Inuit have long said that we are proud Canadians, which isn’t necessarily a view that is held by all Indigenous peoples across Canada. The late Jose Kusugak, who is someone very dear to me and a former ITK President, coined the phrase “first Canadians, Canadians first.” That is the way that many Inuit describe ourselves to Canada and to the world. We are patriotic, as seen in the way we cheer for Team Canada on the international sporting stage, and we accept that we are part of this great democracy. But the time has come to think critically about where we are going, and to recognize that all too often the federal government still does not consider Inuit Canadian enough to invest in the basic services, supports, and infrastructure that most other Canadians simply take for granted as foundational to health and wellness.
The Inuit-Crown relationship began at a time when decision making was based on the belief that Indigenous people would vanish; that it was only a matter of time before our culture, society, and language would die out. This was in turn based on a number of false principles espoused by academia, government, and the medical community, but also on explicit government focused genocidal programs that included relocating our people and imposing residential schooling on our population. This is the truth of our shared history, and yet Inuit still call ourselves proud Canadians.
Why? Our optimism for Canada certainly speaks to our traditional ways to reconciliation, and links directly to our resilience and pragmatism. In the spirit of this hope for shared belonging, of Inuit to Canada and Canada to Inuit, we carried out our own nation building from 1971 to 2005. We developed our own Inuit governance structures. Our Inuit democracy is founded on our modern land claim agreements, for which we continue to fight for implementation. The implementation of these land claim agreements implicates the honour of the Crown and the very basic nature of the relationship between Inuit and Canada.
We need to affirm that Inuit are Canadians, and that what we want for ourselves and our families we would also like for other Canadians. Inuit want to be partners to create a better Canada and to proactively support populations that need help. We still wish to partner with governments to implement the rights we fought to have affirmed by the Crown through our land claim agreements, to identify new ways of doing business together that respect our governance structures, and to have our basic humanity and lives recognized as equal to that of all other Canadians.
To achieve full social equity is challenging, but we believe it can happen over time. For Inuit, we don’t just see our own struggles in Canada. In many cases when we hear about floods or other natural disasters all over the world, Inuit are some of the first to donate, some of the first to be compassionate about other people who are going through difficult times. I think that also speaks to the fact that we understand what it’s like to feel hardship and that we see ourselves as part of something bigger. We see ourselves as a part of Canada and want Canada to see us too.
National Inuit Leader and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami