Susan Aglukark brought tears to the eyes of many, including Commissioner Qajaq Robinson, as she gave the final testimony as the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls stopped in Rankin Inlet this past week.
The inquiry heard from 10 people during its three days at the Siniktarvik Hotel from Feb. 20 to 22.
Word had leaked around Rankin Inlet that Aglukark was planning to publicly name the person who had abused her as a child for the first time during her testimony.
In many ways, her simple self-introduction to the inquiry panel of, “I am Susan Aglukark,” set a soft, yet defiant tone for the testimonial that was come. That, from a person who has fought to shine her light for the world to see, all the while struggling to come to grips with the violent loss of her innocence as an eight-year-old child, and further with a justice system that took longer to convict the man responsible than the time it chose to incarcerate him for his predatory acts.
The international recording star was emotional and revealing as she spoke. She often referenced her care and concern for other children she believed to be victims of the same man as her main reason for coming forward, telling the inquiry that the room at the Siniktarvik could be filled by the victims of her abuser alone.
The beginning of Aglukark’s testimony was softly-spoken and often punctuated by tears rolling down her cheeks. But one is not more likely to see an expression of strength, courage and defiance more clear than what crossed Aglukark’s face as she stared straight ahead, as if looking her tormentor straight in the eye, and stated:
“Norman Ford, you have not won. Not now, not ever. Now the community knows what you have done.”
Aglukark, 51, recalled the beginning of her lifelong nightmare. She was babysitting as a child with her sister when the phone rang and Ford, a close friend of the family at the time who lived across the road from her Rankin Inlet home, lured her to his home with the promise of gifts there for her parents.
Once inside, she was led to the bedroom, where she was told the presents awaited her. Once inside the bedroom, the click of the door locking behind her was to become a sound that still haunts her to this day.
Aglukark testified that due to delays, it took about a year for the trial to be heard, and, on the testimony of Aglukark and others, Ford was sentenced to 18 months, of which he served one-third.
She ended her testimony by pointing out a few issues and making a number of recommendations to the inquiry panel.
“I have a couple of recommendations and the first is a culture-specific or relevant support system for victims,” said Aglukark.
“We have a beautiful healing facility here, and it’s doing amazing work with its inmates, but nothing for victims. Where do they go for support programs?
“For every abuser, there’s at least five victims. We need to invest in equal facilities with programming and professional help for victims.
“We need more healing centres. Every region should have one. But, we need them for the victims too.”
Aglukark said there also needs to be a major overhaul in the way a case is investigated.
She said people live in an incredible and unique environment in Nunavut, but life here is different, especially when it comes to the relationship people have with a criminal and a victim.
“How we approach investigating and information-collecting needs to be Inuit community relevant. We also should have, as part of the investigation process, an advisory group from the community to give proper family history. Knowing families helps.
“When we talk about reconciliation, and we know there are so many generations of victims and abusers, it’s rampant, incest, and many abusers themselves are victims of all kinds of abuses.
“We need to define a period of time – I don’t know what we call it – when an abuser exhibits a willingness to heal and, as hard for me as it is to say it, we’re going to have to provide that opportunity so that they have an opportunity themselves to heal and have closure.
“But, having said that, pedophiles don’t heal. They don’t change. Predators will always be predators. There has to be a clear line between those with a willingness to heal and those we know will not.”