COLUMN: Welcome to Canada?

by Cody Punter- July 13, 2018

When I was first starting out as a journalist in Yellowknife a few years back, I found myself on the phone with a local city councillor. Near the end of the call he asked me where I was from.

“Toronto,” I replied.

After a brief silence the councillor responded: “Well, welcome to Canada.”

Having previously lived most of my life in cities, visiting a Northern community in a predominantly Indigenous territory with long winter nights and never-ending summer days was a new experience.

But that comment was the first time I was directly confronted with the idea that there could be more than one version of Canada.

As I spent my second Canada Day in Rankin Inlet I found myself having to ask myself what it means to be Canadian.

That’s why I decided to make it the question for this week’s Street Talk.

The answers were as diverse as Nunavut’s Inuit. Some people spoke of multiculturalism and freedom, others of community and Inuk pride.

But for all the people who wanted to share their stories of pride and celebration, there were many others who were less reluctant to cheer on Canada and didn’t want to share their stories publicly.

Indeed, some people I spoke with consider themselves Inuit first and Canadian second. As an outsider I can understand why.

Thule people were living off the land in the Kivalliq region long before Europeans set foot on the continent.

Then in the mid 20th century, the Canadian government undertook a program of forced resettlement throughout the region, leading to the creation of new communities like Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet.

Residential schools such as the Kivalliq Hall were eventually opened, becoming a source of great anguish for the students who attended them.

While Stephen Harper acknowledged and apologized for Canada’s role in residential schools in 2007, Trudeau’s Liberal government continues to fight Inuit over compensation. Earlier this year the feds decided to appeal a decision made by a Nunavut judge, which had previously declared former students eligible for a settlement.

I still remember the feeling of pride when I learned that Stephen Harper had been voted out of office.

Justin Trudeau promised so much to Canadians, including massive investments in Northern communities.

Fast forward three years and Trudeau is blowing billions of taxpayers dollars on a pipeline, which First Nations on the West Coast are vehemently opposed to.

For all the buzzwords used to celebrate Canada, systematic injustice is one you’re unlikely to hear shouted from the roof tops by the government. But actions speak louder than words and in recent years there has been a lot more talk than action from the feds when it comes to supporting Inuit communities.

The cost of living, underfunded health centres and a lack of front line workers, Inuit struggling with mental health. These are all things which have fallen on deaf ears in Ottawa.

Through all the trials and tribulations, the one thing that has never wavered in the Kivalliq is the sense of community which unites its people.

No amount of resettlement could break the bonds that tie families together in distant hamlets.

That’s why it’s no surprise to see so many people come together on Canada Day, to eat, play, laugh, dance and come together as one.

While Canada still has a long way to go to right its wrongs, it must be comforting to know that you can always feel welcome in the Kivalliq.

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