I was reading an article one recent morning on missing and murdered Nunavik Inuit women in Montreal, Quebec, and suddenly I felt a crushing sadness that was followed by tears. It was in part a response to the details of the story, but it was also an emotional response to all that I know about the hardships many Inuit have gone through or continue to go through. I can only work on Inuit rights respectfully by knowing the weight of the truth and doing all I can to respect those who bring truth to me. Many of the key issues Inuit organizations work on are heart wrenching and complex. Issues such as tuberculosis, suicide prevention, and murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are not abstract policy issues to many of the people who work on them daily as advocates or service providers, since we often have direct family members, relatives, and friends who are experiencing hardship in these areas.
Many people knowingly choose professions that may increase their stress or put their own health at risk but do so for the benefit of Inuit society. Their selfless work on tough issues may forever change their outlook on life. Often, these same people are not adequately appreciated or thanked for their tremendous service.
I am so grateful for those who speak out about their lived experiences in order to help others. Many who have experienced trauma are not able or interested in drawing attention to themselves through public advocacy, and that is completely understandable. But some can stand up and I thank them. I think of Susan Aglukark in Rankin Inlet or Charlotte Wolfrey in Happy Valley-Goose Bay or Helen Navalik Tologanak in Vancouver at the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry hearings; of Toby Obed in front of media in St. John’s, fighting through tears to describe his abuse in residential school; or housing activist and advocate Qaumariaq Inuqtaqau in Iqaluit who has used his past experience of being homeless to bring national attention to the issue.
I also think of those community leaders who have dedicated their lives to supporting those in the greatest need, including people like Annie Pisuktie, who worked for years as a frontline crisis worker with Inuit in Montreal. I am in awe of people like David Serkoak, who has taken on the weight of leadership and is fighting the federal government on behalf of the Ahiarmiut who were relocated in the 1950s. I think of Janet Brewster talking about mental health or turning graffiti into hopeful and encouraging messages in Iqaluit, or Lillian Elias in Inuvik tirelessly championing Inuvialuktun and Inuvialuit culture.
And I also think of those running the services, who strive to find a way to make things better for those in crisis: Inuit who work as nurses, doctors, faith leaders, mental health workers, first responders, in governments and Inuit organizations, and in municipalities.
There are so many amazing people who know their roles are to provide services that demand love and care under stress. We may have many challenges, but we are also surrounded by those who have shown leadership in building stronger communities. There is so much compassion that has risen to meet grief and transform it into positive action. There are wonderful acts that are performed every day by those who choose to care and help, and it is those acts of selflessness, kindness, and compassion that reflect the best aspects of our Inuit society.
National Inuit Leader and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami