Another day, another apology – this time to Inuit for high arctic relocation

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By Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

This past Wednesday newly appointed Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan issued an official apology from the government of Canada to Inuit for the forced high arctic relocation:

On behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, we would like to offer a full and sincere apology to Inuit for the relocation of families from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay during the 1950s.

We would like to express our deepest sorrow for the extreme hardship and suffering caused by the relocation.  The families were separated from their home communities and extended families by more than a thousand kilometres.  They were not provided with adequate shelter and supplies.  They were not properly informed of how far away and how different from Inukjuak their new homes would be, and they were not aware that they would be separated into two communities once they arrived in the High Arctic.  Moreover, the Government failed to act on its promise to return anyone that did not wish to stay in the High Arctic to their old homes.

The Government of Canada deeply regrets the mistakes and broken promises of this dark chapter of our history and apologizes for the High Arctic relocation having taken place.  We would like to pay tribute to the relocatees for their perseverance and courage.  Despite the suffering and hardship, the relocatees and their descendants were successful in building vibrant communities in Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay.  The Government of Canada recognizes that these communities have contributed to a strong Canadian presence in the High Arctic.

The relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic is a tragic chapter in Canada’s history that we should not forget, but that we must acknowledge, learn from and teach our children.  Acknowledging our shared history allows us to move forward in partnership and in a spirit of reconciliation.  The Government of Canada and Inuit have accomplished many great things together, and all Canadians have benefitted from the contributions of Inuit to our culture and history.  We must continue to strengthen our connections and deepen our understanding and respect.  We must jointly build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant Inuit Nunangat and, in turn, build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant Canada.

The forced “high arctic relocation” is a horribly little known part of Indigenous apartheid in Canada. So many families I know have relatives who were part of this and have fought for years to seek justice, even just to get the government to admit that it purposely put people there to assert so-called “Canadian sovereignty” (which is insulting even just to type those two words out).  Words like “relocation” are also coercive and intentionally polite to deceive people into thinking that Inuit were just fine and happy to be moved – and of course to defend Canada’s imposed right to commodify Indigenous people and make us disappear.

This latest apology is on the heels of a few apologies that have come from governments over the past few years to Indigenous people which again, makes me wonder about the difference in generations of their significance and impact, and how we all deal with healing differently, some with anger, and some with closure.

Inuk youth activist Janice Grey and friend of mine from the Nunavik region tells me how she feels about it:

Finally, after half a decade, those who were affected directly and indirectly by the federal government’s high arctic relocation have been given an official apology. These Inuit had their entire lives turned upside down by broken promises and a hidden agenda, now almost 60 years later they’ve built a life for themselves regardless of all the hardship. I completely agree that an apology is necessary, that this needs to be acknowledged and known by all Canadians, but what will it bring to the people other than the opportunity for forgiveness? Will the legacy of this apology resonate as much as the legacy of the actual relocation? The generations to follow will still be reeling from that trauma, but they, unlike their grandparents have an apology to live with. My only question really is, is that enough?

To me you can wrap it up in a nice bow and label it with “apology” all you want but the current government’s treatment of Inuit including the inaction on TB for example being 185 times higher in Inuit communities continuously make it difficult for me to believe they even know what they are talking about in the first place. To paraphrase Albert Memmi in the Colonizer and the Colonized, “There are a lot of declarations against racism and not enough plans of action”. Yeah no shit, government of Canada, no shit.