Last week professional sports leagues across North America decided to go on strike to demand racial justice, after yet another black man – Jason Blake – was shot by police.
The move came after months of protests across America and the world, which have led to the tearing down of monuments that celebrate America’s racist history.
I visited Whale Cove for the first time in the summer of 2018. It was a community that didn’t exist until the forced relocation of Inuit in the late 1950s led to its creation.
It was during that trip that I met a hulking legend of a man who regaled me with stories about fighting off polar bears, and growing up on the land before Whale Cove even existed.
Lewis Voisey’s storytelling opened up my mind to the rich history of Whale Cove and convinced me to come back to interview elders about their experience being relocated and growing up in a newly created community. That compilation, which was originally printed in The Walrus, was recently republished in the pages of Kivalliq News as part of a five-part series that just wrapped up.
The stories tell of hardship and joy, but above all else they represent perseverance and determination in the face of adversity.
When the community tore down the remains of its first-ever church there was a small part of me that felt like the community was losing a piece of its history. But having heard Elders talk about their lack of attachment to the building, I came to realize that it was just that: another building.
The fact that Voisey, who had been baptized in the church and is one Whale Cove’s first inhabitants, didn’t even notice it was gone, proved to me that any sentimentality toward a decrepit building was unwarranted.
History is so much more than monuments and famous people. It is rich with stories of people who came before us, and how their lives and experiences have shaped the present.
For those who are growing up in Whale Cove now, life is very different than it used to be. Many want to preserve their culture and traditional way of life. But they are also continuing their predecessors’ fight to overcome and remove invisible barriers, including the systemic racism that was the foundation of the federal government’s plan for Arctic relocations. Just like the territory’s aging infrastructure, those barriers are starting to crumble under the determination of a new generation of Inuit fighting for equality and justice.
When high school graduates across the Kivalliq celebrated their achievements over the past few weeks, there was a widespread feeling of overcoming adversity given the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Skills Canada Nunavut’s inaugural workshop for young women in the trades in Rankin Inlet last week is also a small example of the glimmer of hope that lies ahead – a small sign that so-called male-dominated professions would one day be a thing of the past.
As professional athletes weighed in on the importance of continuing to fight for racial justice, Rankin Inlet’s Jordin Tootoo, who is now retired from the NHL, threw his support behind postponing professional sports games for a higher cause.
“It is an honour and privilege to play in the NHL,” he wrote. “That privilege comes with a platform. At times like these we have to use this platform for positive change.”
As Inuit youth continue to honour the legacy of their ancestors they should be inspired by the solidarity being shown in the name of racial equality.
History may come with its constraints but walls that have outlived their welcome will eventually crumble.