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Wards of the State

John Amagoalik

Going back to the isolated Arctic, it was around the early sixties that we started to discover that we had become powerless in our own homeland. We had become non-citizens in our own country. Our human rights were ignored and violated. Things like game laws were directly imposed on us. We never had any prior discussion about game regulations or quotas or anything like that. Canada had already signed the Migratory Birds Convention Act, so there were international laws that the government was committed to and had to enforce. The laws were already in place. We only started finding out about these laws when some people started breaking them. It was becoming obvious that through the introduction of game laws, and through the introduction of the justice system and the education system, we had basically lost control of our lives. We found out that we were powerless.

In Chapter Two, John discusses the condition of the Inuit in the 1960s, under the guardianship of the government, and the way the Hudson Bay Company and the missionaries treated them. He talks about the other experiments with relocation that took place. He reiterates that, at that time, the Inuit had no say in anything and that the qallunaat imposed everything on them: the White system of justice, government legislation, the obligation for children to go to school and the ban on their speaking Inuktitut, the exploitation of the land by the oil and gas companies.

He cites the naming system as an example of the many Inuit traditions still alive today. He returns to the issue of forced moves and highlights the role his own father played in raising awareness among the people in the community.

John also recalls the media coverage of this human drama. He goes on to recall the election of the first Inuk Member of Parliament and of the first people to pressure the Government to look into the matter and negotiate an agreement: that file is not closed to this day, because the Government has not accepted to tender an apology to the people who were displaced. J

ohn tells of the soul-searching of the Inuit over their powerlessness in the 1960s, inspired by the cultural revolution in the Western world. He talks about the first school in Resolute Bay and how Inuit youth wanted to go, in spite of the difficulty getting there. He recounts his life at the school in Churchill, tells of the people he met there and discusses the negative effects of boarding on the family and community life of the Inuit. He recalls his return to high school in 1970, and then his first job with the territorial government.