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Federal apology expected to accompany Nanilavut launch

Ten years after approaching Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is moving forward on Nanilavut (Let's find them) by hiring three staff to manage a database.

In the Qikiqtani region, Inuit were tested for tuberculosis on the repurposed Canada Coast Guard C.D. Howe, seen here near Pangnirtung in 1951. Nanilavut (Let's find them) will offer help to families still searching for loved ones who were taken away for treatment and never returned.
photo courtesy of W. Doucette/National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada

The objective of Nanilavut is to help families find out what happened to loved ones who were taken away for tuberculosis (TB) treatment and never returned.

The federal government hasn't yet made an official announcement.

"They're working toward an announcement," said NTI president Aluki Kotierk.

"I was hoping it would be on World TB Day March 24, but it won't be. So I think it will be some time in the new fiscal year."

Nevertheless, behind the scenes, much has been done.

"Since 2008, NTI has been working with other Inuit regions – Nunatsiavut, Inuvialuit and Nunavik, and we're part of the ITK national working group – working towards a database. The federal government has been really good on working on a database," Kotierk said.

"We're at a point where there's quite a large amount of information available."

In May 2017, an INAC spokesperson told Nunavut News comprehensive research had been conducted at Library and Archives of Canada, departmental records, provincial archives, religious archives, with key informants and publications, as well as through outreach to various cemeteries across Canada. Research conducted by working-group members was also included in the findings.

Now, each Inuit region, including Nunavut, has been provided with funding to hire staff to manage the database.

"Work has been underway to provide access to the database to Inuit partners of the Nanilavut working group. This included a first training session provided in December 2017 to staff from each region of Inuit Nunangat," said federal spokesperson Valerie Hache.

NTI has hired two staff for its Iqaluit office, and one more will be hired for its Rankin Inlet office.

"With the hopes that Inuit would be able to contact us and find out information if they have loved ones that went away and never came back, and they don't know where they're buried," said Kotierk.

Information could include which sanatorium a loved one was sent to, and if they didn't come back, maybe which cemetery they were buried in.

"I think this is very hopeful, but I also want to caution that the database doesn't have information about absolutely everyone. For sure there will be some circumstances where people don't get information they were hoping they'd be able to find," said Kotierk.

As an example, even if there's information about a cemetery, there may not be grave markers, as has been the case for some families.

Along with being in a position to provide assistance to Inuit in accessing information from the database, NTI expects a formal apology from the federal government and some support for family members to go to the cemetery.

"Inuit have been saying to the federal government that they'd like to see an apology for this period of time. I recently read an article on dispossessed loss, about how sometimes people lose someone but they don't really know if they're really lost. They don't know if they're alive or not. And they want to grieve because they think they're dead, but they still hold on to the hope that they still might be alive," said Kotierk.

"There's a lot of heavy stuff that people are carrying to this day."

Is an apology meaningful?

"I think what's important is that acknowledgement – 'Yes, we screwed you over. This should not have happened to you.'"

She says it's an acknowledgement of a systemic issue.

"If you have an apology, one would assume you're putting in the resources necessary to make sure we move away from the circumstance that you had to apologize for."

Kotierk says it's likely the support to visit grave sites would be for up to two family members.

"So that's a small gesture toward trying to heal things because, of course, people will wonder if all their family can go. But the answer is no. It would be limited, so families would be expected to talk amongst each other and figure out who is best able to represent the family," she said.

Once the federal government makes its announcement, NTI will launch an information campaign to make certain Nunavut Inuit know how to access Nanilavut.