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EDITORIAL: Letter is required reading for all in Nunavut

Sandra Inutiq’s open letter to non-Inuit – originally posted to her personal Facebook stream and republished with permission in this week’s edition of Nunavut News – is a challenging read.

Is it a lecture? A call to arms? A manifesto? A clenched fist?

On repeated reading, the letter reveals itself as a masterclass in race relations.

Conversations about white privilege and white fragility are common these days, and Inutiq’s message is familiar to those who have seen Netflix’s Dear White People or read author Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.

While we would prefer to think Inutiq’s letter will provide an easy solution to the problems Nunavut faces as a result of colonialism, we know many in Nunavut – and across Canada – are not ready for words that call into question their privilege and (conscious or unconscious) racism.

Witness the ongoing epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, the lack of justice for murdered Indigenous youth Colton Boushie and Tina Fontaine, and the lack of progress in improving social and health indicators for Indigenous people.

In the past six months, we’ve spoken with openly racist transients working in Nunavut, and read stories of Nunavummiut encountering casual racism, such as those forced to listen as locum doctors laughed about putting antibiotics in the drinking water because, in their estimation, all Inuit have sexually transmitted infections.

White superiority is alive and well.

Inutiq’s letter is a call to action for us here at Nunavut News. We are committed to maintaining a space that reflects Nunavut’s Inuit population, and yet most of our team members are non-Inuit. Like many non-Inuit in Nunavut, we see ourselves as allies, but are never quite sure that’s true. There’s an uneasiness about our situation, knowing Inuit should be the ones telling the stories of their land.

Inutiq’s words shine a light into our own organization, and they will inform discussions about our approach going forward.

Hopefully the letter shines a light into your world, too. At work or at school, wherever you shop or volunteer, know that race plays a role in everything we all do in Nunavut.

We view the letter as a hand extended to help non-Inuit understand the terms of their presence on Inuit land. Others see it as a closed fist directed at them in anger.

If you read the letter and take offence, you’re probably part of the problem. Allies aim to help, and perhaps the best way to help is to build capacity and get out of the way so Inuit can manage their territory as a unique space within Canada.

Especially as Nunavut approaches its 20th anniversary as a territory, it’s a good time for us to let Inutiq’s words sink in, and consider how they line up with the original intent of the leaders who started the effort 50 years ago to carve out a distinct territory for Inuit in Canada.