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Lori Idlout: Nunavut has grown more powerful despite attempts to beat us down

NNSL file photo

Inuit have thrived in Nunavut since time immemorial.

Despite harsh conditions, we learned to hunt, fish and provide for our families. We invented the iglu, umiaq and qamutik, among other inventions. We raised children and passed on a culture filled with rich traditions through countless generations. We were guided by the stars, sun, the moon and taught the patterns of the environment so Inuit could govern themselves for generations.

When settlers arrived on our lands, the territory now known as Canada, they began a multi-century process of genocide and forced assimilation. Through racist and colonial legislation like the Indian Act, Indigenous peoples were marginalized, forced onto reserves and sent to residential schools. In just a few short decades, we were forced away from a nomadic lifestyle to live in settled communities. Our sled dogs were slaughtered. Our relatives were forcibly relocated to High Arctic communities. Our children were taken away by the state while we were forced to live in overcrowded, unacceptable conditions. Canada did everything in its power to beat us down, and we live with the inter-generational trauma to this day.

I am ever proud of the great strength that my ancestors had. It is great visionaries like the late Donat Milortok, Tagak Curley, the late Meeka Kilabuk and Okalik Eegesiak that created bridges from the ancient past to a modern future.

Thus, the historic formation of Nunavut as a semi-autonomous territory in 1999 was an act of resistance. Nunavummiut came together despite colonial forces and fought for self-government.

It is both my ancestors, these visionaries, and the courage of the former residential school students that inspire me to this day.

This year, the 25th anniversary of the territory of Nunavut, we have even more to be proud of. The Devolution Agreement that was signed in January will shift more political power from the federal government to Nunavut, where it belongs. Nunavummiut will no longer be at the whims of a politician in Ottawa for decisions about our own lands. While there are sure to be some growing pains, I am optimistic that the significant funding available for training will ease the transition.

The federal government, which has a duty and responsibilities to Inuit, fails to meet its obligations. The housing crisis is imposed on us, and our homes are overcrowded and falling apart. During my visits to communities, I am told stories of great need. Some homes are keeping cracking floors together with nothing more than duct tape. Tuberculosis persists in our communities, even though it has been practically eradicated in the rest of Canada. We pay the highest prices for groceries, despite programs like Nutrition North that are supposed to make things more affordable. Southern companies are making millions in profit while Nunavummiut remain in poverty. We rely on dirty diesel generation and unreliable internet and cellular services. It costs thousands of dollars to fly south for a simple medical appointment because of a lack of healthcare in Nunavut communities.

We must heal and learn to live with love and forgiveness. We must stop letting anger and pain be the driving force in our daily living. Our children and grandchildren demand that we all work harder to protect the land, and use resources to sustain our future.

As we confront these challenges, we must ensure that Inuit knowledge is at the forefront. We cannot only be using a colonial, academic approach to solving our problems. We have centuries of knowledge from our ancestors to rely on. At every opportunity, we must uplift these voices. We can use both systems.

Canada’s colonial and genocidal policies have tried to eradicate Inuit culture and assimilate us. Governments continue to keep us marginalized by under-investing in us.

On this 25th anniversary, let us amplify our strengths, use our voices to advocate for our rights and the future for our children and grandchildren. I have hope for our youth. I am filled with pride to have used my office to assist many young athletes so they could compete at the Arctic Winter Games (AWG). This year saw record participation at the AWG. The endurance of Nunavut athletes to overcome hurdles to compete is evidence of the hard work and dedication they have to succeed as adults.

Let us mark the next 25 years having provided more choices and opportunities for our children and grandchildren to have success in their lives.