Theo Ikummaq Testimony
Click on 'Read More' for English Translation of Theo Ikumaq Testimony by Peter Irniq, May 2009
Interview with Theo Ikumaq Residential School Survivor
Peter: Theo, please feel very welcome.
Theo: Yes. I feel welcome.
Peter: Where did you go to school, the time, you were sent out to school.
Theo: I went to school only in Chesterfield Inlet. When I went to school there, I caught the time, it was still operated by the Roman Catholic Church and while I was there, the Government of Canada, took over the operation.
Peter: How old were you when you were sent to the school?
Theo: Six. I was six years old, when I first went to school.
Peter: Were you a truly an Inuk traditional, when you went to school?
Theo: Yes, absolutely! I was truly an Inuk, a very traditional, when I first went to school. I even remember when we lived between Iglulik and Hall Beach, that was when we lived in a qarmaq(sod house). That was the time when I started to remember things. My father and his siblings used to go around to the small outpost camps. I think, he was one of those people, who used to go out and check the camps, as he and his siblings, were quite a few. They used to be sent out to the outpost camps, to check around to see everyone. I used to go along when he was visiting in traditional places names like, Ipuivik, Iglurljuaq, Manirtuuq, those were the places, he used to go and visit. Our community here(Iglulik) did not have too many people at that time.
Peter: Did you go to school in Chesterfield Inlet, unable to speak English at all?
Theo: Yes, absolutely! I did not see too many Qablunaat(White People) in those days. We saw the ones that were living in Hall Beach(Dew Line) but the ones that were in Iglulik were able to speak Inuktitut. At that time, we didn’t think too much of them as Qablunaat.
Peter: When you were going to go to school, did they come and get you?
Theo: I don’t quite remember that part at all. But, two of my nephews were older than I am, including Hippolyte, my older brother, they went to school first, and I was just connected to them, following along. When we were in Hall Beach, we would be sent out to school but when we would come back to the community, we would be gone into the land as well, as this was always the normal practice with people, who just ahead us. When they lived out on the land, they would be hunting for dog food, as well as seals and caribou skins. That was my kind of life, that I followed, whenever I would return to the community from Chesterfield Inlet.
Peter: It’s like being back in Chesterfield Inlet(Hearing the bell ringing)?
Theo: Yes. It’s been ringing for a long time..
Peter: Long time..It really wants to be heard, eh?
Peter: When you first went to Chesterfeild Inlet to go to school, you must have found, inside the classroom, very different?
Theo: Yes, very much. The school, I was not that concern about it. But the residence where we were staying was something that had a lot of impact on me. How it had an impact on me was it had all the Qablunaat(White People) as their authority. If you look at this Inuk/Eskimo, walking in, as soon as he/she enters the hostel, the residence, he instantly became a Qablunaat, a Whiteman. After stepping into the Residence, and then, after you come out of there, you walked out as a Whiteman. That was how we were seen, and this was what I was thinking of. The first time I stepped in there, I stepped in there as an Inuk. As soon as we went in, we had to go in by leaving our culture and our language, behind. We no longer had to use them. We even got quite a scolding for using them. I was part of that group who was a victim of the Residential School Authorities.
Peter: When you went into the classroom at Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School, in what language were you taught, in Inuktitut or English.
Theo: Only in English! It was only in English however, those of us, who came in later in years, used to be taught in French, sometimes one or two hours a day, but the times were different. So, we were taught I both English and French.
Peter: So, you did not get any instructions in Inuktitut?
Theo: Yes, absolutely, especially by our teachers. However, when the priests would come into teach us about religion, that was the only time we spoke in Inuktitut, inside that classroom.
Peter: Were you taught in English, learn to write English and speak and then about arithmetic?
Theo: We were learning about arithmetic, reading and writing English, science, social studies, and were made to draw, those were the main ones, we were learning about.
Peter: Were you taught about Inuit culture and were there any type of publications about Inuit culture?
Theo: Not at all! There was hardly anything published about Inuit culture, at that time. I think, there was almost nothing, really. If there was any, I don’t think, we would have used them. But, what was noticeable was, as soon as you got to Chesterfield Inlet, you needed to leave your Inuitness! That was how it was.
Peter: Were they trying very hard to assimilate you in becoming Qablunaat(White People)?
Theo: Yes, it was visible that they were trying to make us Qablunaat. However, I think, it is very hard to turn us Inuit into White People, as a result, we can still move around as Inuit.
Peter: Under the system of Canadian Government, we Inuit and First Nations, were being assimilated into becoming Qablunaat(White People). Was that the intent of that education system?
Theo: Yes, that was how I thought of it. You think of it that way, especially since, we are hearing about them. The First Nations/Indians, were treated exactly the same way, as we were. They were to forever leave their language and their culture and only learning about English language.
Peter: When you left to go to school, you must have been very attached to your relatives, whom you left behind, for obvious reasons?
Theo: Absolute, yes. I think, all of us were like that. We just never know it but the ones, we left behind were equally attached to us. Very strong! We are beginning to find out when we talk to the ones that were left behind in those days. I also found out that some of the letters never arrived at their destination, such as the ones, addressed to us in Chesterfield Inlet. I found out later that my sister used to write to me each month, every month for the seven years, that I was out and during the time, that I was out. I don’t remember receiving one letter! By talking to them today, we are beginning to find out more about the fact that some would be crying, when we were being taken away, we just never noticed that part.
Theo: Some were crying. The thing was, some did not have proper clothing for the winter, as they were very stressed out, not having their children, who were sent to the Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet. Some men were no longer hunting and providing enough dog food, as they were thinking of their children too much, for obvious reasons. Some had shortage of dogs. We the survivors were not the only ones, who were impacted. Those we left behind in our communities, were also heavily impacted, for losing their children. Many of them were broken hearted. I think, we would finally come home, just when they were getting over their stressfulness.
Peter: All those people, the parents, the brothers and sisters, all went through very difficult times, when we were taken away?
Theo: Yes, they went through very hard times. We are beginning to find out about this, by talking to the survivor’s parents and relatives.
Peter: Those letters which were written to you from home, you never saw them at all?
Theo: I did not see one letter what-so-ever! My sister used to say that she would write to me every month and was often expecting me to respond, by writing. She is the wife of Ipkarnak. She said, she wrote every month, however, I did not get one letter from her at all. All her letters were written in Inuktitut.
Peter: I heard that when the letters from our parents would come in, before they were given to the boys and girls of the hostel, they would be read, by the Grey Nuns, before they gave them to where ever the letters were going to. Did you ever hear about this?
Theo: I am not totally aware of this but I remember these Grey Nuns used to be sniffing around. They would whisper to one another in French and at that time, I was able to understand what they were talking about. That, they were looking through letters.
Peter: When you were first at the Residential School and at the hostel, was there lots of rules, governing the inside of the residence?
Peter: What kind of rules?
Theo: They did not follow Inuit ways, or Inuit culture, what-so-ever! If you were an older student, and notice younger ones, not being good at each other, and if they cannot resolve their problems themselves, then you would go and solve their problems for them. If that was to have been done over there, then the older person would have been scolded or punished as well, as long the two younger ones were bad to each other.
Or if you were a boy, and your nephew was a girl, you were not to say anything to her, you were not to talk to her. This is not Inuit culture. And if you have a sister at the hostel, you were not allowed to talk to her, even though, she was your blood sister. This type of situation, totally destroyed much of our way of life.
Peter: The thing was, the boys and girls were separated, then.
Theo: Yes. They were separated from the second and the one up higher floor.
Peter: If you were caught by the supervisors, talking to the little girls, and if you were caught talking to your relatives, what would have happen to you?
Theo: I think, I was somewhat disobedient and I can tell you a story perfectly about this. I had a cousin named Andre, we often used to fight each other. Or, we were attach to people, who used to be your fellow-community, beings. You would be friends as a result, at least, following the Inuit culture. To try to talk to them here, it was impossible. It was possible but there was a high price for it. For example, we the younger ones used to be put to bed at 8:30 in the evening. If for instance, if I happen to break one of their rules, then I would be put to bed at 8 o’clock. If I break another rule, then I would be put to bed at 7:30 p.m. As I used to break lots of rules, I used to be put to bed by supper, without ever eating any supper. I would break the rules, even though, I might have done things, that were very minor. For instance, maybe I talked to my nephew, a girl upstairs. Then, my bedtime was moved one half hour ahead. To us as Inuit, these things were very minor, but to the supervisors, they were huge, it seemed!
Peter: Their rules were very foreign to Inuit culture?
Theo: Yes, absolutely, they were very strange. You thought to yourself at that time, that life was totally turned around, 380 degrees. What you believed it, you had to leave it behind, and then follow the beliefs that they believed in, that was how it was done. But it seemed simple. If you look at the contents of the Bible, they were almost the same as those of Inuit ways. Looking at that aspect, and what they did was very big, you’d think to yourself, even as a young boy, “where did their rules come from?”
Theo: When you went to school for the first time in Chesterfield Inlet, was there Inuit teachers?
Theo: There was Teacher’s Assistant, Sidonie, Casmir’s wife. That was it. She was the only one Inuk at that point. She was also not to speak Inuktitut but speak English only.
Peter: That was because, she was instructed not to speak Inuktitut and only speak English, inside the classroom?
Peter: If she spoke Inuktitut inside the classroom, what do you think, was there something that other teachers(Qablunaat) might have done something to her?
Theo: Our teachers used to carry around a “weapon” and those Sisters who were weaker in muscle strength, they carried with them, a 12-inch ruler. If a Sister was bigger and taller, she carried around, maybe a belt. This was quite noticeable. The smaller the teacher was, the smaller “weapons” they had. And our Qablunaaq(Whiteman) male teacher, used to have an 18-inch “killing stick”. That was what he called it, “killing stick”. That was his weapon.
If you spoke Inuktitut that was what was used to hit you on the palm of your hand. When you were hit on the palm of your hand, that did not hurt. Some of us used to speak Inuktitut, as we were often together in our own community, and always spoke Inuktitut. No wonder, it is our language and it’s something that we grew up. So, naturally, we spoke sometimes with our fellow-pupils, in Inuktitut. No wonder, we grew up together, and grew up knowing the Inuktitut language, so naturally, we would speak Inuktitut. The hitting on the palm of your hand did not hurt, which seemed minor as a punishment. What used to hurt very much was when they got you in front of the whole class, there was a small table, that was ready for you. They would take your pants down, and put you on that little table, and hit you! In itself, being hit, did not hurt but being watched and seen by the whole class, that was even more painful!
Peter: Being made to be embarrassed?
Theo: Yes, being made to be embarrassed! Being watched was much more hurtful and painful, and the weapon they used to hit you, you didn’t seem to feel it much at all. That was how it used to be.
Peter: Here in Iglulik at home at your parent’s place, did they use the same kind of tactics as their punishment to you?
Theo: I was not about to be scolded or punished. I think, I was loved somewhat and often defended me as I was named after my mother’s mother. As the Inuit culture dictates, my father used to call me, “sakiga”, “my mother-in-law”, which is how Inuit refer to the ones they named. I think, I was often defended. If I had to be scolded then I was scolded but I don’t remember those scoldings from my parents, if I was scolded at all. My sister used to tell me, when I was being bad, my mother would “punch me” around apparently. Apparently, when she was “punching me” around, I appeared as though, I wasn’t feeling anything. The thing, I don’t even remember those.
Peter: The scoldings, the punishments, were they very foreign to Inuit way of punishing?
Theo: Their method of punishing was to make you very small, a very tiny person, and making you absolutely useless! I’ll refer to this one punishment by our teacher in English, he pointed not only to me but everyone and he exclaimed, “you hounds of inequities!” When he said that, he said to all of us in the classroom.
Peter: That was what the teacher said?
Theo: Yes by a teacher. Later on in life, I tried to find the meaning of what that mean’t, I found out, it was something that mean’t absolutely useless!
Peter: I can confirm that and knew what he was doing. When he would get very angry, he would take the little girls and boys, from their shirts on their chest, and used to throw really hard, against the wall. Is this true?
Theo: Absolutely yes! For two years, this teacher was my teacher. I think, you and I are speaking about the same person. I am included in that category where I was thrown against the wall. It was not because I was totally bad, but it was because, I did not really believed in what I was being taught about, it was only about that. When he noticed I was not totally doing much work, he lifted me up, and throw me against the wall of the classroom, even though, he did that one time. He did that many times to my fellow-classmates in one year. The way he used to do it was, he would grab you like this(makes a gesture), and then, throw you against the wall, very hard. It was so hard that you would bounce couple of times! And he was not to cry!! He told him not to cry!
Peter: When you were punished like that in a real big way, was it beneficial?
Theo: No, not at all, it was not beneficial. However, I think, there is a but. When you did not wanted to be punished like that, you tried very hard to be better. It was not because, you wanted to learn more or gain more knowledge but because of being scared all the time! The thing is, anything that I’ve learned from the teacher, while being extremely scared, they are not in my head. The thing is, you continue to have in your own mind, the extreme intimidation, that you have about that teacher. As long as you are not scared, then you can learn something and keep what you’ve learn in your own mind. I noticed that particularly.
Peter: At the “Iglurjuaraaluk” “the big house”, what kind of rules did it have?
Theo: Going to bed had it’s own rules. In the morning, if you wanted to go to church, then you had to hang your shirt, in front of your bed, in front of your head. That was the beginning of the rules of the day. When those children were noticed that they wanted to go to the church, they would get ready to go by washing themselves and by brushing their teeth, then they would be off to the church. After they came back from the church, for those who did not go to church, we would be just waking up. And we were not allowed to do too many things either, we had to wait for the ones who went to church and when they came back, only then, we were allowed to go to the dining room to eat. With those rules in place, it was only at the church that we would use our Inuktitut language to talk. As soon as we get outside of that church, we had to become White people, again.
The thing about having to speak English all the time, was in place, like written in stone. Other rules, were sometimes changed, slightly.
Peter: Concerning your clothes, did you use the clothes that you wore from home?
Theo: I said a bit about having been loved cared for by my paretns. When I was leaving, I was provided with brand new kamiik(seal skin boots), which were especially made for me. I used them when I was leaving to go to school in Chesterfield Inlet. When I got into the student residence, they instructed me to take them off. I did not know what happened to them. When we were leaving to go back to Iglulik from Chesterfield Inlet, they would finally give them back to me. They became too small for my feet! It looked as though, they were useless. They were made for me so that, I would have a good pair of boots for the winter. When I got there, they were stored, in case they get damaged. When I finally got them back in the spring, they were too small and useless.
Peter: The boots(moccasins) southern made, were white in color, they were provided by the Residence?
Theo: We had different types of boots. For the final three years, I think, the Residence used to receive moose hides from the West, from Inuvialuit. So, we had all kinds of moose hide boots during those last years. They were very slipper, especially when they started to become worn out.
Peter: Were you allowed to visit Igluligaarjungmiut(the residents(Inuit) of Chesterfield Inlet)?
Theo: Yes. It was only in the final year. I had an aunt over there, named Ukannguq. She was my mother’s younger sister. Also, there was a person named Qasigiaq, who was my mother’s father’s sister. And she called us grandchildren. In fact, she referred to all of us, as grandchildren, all those who came from my mother’s side. We had many relatives in Chesterfield Inlet. How it used to be was that we used to look at their houses, knowing that they had some Inuksiutit food(Inuit foods). As a result of not being able to visit, we used to crave quite a bit about their Inuit foods, that were available but, we just could not go there as a result of not being able to visit. We always wanted to go there but we could not.
The last three years that I spent there, there were some very big changes to the way things were operated. On Sundays, we were now allowed to visit them. Boy, we would go to their place to eat Inuit foods, such as meat, every Sunday!!
Peter: What was the food like that you ate at the Big Residence?
Theo: I think, I have closed that part in my mind, I don’t remember too much about them. However, I remember drinking milk very well, which was mixed with cod liver oil. I also remember eating the little sardines, sometimes. Sometimes, we used to have one potatoe. The one that were very unpleasant to eating were fish. They were probably caught in the summer time, and placed into a half-cooled freezer. When they fed us those, fish heads, with their eyes, sunken in, and smelled almost like aged, caribou guts. It smelled like a dirty old fish. Those were the ones which used be very unpleasant eating, even though, they were the only Inuit foods, we used to get.
Peter: Things that we talk about today, for example, we were made to forget our Inuit identity, that we were to be assimilated into becoming White People, and today we talk publically, quite a lot about having been abused…sexually, that we were hurt physically and mentally by those who were placed there to look after us, do you have something to say about this issue?
Theo: This breaks you for very long time to the future, probably til the Kingdom come. Even a scent, however small it maybe, makes you to return to that Residence. When we left Chesterfield Inlet, we were continuously told, now that Residential School has passed, let it pass and forget about it. If you and I have a candle here, when the light is out, then this in itself will go back to Chesterfield Inlet. Even, when it goes out. The scent of that one, will remind you of Chesterfield Inlet. We would go back there instantly and come back to the present as well. This keeps allows you to do this.
It is a reminder of severe punishments and sexual abuses. For example, things that we would have followed as Inuit, were not followed. Let me talk a bit about this in brief. My mother apparently died, when I was over there. When she died, I was told about it by the older kids like, Celestino, and Richard, so in sadness, I started to cry for my mother. I must have been crying for sometime, then I was kicked and kicked by a Sister on my bum and told, “don’t cry!” “You will not make her alive again by crying!” I was eight years old then. My cry stopped in Chesterfield Inlet. You know, when you look at eight-year-old kids out there, they are kind of small. When my cry stopped over there, and then, many years later while living back here in Iglulik, I was reminded of that cry again and I was able to cry again. I have not been able to cry for a long time and was always unable to find my cry. It was stopped by Sister Allard! She was particularly bothering about this and was crying on a continous basis, and for obvious reasons that I had lost my mother.
That was a tough one! Also, I lost my father, when I was still there. We used to be sent home in May. When I was going home, I was looking forward to seeing my father. Upon arrival, I was told, my father had died in previous September. We were never told about his death from September to May. This was the most difficult than all the hurts that were inflected on me. Like, it was most painful! There is nothing like it. Even it is painful to this day, to tell a story about it. It was not because, I was so mis-treated by the Grey Nuns, but not being told about is very tough. I was very much expecting and hoping to see my father when I got home, and only to find out, he was gone. This is very painful!
The thing about sexual abuses, you can stop the pain in a short period of time. By remembering it and talking about on a regular basis, it can eventually disappear. Losing a parent is different. When you were first sexually abused by a Grey Nun, at first it was very scary. Then, it can begin to get wonderful. At first it was something that one can be very ashamed of but when they started to it more often, you can even begin to have fun, and even looking forward to having it!! At first, it was supposed to be very scary and something to be very angry about, but eventually, it can become wonderful to have it on a regular basis. The thing is, when you look back, we were very young boys, when these things were being done to us. We were eight, nine 10 years old, we were still young boys.
Peter: We would never be treated like that by our parents, as it seems?
Theo: Yes, we would not have been treated like that, during that particular period of time, we were over there. However, it also has become noticeable that some Inuit have started to do it, after having been over there. These things can become inter-generational.
Peter: Some have started to abuse after they had been to that Residential School?
Theo: Yes, and they cannot stop themselves, like the abusers, who used to do it to them. Those abusers themselves, were not able to stop themselves. It’s is probably like that.
Peter: Back then, it used to be extremely difficult over there, as we all went over there, not being able to speak English. And when we were abused, it was not a happy period of our lives. What would you say to the abusers, today?
Theo: If I can tell them something today, what I would tell them is, what you are doing is not right! If you are having fun doing it but you are also breaking a very precious life, not only in the short distance but forever! That is what I can say to them. When you look at those, who used to be abused in Chesterfield Inlet, you notice it is not there but it is also elsewhere.
The other thing is when we were growing up here, we would be helping the younger ones and we would be helped as well, by them. That is what we would be doing. There was nothing like that over there. As a result of what happened to us, this business of being a good parents, raising children in a good way, it is something that we do not have, as a good skill. When we would be back home, we watched our parents bringing up children, with every good skill but for us, you will probably agree with me, we are not as good as they were, way below, what they were able to do, to bring up children. Not even close to their abilities!
Peter: So, we often say, we have a loss of culture, loss of language, loss of spirituality and a loss of good parenting skills, like that?
Theo: Yes, like that. All these good qualities are lost. About this spiritual believing, people look at this as something believing in spirits, but if you go to the church next door, some people look at that traditional believing, like going to church. That is how it is looked at by some people. Having been through this traditional spirituality, that believing is within inside you. It follows you, where ever you go. That is what spiritual believing means. It is not going inside the church. Spiritual believing is within you, inside you. Some of us, who do not go inside that church outside here, are probably labeled as people, who do not believe in faith. No matter where you are, it will not be left behind you, that is spiritual belief.
That scented ritual, one that throws out smoking scent, at least it’s something that is no longer used. The smell of that would bring you right back to Chesterfield Inlet. After we had been to Chesterfield Inlet, when we see that scenting happening, we used to had to go out, while it was happening. Especially, after we had been to Chesterfield Inlet, because when it happens, we were again, reminded of Chesterfield Inlet.
When we were at the Big House, there was a small chapel. As a result, the scent from that thing, used to go inside the entire Residence. So, it used to have a strong smell, you yourself, probably remember this too. Even though the chapel was quiet small, probably the same size as this room, both that scent and the candle, used to make the entire Residence smell. Just by smelling those today, it makes you go, right back to that Residence. Because of some of this, we do not often go back to the church now, I think though, our spirituality is no smaller, according to our Creator.
Peter: What would you say to those who used to abuse us or abuse you, if you could see them today?
Theo: I don’t think, I would say too much to them. When we were leaving during the last year, Mr. Demuele followed here to this community. When he had his place out here, quite a good number of us, decided to circle him. Then, that darn Father Fournier came out, it was a missed opportunity for us. This is how much anger we carried, when we got out of that place, over there. We were hunting him! And all of us had one thing inmind, “let’s catch him!” Today, our minds have probably matured, than what it was at that time. We don’t look at that with that kind of attitude today, that we had in those days.
Peter: About how we were treated badly, if you want to tell all Canadians, our fellow-Canadians, what would you like them to hear?
Theo: yes, if we are to tell them what happened us at the Residential School, I would want them to know about the fact that our Inuit being or Inuit identity is very, very strong! Our strength, cannot be put out like a light. Not now. Probably 100 to 200 years from now, they might be able to put out the light, but at the moment, it cannot be put out, even though, if they try their hardest to put it out.
Peter: Do you think our fellow-Canadians have to understand more?
Theo: Yes, absolutely, they have to understand more. Including about the schools that were built later on, for example, Ukiivik and Chesterfield Inlet, were totally different operations. I think, they are seen by southern Canadians, that their operations were exactly the same. Not at all! At Ukiivik, they were free to speak Inuktitut, they could have called home on the telephone, they wrote letters to home and receive letters from home. In Chesterfield Inlet, it was totally different. We could not have received any letters from home, we were no longer attached to the outside of that big box, that was how our life was proceeded. The Government of Canada, recognized Ukiivik Residence the same way as Chesterfield Inlet. There was a very distinct difference! I can say that with such authority.
Peter: At that time, you went through a very difficult time, as we all went through a lot of trauma, both at the Residence and the school, looking back and looking at it today, have you participated in or healing sessions?
Theo: Yes. I have participated in healing. I am also ever thankful in a big way, to my older brother Imaruittuq, he recognized that I have been lost, that I was lost. He used to have a small outpost camp. It was from there, my Inuitness has almost come back, it has come back to it’s entirety. I am probably more talkative about this than others out there, that I was trained in a big way, to take back my life. Some are not taught in such as big way, as I did. I am very thankful to Imaruittuq, that he worked very hard for me to take back my Inuit culture. Not for himself, but for me, that he wanted me to be more complete. That was that one. I have tried and tested several ways of healing. I have tried healing with a group of many people, as I was hearing about the fact that, healing as a group is very good for oneself. But looking at larger group of healing sessions, however, there are some, who are looking for stories to tell. So, they were just looking for stories to tell. They were not there, to fix themselves. The healing has kind of stopped, it is because of them. If people weren’t just looking for stories to tell, then this healing would have continued on to the future. I think, I know this. About this healing, if you are not able to do this with a larger group, then heal, only with one another person. Here is what I’d like people to know, as long as you can talk about your problem, if you can let it out, then you can become lighter. You can do this with a smaller group, only among men, or only among women, you can do this, only according to your limits, and you have to try, what you can do. If so, then, you can help yourself to improve life.
I also want people to know that, when you are wanting to start this, it is very difficult to know where to begin, and how to begin. “What is it, I am going to talk about, what is it, I have pain from?” It is hard to know. The thing is, you are aware of your unhappiness. But, it is hard to know, why or what, you are unhappy about. The thing about this is that, it is very hard to start it. It is very hard to turn the page. What I have found out about myself though is that, for two years, when I was nine and 10 years old, I was in Chesterfield Inlet, I knew according to the papers. However, I do not know how these two years were at all, they are blank, from my mind. Here, when I was eight years old, I had no more mother. When I was 12 years old, I no longer had a father. I do not remember what was in between those years.
And also, now that I am this way today, and have passed on this particular part of that life, I don’t even want to know about it, any more. Particularly, those two years. Well, there are people out there, who are in the same situation as I am, that they cannot remember some years. For me, I don’t even want to remember those two years, thinking, if I remember, I might just break myself, if I remember what happened within them. Perhaps, it is someone, a person’s will, that is making me, not remember what happened. As the mind and the body knows itself, that, it has decided to shut off those years, perhaps. As a result, the mind and the body has it’s own mind, it has the ability to shut off certain times of life.
Peter: Having been there and having had gone through all this trauma, and now that we have people trying to help us, such as Social workers for example, do you think, those social workers should have a better understanding of our demise, so that they can identify what help they can provide for us?
Theo: Yes, they have to have a much bigger understanding. As long you have never experienced anything, it is very difficult to understand. It is hard to know. When you have heard something about it, you can kind of know what to do.
Looking at Social Services here, one of them is someone who has been there where the school was. This person is someone we can go to for help. I want this to be known to all the people, of all kinds, if you are in pain, and talk to someone who was also in pain, then, it is easier to heal from, by being understood easier. As a result, that person knows you, and will believe you. But, if you want to get someone who knows nothing about your hurt and pain, then, it will be in your own mind that this person knows nothing about my problem. There is always that possibility. But, if you want to talk to someone who knows about your situation, then, you can find solutions, that can be moved forward. And being believed is also very important.
Peter: Yes. There are people out there who are still hurt and in pain, people who have gone to that Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet. What would you say to them?
Theo: The thing about this is that, it is always within you. When you think about Chesterfield Inlet, you ability to think is much stronger than the body, the physical body. The thing is, the mind, has limits, it cannot think heavily all the time, as soon as it starts to think, too heavily, then the body can be damaged. About those Survivors, who want to heal, the thing that you want to see is, if you start your healing today, then you heal tomorrow. If we can have something like this, it would be very good. It would also be good, if you have a little place of healing out there. And then, if you go into that little place, you talk all about the problems, you go out, and all of a sudden, you are free of all those problems. The thing is, healing is something that can be a very difficult journey, and there is no fix, instantly. If you are going to take the route of healing, to get better, please know that, it’s going to take years, to get over it. One year is too short. You have to work at it for years, to pass it, keeping in mind that you cannot totally pass it but you can go beyond it. It can ease the pain and sometimes, some of it, can become a bit funny.
Peter: Yes, when we met in Chesterfield Inlet July 5 to 9, 1993, there were about 150 people, who came to attend. We talked a lot about our experiences at the Residential School, you know, how we were abused and all that. Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church was there. The things that we talked about, were they helpful and beneficial to the Survivors and people in general?
Theo: I think, we started to work towards healing from there. For me, I started healing, prior to this one, but I was apparently short with the healing that I was doing. As a result of the reunion, it was noticeable that we were all in pain. It was not only me. We are all in pain. To see the people, who are very good speakers, they still have pain inside them. As a result of that meeting/reunion, I found out that all the things that I am in pain about, I can begin to work to improve, to make sure, that my life becomes fuller, more complete. I noticed this one and it was something that I was trying to work on, afterwards. Especially, working towards, healing.
Peter: When we were meeting there, the Bishop made a minor Apology to us. Did you feel his Apology?
Theo: Absolutely not!
Theo: It was like when you were in Chesterfield Inlet and you were holding something on your hand. If a Grey Nun passes by and knocks it down. She might say, “I am sorry”. Did he say, he was sorry? I ask. He was not sorry. He was just saying words, just following a procedure. That was how, I saw it. He was merely following a Qablunaat(Whiteman’s) ways, just a “formality”. That was what it was, just a formality. He just wanted to move it, say it and get it over it, what was what, he had to do. And that was what he did. It didn’t look as though, he really, really wanted to apologise. That was also quite noticeable, over there. Today, if I were to see him, he is not the same person any more. I think, he also notices this too. He did not have to be, the way, he was.
Peter: His Apology did not come from his heart?
Theo: Yes, absolutely! I even thought about the fact that, if there was an ordinary priest, he might have said to him, write me an apology. The so-called Apology was very short! It was not a well-thought out Apology, it was too short for that. And it was pretty obvious that it was not a well thought out.
Peter: How about the Apology that the Bishop delivered here in Iglulik on February 27, 1996. Did it had more impact?
Theo: Yes. It had more impact than the first. It was obvious that he thought about it this time, and it was also obvious. I think, he seemed to be short of the Apology again, not a wonder, he was not part of the system at the time when the school was in operation. He was probably not totally aware about his staff did, then. I don’t think these types of activities were reported through their system at that time.
Peter: And what about the First Nations. They talk about these experiences, almost the same way as we do today. They also talk about having been abused and to forget their language and their culture. I guess, all of us Aboriginal People of Canada, were tried and to make us assimilate into becoming White People?
Theo: Yes. All of us. And it was not only in Canada. I was in the United States last year to talk about climate change and global warming up here. There were apparently Residential Schools in places like California, Arizona, places like that. The entire North America had Residential Schools, apparently. They were treated like that as well, like we were treated. They were telling me these stories. I met and talked to the American Indians, and was told, they were treated just like we were treated up here. It was not only in Canada.
Peter: Mostly, only the Roman Catholics were sent to that Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet. They talk a lot about having been abused, especially today. This has had a lot of impact on our lives. If you see the Pope today, what would you say to him?
Theo: I don’t know, I don’t think, I would have too much to say to him. However, I said earlier, these things apparently have a way of getting lighter. All the things that I struggled so much about, I have talked about them in a very big way. I talked about them, on a regular basis. As a result, they became lighter and lighter, on a regular basis, to this day. I will go out from this interview here, feeling that much lighter. Some of these experiences will have come to pass, a little bit. But, you have to talk about it, as often as you can. If I happen to see the Pope, I do not have too many things to say to him, however, if he reaches his hand to shake me, I would shake hands with him.
The thing is, listening to his speeches, he is already aware of what happened to us, at the Residential Schools, here, in North America. He is already aware. He has said, he is sorry. His Statements have much bigger impact than the Bishop’s Apology. This is something that I have noticed.
Peter: The Members of Parliament all stood up to make a gesture of Apology to the Aboriginal People in Canada, that was last year. Was this helpful to us here?
Theo: Yes. It is helpful. It was like this, when we returned home from Chesterfield Inlet, and we were trying to tell them the stories. Our own people would not believe us. By our relatives. We were not believed. We tried telling stories and we wanted to move towards healing but not being believed our own people, became a blockage to our movement.
Today, it has become obvious that we are now being believed. It was an experience. It was an experience that we had, and it cannot pass, as long as we were not believed. Now, people are believing in what happened to us, this move has allowed us, for the load to become much lighter. At least! As a result of being believe, the load has become a bit lighter, to carry. We can start to turn the page now, a little bit. “Yes, these people are telling the truth”, we are now being told that, since that reunion.
Peter: We do not wish to leave all this to our children and to our grandchildren.
Theo: Yes, it is something that you do not want to leave behind. We do not want to leave all this experience behind. If it is never experienced again, I would like it very much.
Peter: Knowing what has happened to us in terms of abuses by people over there, how would you make people in Canada, to become more knowledgeable about this in the country?
Theo: The thing is, these people who did these to us, did those to the children. Apparently being a sexual abuser is a sickness. What I think of those abusers is that, these people who do these things, be put in jail, and make sure, they never get out again! Here is what I mean, if they are let out, then they go after little children again, and if they do that, they are going to do it over and over, for ever. If that person is like that, then, don’t let him out, lock him up, forever. That is a tall order but that is how, I have thought about it. If that person is not able to improve his life, don’t let him be among Inuit, put him in jail, because he not able to improve his life. If that person is free, and does what he does, then he is going to do it, forever, forever, and ever, long into the future! As long as they are free and doing it, then what we experienced in Chesterfield Inlet, will be repeated over and over again. It has not stopped today. It is still going on. It is of course, not a happy situation. It is apparently a sickness. It is apparently a contagous. For example, if I have a sickness of some type, then if I am able to pass it on to you, it will be passed to you, and then to someone else. The way I see that problem is, if a person is doing, then, they are doing it to the other people, forever.
Peter: Looking at the Inuit who went to school at that Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet, are very successful people, every where. We learned really well in English, writing, speaking it and adding arithmetic. Do you think, this was very beneficial to us and very helpful?
Theo: Yes, very much! Yes, it has a very big help. But I think, what has been the most helpful to us, is, being no longer scared, that we can talk back. We went through a very huge trauma, that we are no longer scared in later years, as a result. Even when the very big bosses come today, we are no longer scared of them. Even if Michele Jean comes to town, we are not scared of her. Perhaps, some people out there still have the attitude that, because she is the big boss, don’t get too close to her. But, you and I and others, have gone beyond that, and really, there is no one who is intimidating any more.
The thing is, we are not as intimidated as we used to be of the (White people) and now we not as scared to move forward.
Peter: Government people at that time, whether they were Members of the RCMP or the Hudson’s Bay Company Traders, they were extremely scary.
Theo: Yes, people were very scared of them! But, if you and I see them today, we would think, “he is only human too”, that is what we would say.
Peter: Just human being.
Theo: Yes, just human being.
Peter: At that time at the Residential School, we were made to forget our language and our culture. How strong is your culture and your language, today?
Theo: I don’t think I can call it as strong, here I go again..The thing was, my older brother took me away from the community and taught me about Inuit culture. He did not teach me only about “pounding a seal fat” for qulliq(Inuit Oil Lamp). He taught me about our ancesters. He taught me about the subject that was very full of Inuit culture, that was what he was teaching me. And because, I am not always volunteering, I have not publicise it. I have inside me, what he taught me, which was very huge. Because I am hesitant, I have not made it known to the public. Having said that(what my older brother taught me) has had immense help to me. The way, I promote Inuitness is different from what it was, especially since, I’ve worked to take back my culture and my language. I did not make the move to take back my culture, but it was apparently noticeable that “he was missing something”. They worked to complete me with my culture, so I am more complete with that.
Peter: If someone says in the classroom, “don’t speak your language or forget your culture”, what would you say, today?
Theo: I think, I would speak the very loudest and facing directly the people, who might want us to do this. Let’s put it this way, I would not be just watching it happening. When I see something similar to this, I just cannot be quiet anymore.
Peter: We have journeyed very far, since our Residential School days. What do you think has been the most helpful to us, who went to school at that Residential School?
Theo: I think, being able to manage things, is something that it has had the most help. The thing I noticed is that, after we had returned home from there, we were able to make thing happen, from nothing. For example, Youth Committee. We wanted the young people to have a Committee, to speak on their behalf, and that was something that we established, after we have been to Chesterfield Inlet. I think, that Committee has allowed us, to move forward, in part. We moved forward and sometimes, take a step back, with that organization. Other examples like starting the land claims, was something that allowed us to start, because, we were at that Residential School. I am saying this, because I know something about it, somewhat. There are lots of big things that happened, as a result of that Residential School. They appeared because of that.
Peter: When we first went to Chesterfield Inlet, we got there as true-blooded, traditional Inuit, with the thoughts of nothing but hunting and survive. We didn’t even think that we were Canadians, even though, we were apparently first Canadians. Did that school helped us to recognize that we are Canadians too?
Theo: I don’t even think of myself as Canadian, even to this day. Canada is just on the other side(Iglulik is on an island). I can even say that. Why I do not think I am Canadian is because, when you look at those Canadian Government forms of different types, they have on them, “Canadian Resident” “Landed Immigrant” and Other: “Inuit” “Metis” “Indians”. We are considered other in the forms. We are not in the category of Canadian resident. If that is how we are looked at, or since this is how we are looked upon, so it is like that, this is what I often say. It is just that one form. It is the Federal Government’s form. Nunavut Governments forms are not like that, for obvious reasons. They were not designed to be like that, in the first. I am not the type, who thinks, I am not that patriotic about being a Canadian. I am not like that. I am an Inuk, that is what I am. I am an Inuk, living in the Arctic, that is what I am. I think like the Greenlanders, even. There is no boundry line between Qanaaq and Iglulik. There is no boundry. We come from one being.
The way, they look at it is this way, they made Iglulik, very, very distant, far away. Being identified as the name Canadian is something that was given to us by someone else, as a result, I am not that big about it
Peter: Residential School Survivors, who went to school in Chesterfield Inlet, are receiving their compensation monies, what is your understanding about this?
Theo: I feel, this is another way of saying, I am sorry, on their part. But for most part, I think, they are saying two things, in part, they are sorry and not sorry on the hand, today. Bishop of he Hudson’s Bay Diocese has not totally and completely apologized. With the fact that, how we were abused, it’s on the table now, clearly. They now believe us for this. This one allows us to stand up higher. Yes, money is helpful for things. But then, money has an end too, and it will be no more in a while. The much stronger one will be the apology, that will be felt much more. They will bring up issues, when they apologise.
Peter: So, if the Prime Minister apologises, it would go along ways to help the survivors?
Theo: Yes, it would have a lot of help. Even, if you and I could apologise to the older people out there for leaving them behind in those, it would help them a lot, even though, we were not the ones, who send us to the residential school in the first place. This would immediate help. Apology is something that always helps. For instance, if you break something that belongs to someone or hurt someone’s inner feelings and you say, “I am sorry”, that eases the pain of the hurt. But, if you have a real inner feeling and say that you are sorry, then this would help in a big way. It cannot be just words though. But, if you say, you are sorry, without a feeling, it doesn’t make much sense.
Peter: Do you think, that is what the Prime Minister is going to say?
Theo: Well, since you said earlier all the Members of Parliament stood up a while ago, in the House to make a symbolic apology to the survivors of residential schools, was the PM part of it? If not, then, he has to do this as well.
Peter: All the MP’s stood up in the House to do this and the Prime Minister has not specifically stated to make an apology. Are you anxiously awaiting the Apology from the Prime Minister of Canada?
Theo; I am no longer waiting for anyone, any more! But, it’s only me. I have experienced that, when you are waiting for something, it doesn’t appear to move sometimes. It’s like when you are waiting for the ice to freeze, then you are at a standstill. Everything stops and you are just waiting. So that is what that apology is like. It will be stalled and some people will be waiting for it for ever. Some people would be waiting for this so much that they would not be concentrating on other things that they are supposed to. If only it’s is going to be directed towards me, then I will welcome it. I am not going to be expecting anything, until it comes. When it comes, it’ll come.
The Government of Canada has also established an organization called Truth and Reconciliation Commission, have you planned out what you want to say to them?
Theo: I have not totally planned out anything towards it but about things that I am concern about, I will try to contribute to help out. The things is, here are the Residential Schools Survivors. But to this day, there has been no move towards helping the ones, they left behind. They are also very broken today. When we talk to them today, the parents, they say to us, they stopped everything they were doing, in terms of sewing clothes, when we, the children were taken away to go to school.
The husband at that time was not out hunting as much as he used to, because he no longer had proper clothes to go out. He only went out on the land, close by, because he doesn’t have proper clothing any more. He was supposed to be spending days out on the land in those days, as this is a ways of life here, as we live on an island, this way of life was not longer practiced, at the time. They no longer had proper clothing to go out. They no longer had good healthy dogs any more and maybe some dogs starved. They weren’t tending to their dogs any more. To me, these people are still heavily impacted by what happened to us, even today. Yes, we are paying a lot of attention to the Survivors of Residential Schools to this moment, but the ones we left behind were also very shattered, when we were made to leave them behind. Some of them are very broken to this day! They were not given an opportunity to say anything. To this day, they are not given an opportunity to speak! Like us, they have no way of knowing about how to begin talking about this. Where do I begin? I seem to know that their needs absolutely have to be addressed as long as they are still around.
Peter: Do you have anything else to say?
Theo: I don’t have too much to say any more but I want to say to those who were abused and hurt at the Residential School, and still in pain today, this is what, I want to say to you, those who hurt you and abused you, will not come to you to help heal you. But, you have to take the step and begin helping yourself. This is what I want to leave behind for them. If a person is hired to work the survivors to help them, I do not believe in this route. Wanting to heal, has to come from within oneself. It has to come from me, personally. If I have to begin healing, then I have to take the first step myself, and start to work on my own healing, for me. That one over there, is not going to heal me. The ones, who hurt me and abused me, are not going to come to me volunteerily to help me to begin healing. You can only start healing, only if you see a need to start fixing the problem, yourself. Don’t wait for help to come to you. Look for someone who is going to help you. There is help available out there. But, we need to look at their qualifications and how knowledgeable they are about the issue.
Like speaking for me, if a Social Worker is hired to help an Inuk, who is only a unilingual and speaks only Inuktitut, then that person, is not going to be helped completely. No wonder, a person who is hired to do this, will only know one side of the knowledge about the person, he or she is helping. That person’s knowledge would only have a certain amount of knowledge. What I would like the people to be mindful is, only if you know both languages, then you can have a better understanding of the whole issue, and begin to work towards fixing or healing.
Peter: When you first went to Chesterfield Inlet, did you find the clothing of the Sisters, or the priests or the Brothers, kind of unusually different? And how about the ordinary Qablunaat?
Theo: The ordinary Qablunaat, dressed with their own ordinary Qablunaat Westernclothing, at that time, from what I noticed. They were easy to identify with. They were not dressed in church clothing. They were just easy to be with. But, the priests and brothers, were dressed in what appeared to be kind of ugly black dresses, resemble actual (women’s) dresses, with a sash around their wastes, and their “large weapon” – the crucifix was in place here. That was how they were dressed, the Brothers and priests. The priests and Brothers, that was how they were identified as, in other words, they just did not dressed with pants and shirts.
And the sisters, when I first saw them, they had a little “shelter” like this, around their faces. That was my very first impression of them. They had huge dresses, always seemed to appear to be blown away by the winds, all the time. And while, we were still there, they changed their clothing, to be able to show their hair.
Peter: And apparently, they had hair?
Theo: Yes, apparently, they had hair. And it was the first time, we actually saw their hair. I used to think, they had no hair, as they had a little shelter, along with a white covering on their head, underneath the little shelter. I used to think, they were missing something, this was because, maybe because, she doesn’t have any hair, this is the way, she had to have a covering on her head. I used to think, their clothing was very strange but apparently that was part of their uniform, as sisters, that was how, they were supposed to dress. So, apparently, this body was complete body, underneath all this clothing.
Peter: They seemed very strange?
Theo: Very strange! This was something, you were not used to seeing.
Peter: We were sent to the church to go to pray all the time and sometimes to serve as Alter Boys. Did the Church deliver the service in Inuktitut?
Theo: Inuktitut and Latin. I don’t think, the priests spoke English, at that time. So, they delivered the mass service in Inuktitut and Latin. And when I was serving as Alter Boy at the St. Therese Hospital, they used to deliver the mass in French only. Those were the languages that were used on a regular basis, at the church.
Peter: At that time, they thought us to say the prayers in Latin, did you understand Latin, fully?
Theo: I did not completely understand but I got to know what they were, because, in the prayer books, on each side of the Inuktitut version, there would be Latin version or the French version, so you got to know what they mean’t.
But at a much later date, this the Latin was very much helped to me, personally. When you are learning about vegetables and wild, many of the words described, describing the animals, are often described in Latin. The small amount of Latin I learned at the Residential School had a huge help for me, with my work.
Peter: You mention that you learn a bit about French. If you would have been taught more about the French language, would this been a beneficial?
Theo: I don’t know. The reason why I say I don’t know is because, I used to take this language course for two hours a day for seven years, where am I today with it? I didn’t get any where at all! I don’t even think, when I left, I knew how to speak French at all.
I was lost in Montreal in 1979. I was completely lost in Montreal. I then noticed myself, speaking in French. So apparently, I learned some French. Before that, I didn’t think, I knew how to speak French at all.
Peter: At that time at the Residential School, when were sexually abused, if you had someone to complain to or tell someone, did you have someone to tell, an Inuk person?
Theo: We thought, we had people to complain to. Priests, for obvious reasons, were seen by people out there, by our parents and their bosses, as nice people. Their purpose was to help, that was their objective. That was how we saw them when we got to Chesterfield Inlet. When you were sexually abused by a Sister or a Brother, then you go and tell the priest, and only to find out, he was also a sexual abuser. So, you would be talking to a brick wall. So, they found out, you easily talked. When they found out you easily talked, then they disown you, or they get to punish you more often, these used to become more obvious. It was obvious that there was no one to complain at all. You were depending on that priest that you wanted to complain and if you did, he then went to speak to the others, and they became strange to you. That was how, it used to be.
Peter: When we were in Chesterfield Inlet, there was no organized community council of Inuit in those days?
Theo: We would not have known, as we were not part of the community people, especially when they put us into the Residence, our outside activities from this place, included going to the church and going to the school, were our main outside activities. Those were about the only outside activities we had. We did not go out and participated so much, even if they had a community council, we would not have known. I personally, would not have known.
Peter: We were told not to go around with the people of Chesterfield Inlet, and were forbidden to visit the local Inuit?
Theo: Yes. We were told, they stunk. To us, this was not obvious. They told us, they were dirty. As fellow-Inuit, we were mainly concern about them being our fellow-Inuit. We didn’t judge them about the other things like that. They were described like that by our bosses, so they barred us from them as their fellow-Inuit.
Peter: Do you remembering if the survivors were abused at the school?
Theo: The school was sort of free from this. There was not as much punishment at the school. Having said this, there was throwing around of the pupils in the classroom, that was obvious. No, it was the hostel, the residence where were at, was the place where many of the abuses took place, especially after dark. I can say for certain that the school did not hurt the pupils, as much as the hostel did. That Residence has done much of the abuses than the school itself.
Peter: The Residence(Turquetil Hall Residence) was dismantled. Is this good?
Theo: We were there in 1993. You and cannot say, it was good or bad. To think about it, if it was still standing, the healing from there would have began immediately, as it was the place of much abuse. As I said, the school from my own recollection, it had less abuses. The Residence was no longer there, when we went there for the reunion of the residential school survivors. If it was still there, perhaps, it would have been more helpful. Perhaps because it was no longer there, many of the survivors were happier, perhaps. It’s hard to know, which way to go on this.
Peter: When we were meeting there(in 1993), we talked a lot about the way, we were abused. If we could have another meeting and talk about the successes of the school, do you think, this would be beneficial?
Theo: Yes, it would help to benefit many people. Yes, if we could have another meeting, perhaps not in Chesterfield Inlet, maybe in Naujaat-Repulse Bay or Arviligjuaq(Pelly Bay), at either one of those two places. If we do that, we could include those people, who were made for us to leave them behind, when we were taken away to school. We then, would do something that is much stronger. This is what I have thought about.
We would put together a resolution that is much stronger, keeping in mind, that we the Survivors were not the only ones, who were damaged. The people that we left behind in those days, probably suffered much more than us, in terms of losing their children. I think, by including those we used to leave behind, would make a much stronger presence. If we only have the Survivors’ meeting again, there would be less presence, impact. My own feeling is that, if we meet again in Chesterfield Inlet, I would not be part of it. Having taken the healing journey for my own life, I don’t think, I would have anything to add to my healing there. I think, by having another meeting in Iglulik, Naujaat-Repusle Bay or Pelly Bay, we would come out with much stronger resolution, that would be beneficial to us. We would have more people, working towards becoming one, Inuit would become more united. We would perhaps, make our language stronger.
Peter: You mention earlier about the priests and Sisers that even their clothing represented authority. Why was it, that some of them were so scary?
Theo: Well, Sister Desoni was very intimidating because she was always very bossy! Last year, I even dream’t about here, as though, I was walking over there. When I was walking in front of the houses with windows, there was an Iraqi with a rifle, then there was another window that I was walking in front of, it looked like a Japanese Sumo Wrestler, I wasn’t thinking too much about him, in my dream. When I went in front of the third window, then there was Sister Desoni – ouch! I was very hurt inside me and there became a very scary situation, then I woke up. That is how very hard it was! She was no more scary than the first two people, I dream’t about. However, it was because of my experience there, that became much hard to accept. It was not because she was trying to be scary but what she used to do, and what she used to be, however small or big they were, these have been permanently attached to my life. I didn’t think, there was a very scary situation, immediately, but what she used to do to intimidate us, they are still heavily entrenched into my life. For example, when my wife teaches like this, to take a cup and acts in this fasion, then I see the Sister right away. Today. Perhaps because, when the (Sister) used to grab a small ruler like this and when a woman takes a cup like this, then the Sister appears immediately, in my thoughts.
Peter: When we were in school and when the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Hudson Bay Diocese would come in, he was thought as someone, who was extremely important as someone who was Almighty.
Theo: Yes, he was considered extremely important by the Sisters, Brothers and the priests.
Peter: Why was it?
Theo: Looking at the ways of the Qablunaat, there is a huge protocal, some are higher in positions, than the others, which is really non-existent in Inuit culture. For example, if you and I are on the land and you know more about the caribou than I do, I would respect you for that. If I know more about the walruses than you do, then you would respect me for me my knowledge. This is how, we are. Their system is higher level than the other. When the highest in authority instructs this person down here, the one down here, would not ask any questions to the one in high position. Why am I going to do this, these questions are non-existent. I think, that is how the establishment is set up, the Bishop being the highest one, then the priests, then the Sisters and then, the Brothers. The one very highest is thought as someone really important.
Peter: When we were going to school we were taught the main difference of God, being the Almighty and the Devil being the bad one. Do you remember when they used to talking about wiping out Inuit angakkuuniq(shamanism)?
Theo: Yes. Absolutely. I used to see shamans, doing shamanistic acts, since I am sort of an ancient person now. I remember, they used to try and stop shamanism. It continued for sometime, even after, they tried to wipe it out. In a small way, shamanism continues today. The thing is they could not completely wipe it out. As it turned out, they have wiped out, quite a lot of it. Today it is very small. Years ago, it used to be big, however, it is small now.
Peter: The shamanism?
Peter: Do you think, there is a better understanding now about shamanism today by the priests?
Theo: Perhaps, I was invited two times to go to Milan in Italy, to participate at a shaman’s conference. I was invited twice to contribute but because I had no passport, I could not go. So, apparently at their conferences, the shaman healers, take out whatever the kind of sickness a person has. Shamanism can help Inuit in a lot of ways. Shamanism is not practiced only among Inuit. I read about other shamans from other parts of the world, as reading is something that allows me to gain knowledge, so I read. The beliefs of shamans from all over the world, are similar to one another. Only a real shaman is slightly different. The shaman can only have power from within the area, that he/she knows about. In Mexico, shamans are like that as well, they use their animals as spirits and use them as their power. Shamans can only use what they have within their own regions. If we take a look at the world for example, the people who are at warmer temperatures, seem to have more power than anyone else. They can be stronger. It is for this reason that survival in their place is not as hard life so he can concentrate more about his profession as shaman.
If you look at us here, when we had shamans, they used do things all around, hunting for survival for example, and doing shamanistic work at the same time. This is very well very known by the priests that it wasn’t only the Inuit who were shaman but others were shamans too, all over the world.
Peter: Priests also used to have shamans, known as excorsists?
Theo: Yes, absolutely.
Peter: I don’t have that many questions now. Do you have anything else, do you have something in your mind that you want to say?
Theo: I don’t have a lot more to say, I think, we’ve uncovered pretty well everything about our experiences at the Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet. I do want to say that in 1967 Centennial Year, we were much more free to do things. When the Government of Canada took over the Turquetil Hall Residential School in 67-68, we then became much more free to do things. At that time, when it was taken over the Government and no longer run by the Grey Nuns and Roman Catholic church, the operation of the hostel, improved immediately. AS soon as the administration of the hostel changed, it improved.
Peter: Perhaps, I could ask you a very last question. At that time, we used to want to become a doctor, a pilot, a priest, or a teacher, did you wanted to become one of those positions?
Theo: I did not wanted to become a priest, period! There! I am not going to become a priest, that was how, I was fixed. If I was to become a priest at that time, I would have broken many rules. But then, they had a purpose of being there, to promote believing. That was there purpose of coming there but we did not see them that way. I did not wanted to become a priest, that was how I was.
We used to read quite a lot in those days. One thing that I was impressed with was being a Fire Fighter. I don’t remember which teacher made it sound very attractive so I thought to myself then, I would become a Fire Fighter one day. Having said it, I have never became a Fire Fighter.
Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk
Year of Production: 2008
This video is available on these mediaplayers: