Reconciliation: the act of making two people or groups become friendly again after an argument or disagreement; the process of finding a way to make two different ideas or facts exist or be true at the same time.
History will always affect present-day living and I have to ask how reconciliation can begin when, in Canada, the First Peoples are nowhere near on par with the rest of the population. How can reconciliation occur when significant housing and food issues exist in aboriginal communities and water is undrinkable on 400 of Canada’s 618 reserves? Third- and fourth-world conditions are still the norm on reserves and within northern communities. When people do not have their basic needs met, the concept of reconciliation is only a lofty idea with which leaders and authority figures can toy.
On May 9, Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, fully adopted the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—something the previous federal government had not done. This document is not a legal document. Rather, it demonstrates a promise and a starting point for all Canadians to think about our future. But when the scales of daily living are completely unbalanced, how can we even begin to think about reconciliation or “becoming friendly again”?
I am proud to say that I am a beneficiary of Nunavut. My home supporting community is Whale Cove. A community of fewer than 400 people, Whale Cove became the home of the Padlei Inuit through the forced relocations of the Inuit during the 1950s. I say forced, because my peoples are Padlei, or the Caribou or Inland Inuit from the Keewatin District of northern Manitoba. We were not coastal Inuit, but through one of the many forms of colonization that affected the Inuit—much later and much faster than other aboriginal Canadians—my peoples were flown to various northern coastal communities to act as “human flagpoles” during the Cold War era. (It must be remembered that Inuit were never invited or negotiated into treaty, except the Labrador Inuit who signed a treaty in 1767.)
During the Cold War era, if a population existed along the coast of Hudson Bay, then this part of the Arctic belonged to Canada and sovereignty was established. Inuit became living proof of the fulfilment of government ideology of the day. Removing Inuit from their land and all that was familiar, their hunting and fishing areas, the land that provided the necessities of life, to another location, created upheaval. New food and hunting methods had to be learned, new Inuktitut dialects had to be spoken. Everything that had been recognizable for generations was gone.
In the Inuktitut language there is no word for reconciliation. The word ipatsivva, which means to “grasp the meaning of something”, was the closest that I could find. For Inuit Canadians today, and specifically within Nunavut, we have to ask ourselves: how does a small group of Indigenous Canadians—who are first in all the statistics that nobody wants—create reconciliation? This small population holds the highest numbers in the country for high school dropouts, teenage suicide and tuberculosis—a disease that was conquered in southern Canada long ago. How do Inuit Canadians create ipatsivva? What would ipatsivva even look like?
I once heard Susan Enuraq, the first female Inuit lawyer in Canada, state at a conference: “An Inuit family consists of a mother, father, three children, a bunch of dogs and an anthropologist.” Inuit are an over-studied group lacking a positive outcome. In the area of education alone, Inuit Canadians continue early or forced exit from high school at a rate of about 75 percent, meaning only 25 percent of the Inuit population—just under
60 000 people—complete high school. This is tragic.
Ipatsivva, to me, would be filling up university classrooms with Inuk students. Ipatsivva, to me, would be taking on education as a form of personal reconciliation towards the Canadian state. Education is an area that each Inuk can pursue boldly and with success, but the current methods of educating Inuit are not working—still. The education system for Inuit Canadians is broken.
Mary Simon, former national Inuit leader, tells us that we are not to dwell on our past history; we are to continue to move forward as Inuit Canadians. I don’t believe reconciliation will result in an explosive new theory of life for Inuit Canadians. I do believe we owe it to ourselves to take care of our future generation of Inuk children by pursuing and creating an educational system that does work, and bring voice to Inuit citizens throughout the halls of educational institutions. V
Norma Dunning is an urban Inuk writer and scholar and a third-year doctoral student with Indigenous Peoples Education. Her collection of prose Annie Muktuk and Other Stories is scheduled to release via University of Alberta Press in the fall of 2017.