit Nunangat has a TB rate 300 times higher than that of Canada’s non-Indigenous population, as Trudeau pointed out.
What was a national health-care tragedy continues to be a national health-care tragedy across the vast Inuit homeland national reporters had the great honour to stand on that Friday.
The southern media’s behaviour demonstrated, as Sandra Inutiq described in her letter to qallunaat Nunavut News published last month, the typical disdain southerners have for the people and the territory.
The southern media should have stayed home if they could not refrain from immediately falling back on their own agendas rather than offering the sustained attention and respect due Inuit.