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Pope’s visit reopens wounds this Nunavut Day

Rankin Inlet Elder preaches forgiveness
Cathy Towtongie is seen here in Chesterfield Inlet in 2021. The former politician has been concerned with a trend she’s seen in the younger generation, where people are turning to revenge and bitterness about the crimes committed against Inuit in the past. The only way forward, she said, is forgiveness and becoming the best individual every Inuk can be. File photo courtesy of Cathy Towtongie

For Cathy Towtongie, the Pope’s visit to the territory casts a unique light on Nunavut Day this year.

“I’m glad we have the territory of Nunavut, and I’m glad the Pope is coming in to the capital,” she said from Rankin Inlet.

But clouding celebration of the territory is all the residential school wounds the Pope’s visit has reopened, particularly in the Kivalliq for those who survived the residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, which was run by the Catholic Church.

“There were no more sounds of running children laughing, playing,” said Towtongie. “No more sounds. Our culture was changed. Completely changed.”

However, there’s something else that concerns her in relationship to that traumatic history: a rise in bitterness and anger among the young generations.

“We are above that,” said Towtongie. “We are better than that. Inuit have always been able to turn the other cheek. We’ve been advised by Elders not to pay back, never pay back.”

An ancient saying from Elders is Akgiatialigit, she explained, meaning do not retaliate or take revenge, as it is a weak person that will want to take revenge and retaliate, and it takes a lot more strength not to retaliate than to give in to bitterness.

Many young people are turning into hateful people, said Towtongie, “just like the priests and nuns who ran the school,” and people are calling for revenge.

“That was not the Inuit way,” said Towtongie. “That was not the Elders’ saying. It is not who we are. The only way to get back at the residential school system is to succeed in life, not only to live but to survive and become a successful Canadian.”

If the youth want to truly make a difference in their generation, they should live healthy lives and turn to their culture and Inuit morals, according to Towtongie.

“Be better. Be better than them,” she implored. “Be better than the priests or the nuns or the teachers. They owe it to themselves.”

Youth should be proud to be Inuit, she continued, and not to fear making mistakes while reclaiming their language or culture.

Being constantly angry will shrivel you as a person, she added.

“Once you forgive yourself, you release it, and then you forgive the system,” said Towtongie. “That’s the only way. If you hold on to unforgiveness, it will impact your life into becoming a bitter person. It’s tough, but it’s simple.”

And if you can’t do it, ask for help from an Elder you respect and one who has the ability to transmit culture and knowledge.

“Canada is a great country,” said Towtongie. “By becoming successful Inuit individuals, youth and Elders alike, we can even make it better.”