It has been a long time coming – this apology.
I stand here with a heavy heart – I feel the weight of this apology on behalf of Inuit in the Qikiqtani Region. Inuit who suffered the consequences of colonial policies during the tuberculous epidemic from 1950 to 1975 that robbed us of control over our lives, living conditions and bodies.
Our communities have been haunted by these family stories – told in hushed voices, whispered through tears, felt in the empty spaces of grief. Family members shipped away on the C.D. Howe, at times without notice, some never returning.
The loss faced by Inuit was not only loss due to Tuberculosis, but also loss because of government policies and practices that failed to respect our right to dignity and humane treatment.
As a father I cannot imagine the anguish of losing a child, the agony of not knowing if my sick baby was properly cared for, the heartbreak of being unsure if she was buried with respect. Our families deserved more than unmarked graves.
Today, standing together, in the spirit of reconciliation, it is hard to imagine that all this happened recently. This was the reality for our grandparents and parents. Callous colonial policies that stripped Inuit of our way of life, homes, and health.
We are here today, because of the relentless dedication and vision of Inuit leaders who fought to unearth this history. My predecessors at the Qikiqtani Inuit Association such as the late Thomas Alikatuktuk, Larry Audlaluk, and Joe Attagutaluk, to name a few.
It was their leadership that brought the Qikiqtani Truth Commission to life – and allowed Inuit to share hundreds of testimonies about modern day colonialism in the Qikiqtani Region.
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission was not about reopening old wounds, it was about coming to terms with the dark chapters in our past, so we can rebuild an inclusive Canada for our children in the future.
The spirit and intent of Nanilavut, which translates to “Let’s find them,” is reflected in the Qikiqtani Truth Commission recommendations.
Today, we still struggle with the aftermath of the same policies that harmed our communities.
Tuberculosis continues to take Inuit lives. Tuberculosis is a social disease. It is fully treatable and preventable. To eradicate this disease – we need to improve housing conditions, achieve food sovereignty and improve access to culturally appropriate health care.
This apology is not just about healing it is about hope.
Today’s apology signals an open door. A promise for change – a vision of a future without Tuberculosis in our communities.
True, many more apologies will be needed – to address the forced relocation of Inuit, the separation of families, the killing on qimmit, the unfulfilled promises of housing, the scars of residential schools.
However, with each apology, we are righting a past wrong, and clearing a path to a shared vision for Canada that celebrates the lives of all its citizens.