Like many developed countries Canada is entering a period of self-reflection as it comes to terms with racism within its borders following a wave of global protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
For those willing to look there are plenty of examples of wrongdoing in Canada’s past, particularly toward Indigenous peoples, the effects of which are still being felt in the North today.
Since the first steps of Northern colonization, there have been many stories of neglect, mistreatment and ignorance on behalf of those who asserted themselves to be the caretakers of the Inuit.
One of the most infamous being the handling of the tuberculosis epidemic of the mid-1900s, where the rights of many Inuit were ignored by screening them without consent, in many cases sending them south without notifying family or holding anonymous burials.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Iqaluit just over one year ago to issue an historic apology for the neglect and mistreatment of the Inuit, only to be berated with unrelated questions about other issues by southern journalists, drawing the ire of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed.
“Inuit matter. This story matters. It is a Canadian story. I recognize there are other stories that matter, as well, but I do hope, in the future, there can be more respect given to the place and time and the people who deserve having their story told,” he told reporters at the time.
That very moment encapsulated an ignorance and lack of care for Inuit issues held by a greater Canada for a very long time.
Another would be the use of force used in a recent RCMP arrest in Kinngait, where an intoxicated man was hit by a truck door from a moving cruiser in an effort to subdue him before the rest of the cops piled on. This experience is one that will not be shared by many Canadians in the south and demonstrates some of the differences in how people are treated in this country.
Ending racism will require empathy. People will need to listen to one another and share experiences in order to build a greater understanding of each other.
This is already happening in Iqaluit’s only high school (“High school seniors ponder student body diversity,” Nunavut News, Jan. 13 edition) where senior students are teaching others about Inuit culture and themselves learning about life in the south. Listening and learning from each other will have to become a life-long pursuit.
As a nation we will have to build those bridges and foster that greater understanding of the struggles of others, but also empower the often under-represented voices.
Before the momentum has passed, Canada must take the time to improve itself and do better, which would require us all to reflect and do better.