In 2010, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission (QTC) published a list of 25 recommendations aimed at mitigating the impacts of colonialism and racism on the Inuit of Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region.
Some 13 years later, efforts are still underway to meet those recommendations.
“We’re always going to advocate for all of [the items on the list],” said Inukshuk Aksalnik, manager of Qikiqtani Truth Commission Implementation and Programs at the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA). “It’s not going to be a simple checkmark, you’re done kind of thing. It’s something that we’ll always work towards implementing.”
The QTC was created by the Inuit-led QIA in 2007, with the aim of gathering evidence on the treatment of Qikiqtani Inuit between 1950 and 1975, when residential schools were still in use and racism was rampant.
The commission published its 25 recommendations after three years of intensive research, which included thorough interviews of roughly 350 Inuit witnesses at 16 public hearings held across the region. Those recommendations were ultimately broken into four categories: acknowledging and healing past wrongs, strengthening Inuit governance, strengthening Inuit culture, and creating healthy communities.
One of the biggest breakthroughs with respect to meeting the QTC’s recommendations came in 2019 when, after years of lobbying, former minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett visited Iqaluit to apologize for the treatment of the region’s Inuit.
That apology on behalf of the federal government included upwards of $20 million in funding aimed at helping affected Inuit heal from the traumas of colonialism. A second instalment of more than $25 million was then issued in 2022.
“When Carolyn Bennett came to deliver her remarks, along with the acknowledgement and apology came some programming dollars,” said Aksalnik. “Because of the funding that Canada has provided to QIA, we’re solely in charge of implementing these recommendations through the programs.
“From there, QIA went into program design and development.”
The QIA developed three program areas to address the QTC’s recommendations: a travel and healing program, a history and governance program, and the Qimmiit Revitalization Program — the latter aims to help bring dog teams back to Nunavut.
“Each of those program areas have their link to the recommendations,” Aksalnik said.
For example, QIA’s travel and healing program is currently tackling items No. 2, 4 and 5, while the association’s history and governance program is addressing items 9, 15, 16, 17, and 19. The Qimmit Revitalization Program, meanwhile, addresses item No. 24, as does much of QIA’s ongoing land-based programming.
When asked about the most significant headway QIA has made with respect to the QTC’s recommendations, Aksalnik pointed to the 2021 unveiling of a monument outside the RCMP detachment in Iqaluit, which memorializes the contributions of Inuit special constables and their dogs.
It was an important moment, as item No. 3 on the QTC’s list of recommendations sets out that “QIA and the RCMP should formally recognize the contributions of Inuit special constables and their families to the work of the RCMP in the region.”
“It’s a huge carving with an Inuk special constable harnessing a dog,” Aksalnik said. “We were able to do that while working with RCMP and also being provided funding from the government of Nunavut.
“It was such a proud of day for all of us,” she added.
Many Qikiqtani Inuit will be reflecting on the impacts of colonialism and racism during the upcoming National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, colloquially known as Orange Shirt Day, which falls on Sept. 30 each year. It recognizes the grim legacy of Canada’s residential school system.
Aksalnik is no exception.
“What it means to me personally is it’s important to recognize this era of Canadian history and recognize what happened or what continues to happen to Indigenous folks in this country,” she said.