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Rally acknowledges injustice, racism and pain

In response to two murder trials that returned not-guilty verdicts in connection with the deaths of two Indigenous youth in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Iqalungmiut gathered Feb. 27 to show solidarity, grieve, and express their own fears and hopes.

Victor Tootoo, left, and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, were two of the Qanak Collective's organizers who led Iqalungmiut at a rally at the Four Corners, followed by a walk down Federal Road to the Elders Qammaq in support of justice for Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie, two Indigenous youth murdered in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Juries found both men accused of their murders not guilty.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

"Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine and many, many Indigenous people all over Canada died because they were exposed to many different types of racism. Human beings that were killed under horrific circumstances and yet the white people responsible for their deaths face no reprimand," Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, a member of the Qanak Collective, told Nunavut News.

"It is important that Iqaluit, Nunavut and the rest of Canada know that Inuit recognize and have intimate knowledge of this horrific grief, too."

Qanak, an Iqaluit group created to foster citizen engagement in Nunavut, organized the event, which began with a rally at the Four Corners, followed by a walk down Federal Road to the Elders' Qammaq. People in attendance who remained shared inussiutit (country food), and revealed their thoughts and feelings.

"The rally at Four Corners was very emotional. There was about 50 people, crying and holding each other, mostly in silence. We spoke to the lack of justice, peace, reconciliation and the deep mourning families across the country are in," said Williamson Bathory after the gathering.

"Then there was a walk to the Qammaq. The walk itself was symbolic and in solidarity with other rallies across the country. We walked towards the water, the seashore. This was to give thanks to the strength of water to cleanse and nourish us, to recognize our cultural connection to the water and to honour Tina Fontaine who was killed and sunk to the bottom of the Red River (in Winnipeg)."

People of diverse backgrounds, genders and ages came together.

"There were high school students, an elder, families, couples, groups and individuals," said Williamson Bathory.

Co-organizer Victor Tootoo was the first to speak at the Qammaq, welcoming those gathered.

"We are here today to stand in solidarity with each other. Other Inuit, Metis, and First Nations Indigenous peoples and all Canadians who have been outraged by recent decisions and verdicts concerning Indigenous people in Canada," said Tootoo.

Tootoo spoke about colonialism, racism and lateral violence. He urged non-Indigenous people to learn about the "true history of the Crown" and its treatment of Indigenous people.

"We need to recognize that the systems, processes, and institutions currently in place are failing our families," he said, adding, "Let us not practice racism toward ourselves."

Later Tootoo likened colonialism and lateral violence to the movement of glaciers over the land, putting pressure on and flattening was lies beneath it, "pitting whatever lies beneath against each other."

He said often the most vulnerable are targets.

"The first step to healing is to end lateral violence," he said.

It was agreed that the discussion held at the Qammaq would remain private, in recognition that those who spoke did so feeling safe to fully express themselves.

Afterwards, Williamson Bathory shared her thoughts on what took place.

"The discussion itself was difficult because sometimes it was hard to bear witness to the pain of people who suffer from similar hardships that Colten Boushie, Tina Fontaine and hundreds of other Indigenous people suffer through," she said.

"The young people who attended want things of us as adults. They want to be political and active but don't want to do it on their own. They need guidance from adults. They also want to be challenged to learn Inuktitut - they aren't challenged at all at school," said Williamson Bathory.

"It is important to be together when you have heavy emotions and difficult thoughts to move through. Being together allows for emotions and thought to breathe, especially if everyone is given agency to speak freely and we look for solutions as we discuss."

Emerging from the Qammaq after the gathering, people were met with an enormous projection on the exterior of Nakasuk School of Michif (Metis) visual artist Christi Belcourt's images for the #justiceforcolten and #justicefortinafontaine movements.

After a rally at the Four Corners, followed by a walk down Federal Road to the Elders Qammaq and a discussion, those who gathered then viewed a projection in support of Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie on the exterior of Nakasuk School.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo