Click on 'Read More' for English Translation of Joe Ataguttaaluk Testimony by Peter Irniq, May 2009
Interview with Joe Ataguttaluk
Joe Atagutaaluk: I remember this one incident, when we were at a lake, this guy was running along and wanted to drink water with us from the lake. He came in between us, and fell right through the ice. He had a flashlight, and the flashlight fell to the bottom. This guy, he started to swim away from us but we yelled him to turn around and swim towards us. You could see the flight light in the bottom for a while, that was funny.
Peter Irniq: Was it getting dark?
Joe Atagutaaluk: He thought, we had made holes on the ice and drinking water but we were just along the edge. It was a bit far to that lake as well. We had our skates too, so the two guys were skating as fast as they could, and the guy was really running in between.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember when Rene Otak broke his collar bone?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Rene, yes.
Peter Irniq: He broke his collar bone, when we were playing foot ball.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: We used to do all kinds of things..
Peter Irniq: We had some happy times in Chesterfield Inlet.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, absolutely! There were some happy moments..at least to me. There were quite a few happy moments.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember all the happy times and what were you happy about?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Sort of.
Peter Irniq: Can you talk about some of them?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: One of the things that I was very happy about what when we would go out trapping foxes. Those of us who were bigger. Every Saturday, we would go out and check our traps, by walking. We would wait the entire week to visit our traps. When we go to check on them, we would catch a fox on a trap. At that time, when it became November 15, we would have an anxious time. We would down to the beach in front us at the hostel, we would go and look for food garbage, that they used to throw out there. At one time, a Sister was trying to keep us from going to sleep until 12 midnight and when midnight came along, couple of us, would go down to the beach in the dark, and then set traps, with a hope of catching a fox. When they went to check them later on, they had a fox. And then, us, me and Jack(Anawak), Jack was my really good friend. Behind the community, there was a little shack, we noticed a small fox went under the house. We set up the trap and went out further for sometime. When we came back, we noticed we had a fox already. And then, we had another fox where we set up another trap. My goodness, we truly wanted to get foxes. That time during the year, it was fun, as a man. We noticed four men, side by side. Each had foxes in between them, in fact, they had lots of foxes, at that time! At that time, we were being taught how to skin a fox. Those made it sort of fun, as they were sort of preparing us, for eventually becoming true Inuit.
Sometimes, it was not happy at the hostel. Our house, it didn’t bother me that much, even though, it does bother me at times. Over there, there were some unhappy situatins. When I got there for the first time, there were children who were eight years old. When I look at my children today and they are eight years old, they are still pretty small. That was how old I was when we left to go to school.
Peter Irniq: You were still a little child?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Apparently, yes! I still remember most. When we got there for the first time, I had a favorite aunt. She was my mother’s younger sister. She also went over there. Today, she is no longer alive. I could not see her for three days, when I was first there. When I did not see her for three days, I wanted to see her as I was remembering her. Where do these women go, I was thinking to myself. I must have been trying to becoming more clever, at this point. When I first started to try and notice where they went, I see the women would go upstairs and we boys were down here. When I would see them through a small window, they would go the stairs. I wondered, if she was up there too? So, I proceeded to go upstairs. When I got upstairs, I was asked, what I was doing? I said, I was up there to see my aunt. I was met with absolutely no smile, by a Sister! I was told, I am not supposed to be up there, they grabbed me and dragged me downstairs, back to boy’s dorm! I was brought to our supervisor immediately. Here, I was eight years old, I was put to bed right away. One who didn’t understand any of the rules applied to us.
Peter Irniq: There was no attempt to make you understand why and here you were, you wanted only to see your aunt?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes.
Peter Irniq: You only wanted to see your relative?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. It seemed we were not allowed to see our relatives immediately, upon arrival. If it was your sister, you were cut off from seeing her. Yes, over there, there were some very unhappy experiences. Also, I remember being put to bed, I don’t know how many times, I was put into bed, even though, I thought, I was being pretty good, all the time, at this point. I thought, I was pretty obedient, but then, I would be dragged to be put to bed. At one point, we were outside and then went inside the hostel. When we got in, we of course, were told to go in. With the girls, we had to take turns to go in and out. When the little girls were out, we boys, were instructed, not to go outside. When we do go out, there was a special for the boys, to be at. When they got the little girls to go in, then, they allowed us boys to go outside. Soon after we had been outside, I was instructed to go inside. I didn’t know why, I was told to go in. When I got in, I was brought to the boy’s washroom, where we had several toilets. And I noticed there was someone who put into the toilet, the entire toilet paper. Someone flushed it and it got so full that it overflowed. It was so full that it spilled all over the floor, and there were toilet paper all over the floor. Then, they(Sisters) started to interrogate us little ones about it. They knew, I did not do it. As long as they pointed at me, then they said, it was me, who did it, there was no question about it.
Peter Irniq: Was there someone who told on you?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: It was a fellow-child. When I was being pointed at, they said, it was me. I tried to tell them, I didn’t do it as I knew, I didn’t do it. I was blamed for it. When they got to know it was not me, but it was already to late, to correct it, then it became me, who did it. The Sisters made sure of that. Then, they dragged me to go to bed.
Peter Irniq: During the broad daylight?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: During the afternoon. It was after, we had finished schooling in the afternoon. The next day, I had to prepare a toilet paper like this. See those little lines and blocks on the toilet paper? The next day, they made me, prepare this toilet paper into three little pieces like this, on this toilet paper. They made me to fix them up and set them up, on top of each other, for other people to use. For a time, it was only me, who was doing that, but then, it became all of us doing this. We would use them to blow your nose and to wipe your ass. That entire exercise became a rule!
Peter Irniq: And only because the toilet was overflowing?!
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, only because the toilet overflowed. I was not responsible for it.
Peter Irniq: Did they find out, it was not you who did it?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: I don’t think, they ever found out. Also, at one time, some one broke a window. I never know to this day, why I was blamed for these things, often. One of my fellow-children, blamed me for it. At home here at that time, I never knew anything about a window. The last thing I would have thought of, is to break a window, let alone, not knowing, that a window would break. They said, it was me, who broke the window. Again, they put me to bed, in the day time. I was of course, not sleepy at all! We never got any orientation what-so-ever. For one thing, we were not told about the windows being able to break easy. When they thought, we did something, they put us to bed. Then, I went to bed again. We must have been thought of as foolish children. As a child, I didn’t think, they were a big deal for us to be put in bed. When I was younger, thinking back about the way, we were treated, I used to think, “good, they have all died!” Now, I don’t think that. At that time, I used to think, since they did so many bad things to us, I used to think, they got what they deserve. As a result, they will not be able to do anything like that to anyone else. But, that was how things were done at that time.
Peter Irniq: Are those types of punishments, that were part of the rules?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, those were the ways of punishing us, instead of teaching us, they totally avoided teaching us or informing us the right way. They would punish us, and wanted us to know, before hand, that these things were not the right way. They expected us to know things, that we did not know. They had an attitude that, you should know about these things, before hand, that they were wrong ways of doing things. The minute we got to Chesterfield Inlet, they got us to become adults, immediately! It looked like that.
Peter Irniq: As a young boy, when you lived near Iglulik or around Iglulik, and when you suddenly spilled the toilet bowl, would have been punished severely by your mother?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: No! I know, I would not have been punished. If you have an accident not on purpuse, people know. He didn’t do this on purpose. People knew, when you did things on purpose. If I did something like that at home, I would not have been punished for it, either by my mother or my father. About these things, they brought us up, totally differently, in Chesterfield Inlet.
Peter Irniq: They introduced you to a totally foreign culture, that was not part of Inuit culture?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. When I first went to Chesterfield Inlet, I did not at all know, English. No wonder, and it’s not surprising that I never entered a classroom before. As soon as I entered the classroom in Chesterfield Inlet, the teacher opened the window, and threw out my Inuit language, out the window, immediately! My language in Inuktitut was then, left outside! We were then taught to speak English! They allowed us to do things, with such force or vigour! Inside the classroom, you are not to speak Inuktitut! If you speak Inuktitut, you will pay for the consequences! If you speak it, you will be hit a with a large measuring tape, a yard stick, and hit on your hand.
Peter Irniq: That was if you spoke in Inuktitut language?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes! If you spoke in Inuktitut inside the classroom.
Peter Irniq: When you first left Iglulik, were you not able to speak in English, at all, as well?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. Absolutely!
Peter Irniq: And you were eight years old?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. We always lived at a small outpost came. We never lived in a community. And the Qablunaat(White People), who were in Iglulik, did not go to outpost camps. Those of us who lived in outpost camps, were all Inuit, and all spoke Inuktitut language. Only in Inuktitut, since time immemorial.
Peter Irniq: Now that you are an adult, do you speak to your fellow-Inuit in Inuktitut, since long time ago?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: I normally do. But, when you go out to different places, and when people speak a different dialect, then you feel, maybe they won’t understand me, speaking my own dialect, then you sort of have to speak in English. When you go into a different community, whose dialect is different, then you have to do this but here in our community, I try to speak Inuktitut all the time, to my fellow-community members.
Peter Irniq: When we were in Chesterfield Inlet, at that time, one of the things that was really wonderful for us, was the movies, and we would go to the movies, every Friday night, it seemed. You mentioned earlier that you had punishements, and knowing the fact that, going to see movies, were one of our favorite past times, as we enjoyed watching cowboy movies. If we did do something, and if we didn’t listen for example, without knowing or not on purpose, we would have been told, “no picture show for you tonight on Friday”. Do you remember this as well?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. Some were made to do this, and it was done to me as well. I used to be very envious of the children going to the movies, and again, my punishment was to go to bed, again. I would be in bed, wide awake. I was “bad” in their eyes, so they would stop me from going to the movies.
Peter Irniq: It was really fun going to the movies.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: It was wonderful but sometimes you think the other way as well. Sometimes, when you didn’t feel like going to a movie, especially when someone said, what we are going to watch tonight is a scary movie, so you didn’t really wanted to go to a movie but, they let you go anyways and told be “part of it”. You had to go along. We had to follow all these, and we were not free to not to them.
Peter Irniq: So, when we did things that we liked doing, we would be punished for them, if they thought, we were doing things, against their will?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, the punishment that used to get, was very big for what we thought were for small things. When you did things without knowing or what they appeared to be small things, you would get a severe punishment for it. At one time, we walked to the land, going out to check our fox traps, then when we got home, we were cold, and it was not a wonder, it was cold outside. We put all our boots into one spot, and you will obviously remember, Sister Girard. She spoke French fluently, as a French woman. She also spoke some Inuktitut. She was also learning to speak English. She started to speak to us in English and there were quite a few of us, sitting on the floor. I started to imitate how she was speaking in English. She came over to me when she found out, took me to dormitory and had got me to sit on the floor. I was trying my best to apologise to her about what happened. But, she just told me to sit on the floor. When it was 12 o’clock, she came over, and told me to go for lunch. I responded by saying, “you told me to sit down, I am going to remain sitting.”
Peter Irniq: Our big house, the place where we slept, can you describe it?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. Where she had me sitting down, she got me to have lunch, then after lunch, she got me return to our dormitory. She then, got me to sit on the floor again. She got me to sit on the floor around 10:30 in the morning, had a quick lunch, got me to sit again in the dormitory, finally at 3 p.m., when she said, it was time for my bath, she got me to stand up. That was how it was, and it was a long period of time. Later on, when I became an adult, I went to see where we used to sleep, it was one huge room. It had beds, all lined up like this, and there were quite a few. They may have been a row of six this way, and perhaps 24 rows this way. There might have been about 40 beds, as there was may be 40 boys, that went to school. The beds were all lined up very straight this way and that way, in one huge bedroom, the dormitory. At each end of the dormitory, our supervisors had their individual rooms, where they slept.
At one time, I was curious about where they used to pee, especially since they had huge dresses, as Qablunaat. When I got older and became an adult, and was free to do what I wanted to do, I went to see their bedrooms. Apparently, they shared one washroom, between the two bedrooms, where they slept. I had overcome my curiosity. Also, some beds could be on top of each other for some. Perhaps, you were there or had gone to where else, at that point. These were particularly set aside for the big boys. At one time, they had me sleeping on top bunk. I fell off the bunk bed, at one point!
Peter Irniq: I think, I was no longer there.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. I think, there I was taught a pretty good schooling, there. There was loud siren that they had, whether it was night or not. And they were teaching us what to do, when that happened. There was a door way from our dormitory, and then there were stairs from there. We would wrap a blanket completely, and used to go outside, when there was a practice drill. We did this at night, even though, we had been a sleep. We would go down the steps and went outside, even though, it was cold outside. No one froze. I think, we were taught pretty good about this then. We were also taught pretty good, if there was an emergency, especially taught not to panic. I don’t think, I learned very well, when I was a “trader” at the coop here, when the store was on fire, I became panicky. It was extremely scary!
Peter Irniq: If in fact, there was a fire at the hostel and there were about 70 or so, boys and girls, together. Where do you think, they would have send us to? Have you been told, where we would have gone to?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, for sure? Not at all, we were told nothing, the only thing they taught us, was how to get out of the building, in case, there was a fire. We kind of knew about this prior, as we were told that we would have fire drill training. If there was a real fire, this is where, you are going to go to. No one told us about this. Perhaps, they would have send all of you to the school.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, perhaps. Maybe to the hospital. I am not sure, where they would have taken us to. I know one thing for sure, they would not have taken us to Inuit homes, at that time. The local Inuit there, as our fellow-Inuit, we used to try and make friends with them, by visiting them. It was fun to visit local Inuit, at that time. But when our Supervisors found out that we were visiting, we would then again be told to go to bed, as part of the rules applied to us. They would get the boys together and the girls together but separate from each other. The boys were gathered and were then asked, as to “who have you visited?” When the question was asked, all of the boy’s hands went up. I did not put up my hand, as I did not participated visiting. When there were only a few us, perhaps five of us, who did not visit the local Inuit. All the others, who put up their hands, indicating that they had visited, were all put to bed, as punishment. They apparently did the same thing to the girls. Those who did not visit, came downstairs, they were not many, perhaps seven. Those who indicated visiting, apparently were put to bed to punish them. Those of us, who were “better” than the others, they got us together. They got us to play bingo, and had placed various things on the table, for prizes. Then, we were playing bingo, as though it was a real bingo game. While participating at a bingo game, I suddenly remembered, that I visited certain people. As soon as I remembered, the supervisors there seemed to know all about what happened. I became very scared! I wanted to tell them out loud that I had done this, while playing bingo at the same time. I was actually quite struggling to tell. I figured, the supervisors knew about this, wow, it was scary! I wasn’t doing this on purpose. If I had remembered earlier about my previous visit to the local Inuit, I would have been put to bed right away, along with the others. Only when we got together, I remembered my visit, it became extremely scary. If they found out about this, I would have been considered a lair. Now at least, that’s in the past.
Peter Irniq: When we were made to trap foxes at that time, how much money did you get for one fox, that you caught?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: What I remember about this was that one fox was worth $3, at that time.
Peter Irniq: That was in 1958.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. Around that time, 58, 59. One pelt was worth $3, so I got seven foxes, that entire year. I got a lot of money, totally $21. I was told that I had $21 and then was told, I could order things from the catalogue. When she brought a catalogue in front of me, I was looking through it with anxiety, right through it. And then, wow, I found a rifle, a 22 calibre. There was no cartridge and only allowed to put one bullet, at a time.
Peter Irniq: Yes, you load, only one bullet at a time.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, if you shoot, take out the empty bullet and then put another one in. It was that kind. I bought a rifle. It cost something like $14.19. Wow! Then, I was looking and found beautiful wrist watches. They were very cheap. Now, I bought those two for less than $21. I then added several other things which I bought with the rest of the money. That was how, I started to buy things. The big thing was, I even bought a rifle. I bought these things with the seven foxes that I got that year. When you consider the 22 with no cartridge today, they cost a lot of money now. It was fun, at that time.
Peter Irniq: Did you have money left over?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: No, we had to make sure, we spent them all. As we had to spend all of it, I bought three things with the money. Prior to that, my father sent to me $2 at that time.
Peter Irniq: This must have been a lot of money.
Joe Ataguttaaluk: When I got the $2, it was huge money! It was taken by our Supervisor right away. After the school was over, I asked, if I could go to the store with the money. So, we went to the store to the Hudson’s Bay Company. You know these brown papers like this, I loaded up with things, with the money I bought it, it was right full. It was full of things, that are really useful things. I bought sweets with him, such as candies, chocolate bars and gums. After I had spent a dollars, then I still had a dollar left over, to spend. I saved it for future so that I could use it, sometime down the road. At that time, things were very cheap. Wow!
Peter Irniq: When you entered the classroom for the first time, do you remember what it looked like inside?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: No really. The thing that I remember most was when we were brought inside the classroom that, they opened the window, and then throw out your Inuit language outside. They closed the window, and then started to teach us in English.
Only when I got a bit bigger, perhaps during the third year, or second year of schooling, I wanted to go to the washroom. The immediate answer was flat NO. It’s not a wonder, I needed to pee. The answer was flat no. Then, it became completely hopeless. Here I was trying to learn something in school, at the same time, I needed to pee so badly, knowing full well that my teacher did not allowed me to go to the washroom. So finally, I was asked to help someone, perhaps it was Karlik or Komaksiutiksaq, who had requested some help to fill up a water tank with water. They chose me to go. When I got chosen to go, I went to the furnace room, and started to fill the water tank with water. Then, over there was a doorway. Here, I should just gone out and peed outside but didn’t. But I guess, hearing the water running, I peed in my pants, by accident, as I could no longer help it. I tried to hold on to my pee but as soon as it started go, it went all the way. Here, I could have just gone out and peed, as no one would have caught me. I was scared. When I peed, my pants got all went, no wonder. It was 12 o’clock at this point, I left with the other students to go to the hostel to eat. Here, I was all wet. If the supervisors found out about this, I would have been beaten by them. They could have done anything to me. I just continued using my wet pants. Only when Saturday came along, we used to change our clothing. We wore our clothing for entire week but when Saturday came along, we would be allowed to have a bath, and only then, we would change our clothes. My pants were wet at first, but as I was using them, for what looked like an entire week, they dried up. I kept using them all the way, I must have gotten pretty stinky. I was really scared of the supervisors. If they knew, they would have done something to me.
I remember one other time about the other children. The weather was some what like this outside, when snow was beginning to melt(in May). These children were playing outside when the surface became wet and as a result they got all wet. Well, I remember the Sisters ordered them inside, told them to take their pants down, and started whipping them, with the belts. That is what they might have done to me, if they found out I was wet from peeing my pants.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember some students because they could not speak English and ask the teacher, “I would like to go to the washroom” that they ended up having an accident inside the classroom and peed their pants? Have you ever notice some of those?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: I actually did not notice anyone. I think, that was sometimes obvious for both boys and girls as well. It was extremely difficult to try to tell the teacher that you needed to go. This was a hard part for us, as we did not speak fluent English, because we were real Inuit to begin with. And when we needed to go to the washroom, they didn’t think, it was the major problem. That was how, they treated us. I just never got anything done to me, because I was hiding things very much.
Peter Irniq: Was there a teacher teaching Inuktitut inside the classroom?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Not right inside the classroom itself. But, just outside of the school, there was a workshop, so that gentleman from Kangir&iniq(Rankin Inelet) Pierre Karlik, used to teach us how to make toy sleigh, he taught us some Inuit cultural ways, even though, it was in a small way. That was only at that place and when you got inside the actual classroom, then you have nothing in Inuktitut, what-so-ever.
Peter Irniq: Did you learn to make fish net there?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, at home, where we were. They were fun to do! I used to finish, two spools at a time. We used to stand next to each other making nets, which was fun part. And the other fun part was when we were trying to see who could finish first. So, we used to have a competition, as to who, could finish the net first. I can and know how to make fish nets, but I buy the ones that are already made, ready for use, from the store. The first one I made over there, I gave it to my grandfather. I made three nets in three years. The first two I made I gave them to my grandfather and his brother. The third one I made, I gave it to my father. So we made fish nets. The floats were not included from the store, so we made floats out of ordinary wood. We made them very good looking. We learned to make things like that, at that time. They really were wonderful.
Peter Irniq: What about the priests, did you have catechisms? Did they come around to teach as well?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, they came and to preach about religion. They taught us, inside our classrooms. When they came to our home, they did not talk about it.
Peter Irniq: When we were going to school in Chesterfield Inlet, we had all kinds of rules, in which, many of those have quite a lot of impact on all of us, in every which way. Many Survivors talked a great deal about how, we used to be abused, as a result, we have to have a healing for life, and it is a real healing for us. Do you have something to tell us about this?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: I cannot really talk about it, in depth. I cannot talk about it to it’s end. I don’t think, I can even talk about it in every detail. I will probably jump from issue to issue. Well, when I first got there, I was taught about praying, believing. I can speak about praying and it’s something that is good. We would go to pray at 6:30 in the morning, started the church service at 7 a.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. On Sundays, at 6:30, then later in the morning, at 10:30. And after lunch at 3 p.m., then 7 in the evening. Four times a day. Then, on Monday, during the week, we would say the rosary, every day, right after school, at our hostel, for entire year. That first year, I remember it very well. But, the next year, it was not as much as it was during the previous year. But, I like it. To this day, I am not angry about the church services or prayers we had. Whenever I can go to church, I go to church, at every opportunity. But the thing is, because of who the priests and Angilican are today. It is not what they were. This is why, I can go to church today. In Chesterfield Inlet, there was that darn person, who tried to make friends with the children, in (a sexual way). If that person is here and working here today, I would not be going to church whats-so-ever! And to think of this, it is not what these priests were then, I am able to go to church today. And I struggle to try and make sure, that these church people we have today, are not those of what we had at that time, as a result, I am able to go to church today. I am not praying to those people, I think they are sent to as messengers to preach about believing. But, when those others were doing things that they were doing to us, it makes you very angry. Looking back, it makes you extremely angry. I never had any real close friends, I think, because I was put to bed too many times. My fellow-children used to turn on me. My fellow children used to point fingers at me. It makes you think, that was the only kind of friend I had and accepted it. Looking back about it, it angers me very fast. Having talked about it somewhat, I am now able to leave it behind, more so than before. Now that I can leave it behind me, I can now refrain from thinking about it. It taught me a great deal of lesson and I have seen many people, who done this sort of thing here in our community. I have never wanted to pass on this issue to our children. Looking back to what happened to us in the past over there, it sometimes, makes me think that, “good now that these people are gone, those who have done wrong to us”. It is not a wonder, that these people did things that they were not supposed to do.
Why is it, that Catholic priests are not supposed ? How come the Grey Nuns cannot have husbands? We are all made to want, all of us. I believe that this topic should be considered seriously by the Pope. That is precisely what I think about. This business of wanting, will always be around.
I also hear of Anglicans who went to schools as well. Those of us who were brought up as Roman Catholics, we were the ones, who attended that school over in Chesterfield Inlet. And also, others who went to other schools, they were sexually abused. It’s exactly the same way. I wonder why, this is such so strong. I don’t want to let go of my beliefs. As a result, as long as I can go to church, I will. But, whatever I learned in Chesterfield Inlet, in terms of praying and in terms of the faith, I will use it. I know that I did not get them from the priests and Christian brothers, at that time. We were taught about religion but this faith is much bigger. This is why, I am able to go to church. I think, sometimes we do not consider those, who were hurt. This is how, I can say it.
Peter Irniq: Those things, for example, if you don’t want to answer my question, it’s okay but if you want to answer it, that is okay. Those who were sexually abused at that time, the children, or as very small children, if we were at home, we would not have been abused like that, as it is not in the culture of the Inuit, those who were sexually abused, they are healing today, forever or lifetime. They want to heal since then, from there. What would you say to them, your fellow-Inuit?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Well, I cannot say it. But, I am aware of a need to feel. A need for feeling of needing to help a child, because, he/she is a child. Sexually abusing a child, is not helping the little child. A little child doesn’t seem to feel as a child but when they start to grow, and become aware of things, they can get angry. He will have a reason to be angry. I think, we need to think further ahead. Ever since then, what happened to us, has been following us, this is how I see it. As we grew up, we kept holding on to what happened to us over there, and in the end, we are very angry about it. As for me, I have been able to heal about what happened as I have been able to get it out in to public, not particularly to yourself but it has healed me much more. I have been able to heal great deal more from it. I am able to think more about the fact that, “let’s not do these things to little children.” Children do not think about these things. When they become older, they can think for themselves. Sometimes, they are made to take some things, they are going to be angry about later on.
Peter Irniq: When they were sexually abused as little children, as a result, their childhood was taken away from them?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes, that is right. When they sent me to Chesterfield Inlet to school, I think, it was their attitude that I should be knowledgeable like an adult, at that instant. This is probably how, we were treated during the time, we were away and for those of us, who were sent away. Even some of those children, who were not sent out, they were also abused by some teachers. They forget to notice the fact that they are children! It’s nice that we have children, they have the freedom to do whatever they want to do, if they want to play in the puddle of water, that’s okay. The thing is, when you did that in Chesterfield Inlet, then guaranteed, you were going to be whipped. We were taught to do adult things right away. Now, you do things the way, adults do, that was how we were treated.
Peter Irniq: Those who were supposed to be our “mothers” and “fathers”, they didn’t have on their hands, any skills, to do with parenting? Is that right? It seems like, they did not have any love?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Perhaps yes. But, maybe because, our culture was too different to their culture. We even had a Grey Nuns, a Sister, who was an Inuk. She was just an ordinary employee, so she could defended us but she was not given any powers and had no strength. She knew the Inuit ways, but she had rules to follow, so she could not do too much. Those who had authority, had absolutely no idea about Inuit culture, that was the problem. It was like them saying, “leave your Inuit culture behind.” Expect instead to becoming a Qablunaat, a Whiteman. This was what I think, was happening right away, right from the start.
Peter Irniq: When they took us to go to school in Chesterfield Inlet, was it their policy to make us Qablunaat(White People)?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: It seems pretty much that way. I could perhaps say, I do not target the people of Chesterfield Inlet, at all. I want them to be my friends. I want to have them as my good neighbors. But the ones, who were our Supervisors, authorities, they seem to wanted us to become White People. In regards to the White Man’s culture, learn it well, that was why, we had to follow what his culture was. Today, you can go sleep and woke up at 12, these children are able to do it, they can do it. If they totally understand Inuit culture, they can use it. I think, they wanted us to be assimilated to becoming Qablunaat(White People). We had to use forks to eat. When I first using forks to eat, I could not do it at all in the beginning. It’s not a wonder, when I lived in my hometown, I never, did really see any of these these eating utensils, prior to going to Chesterfield Inlet. Today, we can use them properly. My children are taking them at my own home. At that time, we just did not know how to use them. We used to eat frozen cow beef, as there was absolutely no caribou. We had maktaaq. We had frozen Arctic Char. We had fish, whose guts were still in the fish. When we were going to have boiled fish, they would cut up the fish into chunks, and then, they would have their guts attached to them, that we are now going to eat boiled! We were made to try and drink the fish broth! Like, they had guts in them! Then, we had to eat them. Prior, that was not how our people did. They could eat some of the guts but, they used to and knew how to separate the guts, between what was good to eat and not good to eat. But, we at the hostel had to follow their rules and eat them, the way they served them, and we had to eat them ..for sure!
Peter Irniq: At our own home, we would not have eat what we ate at the hostel?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Yes. Yes, that was the case. Here is one, I used to think of quite often. Whenever we would be leaving for Chesterfield Inlet, my mother used to make me brand new seal skin boots, that were water proof, but when we got to the Hostel, they were taken away and they gave us new, shoes. When we got back home to Iglulik, they didn’t appear, they didn’t come back home with us. My mother used to ask, what ever happened to your seal skin boots? The only answer I used to give her was, “I don’t know”. She thought, we would be using them while we were over there. The thing was, when we left from here, we used them, that was the last time we saw them. We never knew anything about what happened to them, even though, our mothers worked really hard to make them well, chewing and softening the soles, sewing the entire boots, we used them once and after that, that was it, we never saw them again. What happened to them? They just left them to rott! Should we try to do something about that? I don’t know. I think, there is something out there, that we can do something. Have you had that experience?
Peter Irniq: My experience was exactly the same as yours. When I got home, I check my bag, there was no kamiik(no boots).
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Here they were, our mothers worked really, really hard to sew those boots. They sewed them really well, to make them look nice. How do we retrieve those boots. I sometimes think of what to do about this.
Peter Irniq: Today, if we could have another meeting, as long as we are alive. We now meet about the things that happened to us, and we met in Chesterield Inlet, in 1993, July 5 to 9. We talk about bad things, I mean, not bad things but things that touched us personally, things that had impact on us, and we talked about those issues for five days. The things that we talked about, things that we worked so hard about, did they help our fellow-Inuit?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: To me, yes. When we were preparing to go there, I really did not wanted to go, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to get into. I was think of wonderful times or maybe I wasn’t going to make other people happy but when we got there, we let out, what was bothering us for a long time. That part had a great deal of help to me. Perhaps, my friends had felt the same way as me. Suppose we have another gathering, I think, we could bring out issues that are much more positive this time around. Over there, we talked a lot about negative impacts on each one of us.
Peter Irniq: If we were to have another reunion and talk about our successes at the Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet. Would this be helpful?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: I would like it very much to talk about the big help this educational facility has had to us who went to Chesterfield Inlet. Looking back to the time that I was in Chesterfield Inlet, it was not all bad. The system of moving education, was extremely good. Looking back, how did we retrieve so much of Inuktitut language, from our parents? Over there, they wanted to begin stopping Inuktitut in the classroom, but modern education in southern way, something I gain a lot of understanding from. Can we talk about the foundation of the schools in our communities. We already know that we are trying to keep on our hands, our Inuktitut language. We are trying to make sure this happens. But, education in English, it is becoming a way of life for Inuit. I know, we are not going to return to the traditional ways of the Inuit, completely. Never-the-less, we have to take pride in the fact that our Ancesters have brought us here to this day, even though, it was a long journey. It think, it would have many uses, if we could meet again in Chesterfield Inlet and talk about the modern education system. Like, how can we improve the current education system, within Nunavut?
Peter Irniq: Most of all, do you think the Government of Nunavut could learn a great deal from us, who have gone to the Residential School?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Some of it, yes. They could learn some from it. It is quite obvious. For example, you Peter Irniq, have participated in the making the Government of Nunavut, perhaps, those who have gone to school there, could provide more strength to the Government of Nunavut. Especially with what we are trying to do today.
Peter Irniq: When we were going to school there at a residential school, we did not learn almost nothing about Inuit culture. But looking at the Survivors who went there, they appear to be very strong people. I think, they could also vision the future. Also, we had very strong parents at that time. They knew their Inuit culture in a very big way, and practiced it well. It would seem to be that these young people who are going to school today, would benefit from learning more about Inuit culture and where Inuit came from. Especially at the high school level. If they take more of their own culture, do you think, they could use this for their future strength? Is this true? Does it seem to have any truth to it?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: To think of it, it seems to be true. I think, we have to return to our past. For example, in Ottawa, Nunavut Sivuniksavut is working very hard. They have a lot of responsibility. What they do is they learn things down there, that they could have learned up here and when that happens, they say, oh, really, we could have learn that at home. They finally come to that conclusion, when they are learning more about Inuit culture, when they got to Ottawa. Perhaps, what they learn down there, they could be transferred to Nunavut and put into practice inside the classrooms in Nunavut. I think, they could gain a lot more knowledge. Talking about my own children, they do not have a complete knowledge about Inuit culture. We have not taught them. We were taught by our parents. And because, I have other responsibilities, I don’t have all the time in the world, to teach them all. They should be put inside the classrooms. They would have a lot of people to our students.
Peter Irniq: Regarding as to what happened to us in Chesterfield Inlet, in terms of what happened to us about abuses and regarding our education system, what would you like to tell our southern Qablunaat in particular in the rest of Canada?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: To tell the people down there, maybe if I was a big boss..
Peter Irniq: Suppose, you became a Prime Minister of Canada…
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Inuit live here and they know about their land more than anyone else. They should be asked more questions, what do you want for your land? What would you want for your territory? Today it seems as though, we are just put or located here. Even though, Iglulik is here, and here is what it needs…as a commuity..we are just given things here and there. And the things that Inuit truly need, they are not coming up, they are not popping up. Just using Nanisivik as an example, there are no more people there.
And now, they just want to give it to the Military. Why does Military have to be here? There are lots of other things that need to be considered. We need instead that we as Inuit can enhance what we need. Where are they? I think, these things need to be felt more by the Canadian Government. Government always, “we have no monies”. It is pretty obvious now that the designed for Nunavut, particularly of what Inuit need, priorities, things that can allow us move forward, we need to see the money increased. And for those who are the survivors of residential school, many of them are hurt and need healing. They say, there is some money for healing but, they are not at all easy to get into. They seem to be really hard to get into, unless, you have all kinds of policies or have to go through so much red tape to finally get something. If you can get through all that, then you can finally get some of it. I think for another, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools, only has five-year mandate. But as long as you have rules that are completely tied up, then, it’s not going to be easy. It is then, it seems, useless to get into it. Or trying to get something from it. I don’t know how.
Peter Irniq: When we were going to a residential school, they were trying to have us assimilated into the White Man’s world, and not having any Inuit cultural programs for a long time, afterwards. The school opened in 1953 and closed in 1969. When was it have you decided to retrieve your Inuit identity, or your Inuitness?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Not very long ago. After Chesterfield Inlet, I returned home, probably in 1969 or 68. Probably in 1968, I returned home for good. So, when I got here, I started to work and started to make money, around 1968. And also, I wanted to take some of the culture of the Qablunaaq(White Man). But, my father was a full-time hunter, he would be out hunting with his dog team and would return, so my mother would tell me, “go and help your father”. I tended to follow my mother’s instructions. Perhaps, it was around that time, that I started to return to the ways of the Inuit, particularly Inuit culture. It was like this, when my father came home from hunting, then if my mother tells me to go and help my father, then, I would do whatever she wanted me to do, to help my father. Today, when they are told to do that, they seem to be able to tell you, “wait”. At that time, it was not possible to say, wait. When you were told do something, you had to do it, as it was to help someone. A need to listen and follow what you were told by your mother, was an Inuit way of life and part of our culture. I think, it was around 1968, I decided immediately, to take back my culture.
Peter Irniq: The teachers who hit us with a yard stick, when they heard us speaking Inuktitut, and they used to severely punish us, it seemed as though, they went overboard, I think, as Inuit, we think that…are you carrying anger towards them?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Part of it, yes, it used to be. It was during the earlier years that I used to be more angry but since then, I have been talking about it quite a lot, I tend to be carrying less anger. But, following Inuit culture, if a little child was not behaving, we used to be able to spank them. Looking back at their system, when the punished us, it was like, they could have just spanked us but they used to go overboard with the punishments, I think, that part broke us apart. Then later on, the government made law, that you are not to touch your child. They then, broke more of the Inuit unwritten laws. Now, up to this day, we are not to do anything at all, to our children, in a way of discipline. As long as they are able to speak, if you do anything to them, then, they tell the police and the Social Workers get involved, that is the way, they are today. If the teachers at that time would have been reported about what they were doing, then they could have been dealt with as well. They hit us! If they could have used Inuit culture and only spank us, without needing to use a weapon. I would not have mind so much, if only they spanked us to discipline us, I would not have mind so much but, the yard stick was three feet? They used those to hit you, and hit you hard! Then, they could have been dealt with by the Police and by the Social Services! No one was moved or cared about to do anything about what they did to us. I used to be very angry at those but having gotten them out of my system, I am no longer angry about them.
Peter Irniq: I have no more questions, Joe, do you have anything else to tell?
Joe Ataguttaaluk: Hmmm..well, when we were in Chesterfield Inlet, referring to men, especially those, who were our age group, for those of us, who were from the hostel, I wonder why, we allowed ourselves or for whatever reason, we had them as our enemies or opponents. For this reason, I have apologized to them. To those, who lived in their own homes, we were friends inside the classroom. But, when we got outside of the classroom, we then used to start a fight. Looking back, I think to myself, what was the use? What a waste of time, it was! I have told them personally, I was sorry about this. And I was very thankful to Andre Tautu, who came from Chesterfield Inlet, he also acknowledged and apologized to us. I don’t know why, we were doing that, perhaps, because we were just being little children. I just wanted to emphasize this.
Peter Irniq: Thank you very much to you. Wonderful!
Year of Production: 2008