“And you can still get walrus”

Four days and three nights in Iqaluit, Nunavut allows me to say that my wife and I have been north of 60 which in the minds of some distinguishes us as being truly Canadian. Short lived as our visit was we managed to tour the city and nearby tundra on ATV vehicles, explore an island that has been designated as a heritage site for the Thule people, and tour Iqaluit itself. 

Oddly, the most dramatic part of our trip came as we travelled home. In the transit lounge of the Iqaluit airport we noticed a couple of Inuit men who dressed in coveralls and reflective vests appeared to be ground or maintenance crew. When we boarded we found that one of those men shared the window seat beside us. 

When we introduced ourselves to Patrick we learned that he indeed worked for First Air and was heading to Ottawa for a training course in logistics. 

My wife and I are not shy about engaging in conversation with the people we meet and neither was Patrick.  The 3 ½  hour flight to Ottawa was a delight. We learned that Patrick lived in Hall Beach ,  2 hours by air north of Iqaluit and that he was the father of his first child. He and his family lived with his uncle.He was a gifted story teller . He described graphically life in Hall Beach with all the amenities including satellite TV, coping with winters that I can’t imagine and he told us of fishing and hunting for seal and caribou. 

The flight was all too short and as we made our approach to Ottawa I asked if money was no object and he could live anywhere in the world where would that be. 

With the wonders of satellite television, I was ready to hear some exotic foreign capital, tourist destination or tropical island  

Without a moment of hesitation he exclaimed,  “Repulse Bay”. Looking at the map it looks to be about 1000 km west of Iqaluit. 

Surprized by the answer I asked “Why Repulse Bay???”   “Because the seal and caribou hunting is excellent and you can still get Walrus.” 

I have repeated this story to many, closing with, “ you can never assume that we all have the same sense of values  and that one person’s Paris, Rome, or tropical isle is another person’s Repulse Bay” 

But I missed the point. 

I share the shame of the history of indigenous people in Canada. The abuse at every level and particularly at the residential schools is deplorable.  

I think that the minds behind the residential schools system at the time thought they were doing the “right” thing by” integrating” the first nation’s population into the rest of Canada. In retrospect tearing apart the fabric of families and culture was an outrageous thing to do and the consequences will not be undone for generations. It was founded I am sure on the principle that first nations people would be better off to be just like us. 

But to my shame I did the same. When I asked that question of Patrick I was expecting that he would name somewhere south that had caught his imagination on previous trips to Ottawa, on television or on the internet. 

I did exactly what the designers of the residential schools did…I assumed that the “prize” was life somewhere else. 

Whatever the hopes and aspirations of the indigenous peoples might be I hope that there will always be room for the Patricks and that they will always be excited to know that “you can still get walrus.” 

 

Bob Clement, D.V.M., Scientific Communications Specialist, Royal Canin Canada 

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