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COMMUNAL HEALING: INDIGENOUS PEOPLE 

In the Malibu Mountains where a Native American ceremonial site is preserved and used. Image Source: Elaine Jean Cooper Archive.

In the Malibu Mountains where a Native American ceremonial site is preserved and used. Image Source: Elaine Jean Cooper Archive.

The truth hearing around the dog slaughter and the research of the First Nations are examples of attempts at communal and generational healing.  This blog will describe the experience of the Inuit community and the Canadian government.   

One Inuit filmmaker and poet described the Native Americans’ sense of dislocation: 

We can’t get back to the old ways.   

The new system is not working. 

We are in limbo. 

Our youth are killing themselves. 

- By Zacharias Kunuk, Filmmaker


Walking both sides of an invisible border 

It is never easy 

Walking with an invisible border 

Separating my left and right foot
 
I did not ask to be born an Inuk 

Nor did I ask to be forced 

To learn an alien culture 

With an alien language
 
So I am left to fend for myself 

Walking in two different worlds 

Trying to make sense of two opposing cultures 

Which are unable to integrate 

Lest they swallow one another whole. 

- By Alootook Ipelie, Poet 

The Inuits have made attempts on a community level to help people heal.  The Aboriginal Healing Foundation have offered mentorship and education to local community leaders.  Approaches have included cathartic sharing of stories in talking or healing circles and traditional activities.  Reference is made to the “soul wound” and attention is paid to the social narrative – the explanation to help make sense of historical trauma.  “At a collective level, hearing about others’ experiences recounted in narrative, can fashion, confirm or modify cultural or collective understandings (Crawford).” 

Crawford cites Caruth (1996) who describes trauma as a “break in the mind’s experience of time (Caruth, p.61).”  “Trauma is not recognized as such until it revisits the person’s mind.  At a societal level this is often thought to translate to belated processing of traumatic experience, often generations later.  Thus, leaving a narrative (or traumatic experience) disorganized or unresolved, may help explain how it can become cumulative in its impact, exerting its influence even into successive generations (Crawford).” 

During the 2007 Qikiqtani Truth Commission, a grandchild testified about the trauma of a grandmother being sent to a sanatorium far from home: “…when my grandmother left on the ship, I think my whole clan – especially our grandfather – was going through stressful times.  The only time we could see our grandmother was the next year, or as long as it took to heal.  There were no airplanes, no means of mail, no means of telephone, no means of communication with our loved ones.  I remember them crying, especially the old ones.  It was very traumatic and it had a profound impact on our people…When my grandmother passed away, we were never told if she passed away, or where she passed away (Crawford),” 

One of the severe traumas of the Inuit people was “dog slaughter”.  It has been alleged that 20,000 sled dogs were killed from the mid-1950s to the late 60s.  In 2007 the Qikiqtani Truth Commission was established.  It was never resolved why the killings took place.  The government reps said it was for health reasons. The health reasons were never explained to the dog owners.  The Inuits said the slaughter was to force them into Western living situations.  Makivik launched a documentary: “Echo of the Last Howl (makivik.com).” 

Two quotes during the truth hearings are as follows: “My ancestors were nomads and this was basically a way of taking away their transportation.  They relied on the dog for everything, for hunting, for transportation, everything.  The dog was your vehicle and the one theory is that it was to force them into communities so that they were no longer nomads (makivik.com).”  “This had a devastating effect on our communities and our way of life.  It created all kinds of social problems.  It took the Nunavik man’s pride away… and some turned to alcoholism and from there, there were social problems, suicides with a whole slew (of problems) (makivik.com).” 

The judge who presided over the investigation concluded in a 2010 report that “The Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, their officials and police forces knew or should have known and understood the central place that dogs occupied in Inuit culture in the 1950s ad 1960s (Toronto Star).”  The Inuits were awarded $3 million to support the Inuit in the protection and promotion of their culture.  Financial compensation was given to each of the 526 families who lost dogs.  In addition, plaques to commemorate the dog slaughter was provided for the 14 Nunavik villages (Toronto Star).  

REFERENCES 

Brenna, Richard J.. “Inuit Communities Finally Get Compensation for Dog Slaughter,” The Toronto Star, June 29, 2012.  

Caruth, C., Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History,  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins. 

Crawford, Allison, “The Trauma Experienced by Generations Past Having An Effect in Their Descendants: Narrative and Historial Trauma Among Inuit in Nunavut, Canada,” Transcultural Psychiatry, March 7, 2013. 

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/06/29/inuit_communities_finally_get_compensation_for_dog_slaughter.html 

Untitled, “Sled Dog Slaughter Harmed Inuit,” The Canadian Press,” Auguest 8, 201l. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sled-dog-slaughter-harmed-inuit-quebec-acknowledges-1.992772 

Untitled, “Inuit Dog Killings No Conspiracy,” CBC News, October 20, 2010  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/inuit-dog-killings-no-conspiracy-report-1.971888 

Untitled, “Dog Slaughter,” Makivik Corporation, 2017. http://www.makivik.org/dog-slaughter/ 

© 2017 Elaine Jean Cooper All Rights Reserved