The Qikiqtani Region, once known as the Baffin Region, is the most eastern and populous region of Nunavut. Half of its 17,000 people live in one city, Iqaluit, and the rest live in 12 hamlets. All 13 communities are located on tidal water, mainly Baffin Island or smaller islands nearby. The country food resources of the region include abundant caribou, seal and Arctic char, along with beluga whales, walrus and polar bears. Closely-related dialects of Inuktitut are widely spoken throughout the region.
About 12,000 Inuit live in the Qikiqtani Region in 13 communities ranging in size from Iqaluit (population 6,085 – 50% Inuit) to Grise Fiord (population 140 – 86% Inuit). The Qikiqtani Inuit Association represents Inuit living in this region. Together with Inuit in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions, they are beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Some Qikiqtani Inuit have close kinship connections with Nunavik Inuit in Quebec.
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission (QTC) was created by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) in October 2007. The QIA manages Inuit-owned land and is mandated to protect and promote the rights and interests of Inuit of the Baffin Region, High Arctic and Belcher Islands. It created the Commission to investigate facts, interview witnesses, hold public hearings and report—to members of the QIA and the public—the truth surrounding the alleged dog slaughter, relocations and other decisions made by the Canadian government up until 1975, and to consider the effects of these decisions on Inuit culture, economy and way of life.
The QTC did not investigate High Arctic relocations, residential schools or matters subject to other processes.
The QTC is the first Inuit-sponsored and Inuit-led initiative of its kind. It is also a rare example of a comprehensive social justice inquiry led by an Aboriginal organization.
For years, the Canadian government rejected Inuit calls for a public inquiry into the alleged killing of their sled dogs and forced relocation of from Inuit nunagivaktangat into permanent settlements and between settlements. Between 1950 and 1975, these changes contributed to the almost complete transformation of daily life for Inuit. Instead of an inquiry, the government directed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to look into these allegations and report back to Parliament. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) was deeply disappointed with the RCMP report, which rejected Inuit memories and was disrespectful of Inuit elders. More importantly, the QIA believed that the RCMP report missed an opportunity to heal relations between Inuit and government authorities. For these reasons, the Association decided to independently establish its own truth commission.
Since World War Two, the Canadian government has initiated profound social, economic and cultural changes in the North that have had a far-reaching, negative and lingering influence on the lives of Qikiqtani Inuit. The vast majority of these decisions were made without consulting Inuit and the consequences are still felt today.
The main objective of the Commission, therefore, was to ensure a more accurate history of those events and their consequences, from the perspective of Qikiqtani Inuit. The work of the QTC provides all of us—Inuit and other Canadians alike— with a foundation of authoritative, culturally balanced historical knowledge that we can rely on to help reconcile past mistakes.
The broader truth and reconciliation process seeks to promote healing and forgiveness among those who suffered from historic wrongs, and to repair relations between Inuit and governments. In Inuktitut terms, Qikiqtani Inuit are seeking saimaqtigiiniq: peace with past opponents.
Ultimately, QTC hopes that its findings and recommendations empower Inuit to create a more promising future for themselves. Acknowledgment of the pain Inuit suffered because of misguided government decisions is an important part of the process needed to heal individual wounds, bridge misunderstandings and inspire forgiveness within families and between cultures.
Since its inception, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission (QTC) has amassed an authoritative collection of historical documentation and interviewed hundreds of witnesses during public hearings to uncover the truth about the period of 1950 to 1975, a pivotal time of transition in the Baffin Region.
Our investigation had two closely related activities:
- The first was to gather testimonies about events between 1950 and 1975 from Inuit who had lived through this difficult period, as well as from their children, who continue to remember the suffering of their parents and other relatives.
- The second was to complete an extensive archival research program and interview non-Inuit who worked in the region during this period. Interviews used for the investigation included several retired RCMP officers, government officials and academic researchers.
The Commission visited public, private and personal archives across the country, finding documentation that shed light on the events being studied by the Commission. Historians working for the Commission accessed historical documentation from the Library and Archives Canada, the Northwest Territories Archives, the RCMP records centre, the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Anglican General Synod Archives, the Autry National Centre and the Archives Deschâtelets. Personal archives of individuals, such as Bryan Pearson, as well as libraries across Canada, including the Nunavut Court of Justice, were also consulted during the research process.
The number of documents that have been written on the North, its people and governance is staggering. The Commission’s historians focused their attention on documents most relevant to the period and themes under study. Additionally, the Commission interviewed important contemporary scholars specializing in 20th-century Inuit history and practices, including Hugh Brody, Milton M.R. Freeman, John MacDonald, Frank J. Tester, George W. Wenzel, and Robert G. Williamson. Two scholars—David King and Francis Lévesque—generously assisted the QTC on issues in their areas of expertise (the schooling of Inuit and killing of qimmiit, respectively).
In Inuit culture, important historical, legal and environmental information has been carefully retained in memory and passed from generation to generation. Recently, Canadian courts have begun to value this kind of evidence on par with written official records. That said, some Qallunaat scientists, administrators and people in the justice system remain sceptical. They still consider orally transmitted evidence less authoritative than printed records.
As an Inuit-led initiative, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission held no such prejudice. To collect the facts necessary to reveal truths and move toward reconciliation, the Commission gathered 345 testimonies from Inuit and Qallunaat, both in public hearings and private sessions. It recorded these testimonies in audio and video formats; reviewed them in detail to inform its findings; quoted them extensively in its work; and based its recommendations upon the wisdom reflected within their words.
The Commission has summarized each of the individual testimonies provided during its public hearings: these summaries can be found in the Hearings & Interviews section of this web site.
Specific quotations are also interspersed throughout this site and the Commission reports.
As the Commission visited the Qikiqtani communities, we heard impassioned statements—not only about traumatic past experiences, but also about the need for healing and reconciliation. Many participants recommended reasonable steps that can and should be taken to allow Inuit to move forward into a more promising future of their own making. These, along with recommendations put forward by the Commission and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, are outlined in The Qikiqtani Truth Commission Final Report: Achieving Saimaqtigiiniq. Key recommendations, however, can be summarized as follows:
- The Government of Canada needs to acknowledge its responsibility for the many government decisions that led to unnecessary hardship and poor social, health and education outcomes for Inuit. Both southern Canadians and younger Inuit need a better understanding of the harmful changes that were imposed on Inuit between 1950 and 1975. A number of other concrete steps to promote healing for those affected are detailed in Qikiqtani Truth Commission Final Report section on Acknowledging and Healing Past Wrongs.
- To prevent the mistakes of the past from being repeated, Inuit governance must be strengthened so that political, social and economic decisions truly reflect Inuit culture and needs. Some of the ways this can be accomplished are detailed in Strengthening Inuit Governance.
- Despite many changes in their way of life since the Second World War, Inuit have retained their distinct culture. They are one of the founding peoples of Canada. Inuit culture needs to be celebrated, strengthened and made better known to other Canadians, as described in Strengthening Inuit Culture.
The historical legacy in the Qikiqtani region includes a number of serious social ills, such as alcohol and substance abuse, unhealthy diets, high unemployment, low rates of graduation, high crime rates, and insufficient and substandard housing. Creating Healthy Communities describes a variety of culturally appropriate steps that should be taken to improve the quality of Inuit life.
In presenting these recommendations, the Commission hopes the Qikiqtani Inuit Association will work with Qikiqtani communities and government to develop an effective action plan and implementation strategy, and that all levels of government will commit the resources necessary to achieve their mutual goals.
The following communities were involved in the QTC:
- Arctic Bay
- Clyde River
- Grise Fiord
- Hall Beach
- Pond Inlet
- Resolute Bay
Commissioner James Igloliorte led the inquiry. Madeleine Redfern, Executive Director of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, coordinated the Commission’s work.
No, the QTC was not connected to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). The TRC is a government body that provides those affected by the legacy of Indian residential and federal day schools with opportunities to share their individual experiences in safe and culturally appropriate forums.
Although the QTC did not work with the TRC, the Commission examined education programs and Inuit experiences in schools between 1950 and 1975. See the related QTC thematic history, Ilinniarniq – Schooling in the Baffin Region, 1950 to 1975, to learn more about our findings.
The RCMP provided institutional support, including access to records and permission to reproduce materials related to the mandate of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission. It also encouraged retired officers to participate in QTC hearings.
In 2005-06, the RCMP conducted a related investigation into the alleged mass slaughter of Inuit sled dogs between 1950 and 1970. Its summary report, entitled the Final Report: RCMP Review of Allegations Concerning Inuit Sled Dogs, is available through the RCMP web site. The full report has not been translated and is only available through special requests made to the RCMP.
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission prepared a response to the RCMP report, the Analysis of the RCMP and Inuit Sled Dogs (2006) Report, as part of its mandate.