In 2021, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami celebrates its 50th Anniversary. It is an important milestone in Inuit self‐determination, but it will be observed in a very unexpected way during this global pandemic. Although we cannot yet mark this achievement in person, we can continue to find strength in the unity that has sustained us during challenges throughout our history.
I am optimistic about what 2021 will bring for us. Among other things, the new year brings hope in the form of a COVID‐19 vaccine that is now being administered in our communities. Vaccine development has been an incredible feat of cooperation and collaboration — globally informed and evidence‐based in its production and procurement, and Inuit‐specific in its delivery strategy.
We didn’t have vaccines 100 years ago during the time of the pandemic known as the Spanish Flu. That virus took a great magnitude of lives, decimating Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut, where entire families were lost within weeks. Just think what a vaccine would have meant to those families.
Yet in 2021, we are being called on to do something that for some is still very difficult. We must trust in a system that was built of colonization and that has let us down so many times throughout our history. There are many aspects of our health that are within our control. The decision to receive the COVID‐19 vaccine, and protect others while protecting ourselves, is something that is within our power.
Our forebears fought so that we could be part of the decisions that affect our lives. During the current pandemic, our organizations have advocated for priority access to COVID‐19 vaccines for Inuit and have directly contributed to the COVID‐19 response planning that has brought us to this point. While the pandemic has been unprecedented, so has the response. COVID‐19 vaccination is the most complex public health initiative ever undertaken in Canada.
Inuit regions have already taken so many difficult steps to protect our people throughout this pandemic. We have closed our borders, we have experienced trying quarantine regimes, we have lost jobs, and, tragically, we have lost members of our communities. We have also supported one another — by sewing masks, providing food for Elders and children, spending more time at our traditional areas outside of communities, as well as by hosting socially distanced outdoor events.
Our organizations at all levels have also met the challenges of the past year, by developing innovative programming to support our people, making people‐first decisions, and working closely with governments to ensure the best possible outcomes for Inuit. We have learned from past pandemics, including the Spanish Flu and H1N1, and those lessons have informed how we work together today.
On a personal note, I am ready to roll up my sleeve to receive my vaccination when it is my turn. My health and the health of my family is important to me. I have followed public health advice and have taken these precautions seriously — I wear a mask, I have not travelled since the beginning of the pandemic, and as someone with many years of work in the area of health policy, I have always been very diligent about washing my hands. Like you, I miss my social interaction with friends and family. I miss my boys in Iqaluit. But I know that we will be united again when it is safe to do so, in the near future. I also miss playing hockey, and so many social activities that give me happiness.
I understand that the effects of COVID‐19 can be severe. The symptoms can persist for months, causing long‐term damage to the lungs, heart, and brain. To me, the risks of the virus greatly outweigh any reported risks of the vaccine. Furthermore, I trust vaccine science. The COVID‐19 vaccine is targeted to teach the body to protect us from this virus.
To Inuit across Canada, I wish you a year filled with renewed hope for strong communities, faith in the work we are undertaking together to achieve prosperity, comfort in the unity of our people across our homeland and throughout history, and strength to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami