Throughout 2017, Canada is celebrating 150 years of Confederation — the unification of the four colonies that existed in 1867. Confederation led to dramatic changes in Inuit culture and society. As Canadian power solidified and expanded outward from Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, the federal government increasingly took control of Indigenous peoples and our land and resources. Our historical interactions with explorers, missionaries, whalers, and fur traders set the stage for the drastic changes undertaken by the federal government post-confederation to undermine Inuit self-determination. By 1917 Inuit were being prosecuted in Canadian courts. In 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that Inuit were Indians and therefore the responsibility of the federal government, largely on the basis that in the historical record Qallunaat used the same racist, dehumanizing language to describe Inuit and First Nations. It was only in 1950 that we gained the right to vote in federal elections yet most Inuit remained disenfranchised until 1962 when ballot boxes were placed in more Inuit communities, just 55 years ago.
Inuit have used and occupied more than a third of Canada’s landmass for millennia and it is on this basis that leaders in our respective regions negotiated and settled land claim agreements with the Crown in an effort to reject what has until recently been an uncompromising relationship. However, our way of life has been rapidly transformed in this relatively short period, especially during the second half of the last century as the federal government extended Canadian law and bureaucracy into Inuit Nunangat, relocated Inuit families, and imposed schooling on Inuit communities. The federal government’s policies caused distress and trauma for many Inuit, the reverberations from which are still being felt today. Inuit remain resilient despite these challenges. As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami will be undertaking a project entitled “Inuit Nunangat Taimannganit” that highlights continued Inuit resilience through 150 stories of Inuit Nunangat. Through our own words, we will celebrate our people, families and communities’ intimate and foundational connections to our land and what these connections mean to our Inuit democracy, our political and personal perspectives, and for our future.
My father was born on the south side of Nutak in Nunatsiavut. He was forcibly relocated to Hopedale with his parents and siblings when he was a young boy and soon after taken to an orphanage in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, where he spent the rest of his childhood. He longed for the land where he was born all his life, and if his human rights were respected, it would have been where he grew up. You won’t find it on most maps of Canada, but it is part of this country and an everlasting part of who I am.
We will share stories like my father’s through photos and video shared one at a time through social media, and as a collection first online and later as a travelling exhibit to engage Canadians in the stories of Inuit and Inuit Nunangat. Highlighting and documenting some of these rich connections is a practical way to affirm the central role played by Inuit land use and stewardship in our own culture and society as well as in Canadian society as a whole. The federal government has in the past made calculated efforts to terminate this important aspect of who we are, even going so far as to limit the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next by attempting to suppress our language through residential schools. However, Inuit continue to define our own path forward.
Too often the significant challenges we face within our communities can seem to overshadow the people and places that each day help to ensure our spiritual survival by keeping our language alive, maintaining our way of life, and living our values. Inuit Nunangat Taimannganit will celebrate those people and contributions.
Natan Obed President,
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami