A Message from National Inuit Leader Natan Obed

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Iqaluit — Nunavut’s capital — to apologize for the Canadian government’s role in the mistreatment of Inuit people with tuberculosis from the 1940s to the 1960s. During this time, the government forcefully removed thousands of indigenous men, women, and children from their communities, and brought them South for treatment. Many died along the way, or during their stays in hospital — having been entirely unable to contact their loved ones. Due to insufficient record-keeping practices, families often never learned what happened to those taken away, and more often still, never got to speak to them again.

“We are sorry for forcing you from your families, for not showing you the respect and care you deserved. We are sorry for your pain. To the people whose loved ones were taken away, we are sorry.”

“We are sorry that because of our mistakes, many Inuit don't trust the health care system so they can't get help when they need it. We are sorry for the colonial mindset that drove the federal government's actions.”

The formal apology is part of Trudeau’s efforts at Reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of Canada. Thus far, many of the actions of the Trudeau government have been largely symbolic, notably wanting for more concrete advancements — indigenous communities are still waiting on upcoming child-welfare legislation, as well as a bill protecting indigenous languages. The government has also yet to formally recognize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), though Trudeau’s government has stated that they do intend to do so.

Unfortunately, during Friday’s press conference, after only a few questions dealing with the Canadian government’s actions, reporters’ questions moved to the SNC-Lavalin affair. For those unfamiliar, SNC-Lavalin is a Montreal-based construction company currently being prosecuted by the Quebec Provincial Court in reference to alleged illegal conduct with Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan government from 2001-2011. Former Canadian Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, has stated that she experienced consistent and sustained efforts on the part of Trudeau’s government to interfere with her role in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and grant them specific legal privileges. This “affair”, relating to the inappropriate (and potentially criminal) conduct to which Wilson-Raybould was subject, has been dominating the news cycle for weeks.

This marked and substantial shift away from the issue at hand (which, again, was an apology for the abduction and mistreatment of thousands of people who did not have a platform on which to defend themselves), caused national Inuit leader Natan Obed to comment on the situation unfolding. And his response, I think, is something we all need to hear:

“I think something that the media should reflect on is that throughout all of this, there has always been more important stories. And the stories of human rights abuses to Inuit. Every time there is something that happens, such as an apology today, there are other stories in the world. But the fact that media passed right by the people whose human rights abuses were not told by the media for decades to other stories of the day is still a reflection on the work that needs to happen in reconciliation. The Inuit who were apologized today matter. This story matters. It is a Canadian story. And I recognize that there are other media 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 to have their story told. And the media have a strong role to play to tell it.”

I have nothing to add to Mr. Obed’s words. They stand eloquently and powerfully on their own. Hopefully they do not go unheard.

 

image credits: the Canadian Press