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Click on 'Read More' for English Translation of Lazarie Otak Testimony by Peter Irniq, February 2009
Lazarie Otak Testimony May 2007
Peter Irniq: Lazarie Otak, please feel very welcome.
Lazarie Otak: Yes, I feel very welcome, thank you.
Peter Irniq: Prior to going to school in Chesterfield Inlet, where did you used to live at?
Lazarie Otak: I was true Iglulingmiutaq(a resident of Iglulik) as my parents were alive. We were always living here so I grew up in this community. I remember very well when I was being sent away to school, for the first time. For the very first time, I went to school here. Why I was sent out to school from here, while there was already a school here, I do not understand to this date.
Peter Irniq: There was a school here in Iglulik?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely, a brand new one! When there was a newly-built school here, I was sent away.
Peter Irniq: When you were being sent away, what did they do to you, as you were leaving?
Lazarie Otak: I don’t totally understand this but my mother said, “You have to go away to go to school.” I only remember this part but I don’t know what the purpose was.
Peter Irniq: Was your mother or your father asked for their permission for you to go to school there?
Lazarie Otak: Perhaps yes, that is why they said, that I have to go to away. I don’t remember exact reasons why, I had to go away but simply told that I must get schooling and be educated. That was all they told me.
Peter Irniq: Prior to going to school, can you talk about your life as an Amitturmiutaq(Resident of Amitturmiut).
Lazarie Otak: I don’t remember a lot but one that I remember well was the school being built. It was a beautifully brand new one, as I recall it. And I attended one year at that school, for the first time, here in Iglulik. But again, what I do not understand to this date is the fact that while there was a school here already, why did they send me so far away. I still don’t understand this.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember who ran the school?
Lazarie Otak: That school here in Iglulik? Yes, the name of that school was Iglulik Federal Day School. I understood it to mean that it was run by the Government(of Canada).
Peter Irniq: What year did you leave for Igluligaarjuk(Chesterfield Inlet)?
Lazarie Otak: I went there in 1960. They built the school here around 1959 and I went to school here. But, perhaps in 1960 or 60, they sent me away to school.
Peter Irniq: How old were you then?
Lazarie Otak: I was eight years old. Some people were being sent away at a much younger age. To this day, I am often surprised that they sent me away at eight years old.
Peter Irniq: Even though you attained the age of eight years old, you were still a child.
Lazarie Otak: Yes. Yes, absolutely! It’s like if I had a child who is eight years old, I would under no circumstances, sent him/her away, to a school anywhere! I am aware of the fact that, I would never send them away. This is how much I am aware of myself.
Peter Irniq: When you were first sent to Igluligaarjuk, you went by airplane for obvious reasons, when you landed at Chesterfield Inlet, who all did you see?
Lazarie Otak: The ones I saw first for the first time, were Grey Nun Sisters. There were maybe two or three. When we got off the plane, I particularly noticed those sisters. It was my first time ever seeing a nun. They seemed extremely clean! Here is how they gathered us, boys line up here, girls line up here. That was how, they gathered us together, this was something that was very foreign to me. I did not understand it. As fellow-Inuit, I thought, we would have been together, mixed among ourselves. But then, we were separated or divided.
Peter Irniq: You saw their clothing, did you particularly notice them?
Lazarie Otak: Yes! I really noticed them with strange feelings. They had what looked like a little hood. And a little “screen” around their faces, little screens attached to their hoods. I particularly notice the fact that they seemed so very clean. That was my first impression of them.
Peter Irniq: Did they have a small crucifix around their necks?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. They had a small crucifix as well.
Peter Irniq: When you were then taken to the hostel, can you describe what the place look like inside?
Lazarie Otak: When I saw it, it seemed very huge. I saw things that I have never seen before, such as a building, built the way it was. It was very awesome. There were three storeys. One floor was for the boys and the top floor was for the girls. There was a dining room. We had a huge bedroom, a large dormitory. There were lots of beds. That was one thing that I particularly noticed.
Peter Irniq: When you got there, did you notice there were all kinds of rules to follow?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely! There were all kinds of rules. For example, I mentioned something about boys and girls being separated immediately at the airport, this was one of the rules. From the landing lake for example, the little girls had to follow a Sister and the boys followed another sister. This was particularly of noticeable to me. It was like dividing the boys and girls.
Peter Irniq: We had same clothing, sort of like uniforms. When you arrived there, did they take your clothing right away and made you put on new clothes?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely. My clothes were new. I had new seal skin boots. My mother had made me brand new kamiik(seal skin) boots, knowing that I was soon to go away. That was one thing that I was noticing, they took away my brand new kamiik and made me put on shoes. From there, I have never seen my brand new kamiik again at the hostel. The only time I saw them again, was when we were going home the next spring, the boots had completely dried up. That was how I saw them.
Peter Irniq: They dried up so much, they became much smaller.
Lazarie Otak: They were no longer useable at all! They dried up so much that, this is how hard they became!
Peter Irniq: Those were the ones that you mother had sewen so beautifully?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, she made them with great deal of hard work! She wanted to make them beautiful and she wanted me to dress up in very good clothing, as when I was leaving. But, I did not see them again. They gave us same socks, same shoes, gave us numbers, our numbers that we had to memorize. All my clothes had numbers, at various places. We were able to tell these are our clothing from our numbers, especially after they had washed them. One way of telling them was looking at our numbers, because our clothing were basically all the same for boys.
Peter Irniq: Inside that hostel, what were the other things that were most noticeable?
Lazarie Otak: I really noticed the food we were going to eat. As I mention earlier, because my mother and father had become old people, perhaps we had a bit of Qablunaaq food, but one thing I really noticed eating was the porridge. I often remember that very well. I probably had some when I was living here in Iglulik but it’s something that I really noticed having to eat it in Chesterfield Inlet.
Peter Irniq: Did you eat any Inuit food?
Lazarie Otak: Absolutely not! Only very frequently, we had Arctic Char. They were boiled but when they boiled them, they boiled them with guts in them. They would cut them to boil them but without ever taking off the guts. That used to be how it was.
Peter Irniq: At your home, do you think, your mother or your father would have boiled fish, with guts in them?
Lazarie Otak: If it was fish, absolutely not! If it was fish, particularly no. I remember as well eating Cow Beef, frozen. I remember perhaps we were asking about it, then they told us it was cow beef, frozen meat to eat.
Peter Irniq: The Grey Nuns, who were our bosses, do you think, they ate the same kind of food, as we did, then?
Lazarie: During the time that I was there for the final year, I asked them, if they ate the same things that we ate. They said yes, they ate the same things that we ate. But, we used to sneak and look through a crack on the door, we would look see what they ate. They ate some really good stuff, and in the middle of their table, they used to have apples and oranges.
Peter Irniq: The meals they had were they inviting and did you crave?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely, they were very inviting and you crave for them.
Peter Irniq: When you were in Chesterfield Inlet, do you remember what you ate, that was so good, like craving for something really good to eat?
Lazarie: Absolutely not!
Peter Irniq: You don’t have anything to remember about eating some really good food?
Lazarie Otak: Perhaps because, we were used to eating bannock at home, so we would try to make a bannock or someone else would make a bannock. They were not at all as good as my mother used to make them.
Peter Irniq: When a Christmas time arrive here in Iglulik, what were you made to do, what kind of things did you do?
Lazarie Otak: Here, I don’t remember a lot of things but I remember people, being very happy. We used to have one day to celebrate together. I remember vaguely that we had to stay up quite late to go to midnight mass. Then, after the church service, people would play nugluktaq, where an object with a small hole in the middle would be hanging from the ceiling, and people would try to be the first ones, to poke their spears into the hole. If you poke your spear first, then you win a prize. That was a lot of fun. They were only Inuit, who played those games.
Peter Irniq: Did they have big feasts and eating lots of food?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. They ate bread and beans as well. They also had tea and biscuits. They had those mostly, although, they were not the real food of the Inuit. This took place at the Roman Catholic Mission.
Peter Irniq: When you in Chesterfield Inlet at the hostel as well as at the school, do you remember about your Christmas time?
Lazarie Otak: I don’t totally recall but I remember having to be woken up I the middle of the night so that we could go to a midnight mass. I remember this much about it. Perhaps, I was not totally about these things that I cannot really remember them. Yes, I remember some of the happy times. I don’t remember the unhappy times.
Peter Irniq: Did you have a big feast at Christmas time in Chesterfield Inlet?
Lazarie Otak: I think, we just ate what ever we ate every day. At that period of time, they added a few candies.
Peter Irniq: Over there, you know about these Qablunaat(White People) use to indicate Christmas time, as a happy time, such as Christmas trees, did you see any of these in Chesterfield Inlet?
Lazarie Otak: I don’t remember much of this, although, I have some small memories of it. I think, I try to forget some of these things, I don’t know. Perhaps, I was too very much homesick. I was always thinking of my home and thinking of my mother. I do not remember some of things there, as long as they did not have much impact on me, then I don’t think of them very much.
Peter Irniq: At Christmas Time, did you have recreational games in Chesterfield Inlet?
Lazarie Otak: No. No, we did not have any games. They gave us some small little gifts. They gave us little gifts, to us little boys. I remember this but don’t remember exactly what the gift was. Even though, it was a Christmas time, I don’t remember either being happy or being unhappy.
Peter Irniq: What about your fellow students. Do you think, they thought, the same way as you did?
Lazarie Otak: Perhaps yes but I don’t know. We were at most times together, being friends and so forth. I don’t remember anyone being very happy, at all. At Christmas time, I don’t remember anyone, going all out to be happy at all.
Peter Irniq: Perhaps, you were thinking all the time of your parents as well as other relatives?
Lazarie Otak: Perhaps, yes. My mother and father were Elders, and I remember them here very well, but find it difficult to answer fully.
Peter Irniq: What sort of rules were applied to scoldings or reprimands, as this was often the rule by the caretakers? Were you ever scolded or reprimanded?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely! I was often really scared to be scolded so I tried to be a good person all the time. I did not wanted to be scolded! I tried my very best to follow all the rules, that were applied. How would I say this in Inuktitut – a perfect boy, a perfect person! Like that.
Peter Irniq: Perhaps like, one that never makes mistakes?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, I tried to live life as someone who never made mistakes. That was what we were told to do by them. To make a mistake, was extremely scary at the hostel. Those who made mistakes, I noticed received a high price for it, they were hit or beaten with a stick. They were made to sleep in broad daylight. This was because, they were bad, according to their eyes. As for me, I tried in every way, not to make any mistakes. I did not wanted to be punished and scolded. I was very scared and intimidated.
Peter Irniq: When you were scolded, were you severely punished?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, very much! It was extremely scary to be scolded. I remember this one person, who used to scold us. She would scold us so much that this Sister’s face used to go very red! The thing is, even just to see them, it was very scary, if you do anything wrong, guaranteed, you will be scolded but you try to be good so that you can avoid being scolded.
Peter Irniq: Over there, when we were scolded, we would be taken to Sister Supeorior(s)? So, we would be taken to the big boss of the sisters, right? We were told to say, we were sorry for what we did, is that right?
Lazarie Otak: Yes.
Peter Irniq: What about that school, when you first got to Chesterfield Inlet, can you describe what the school was like, inside? Can you tell a story about it?
Lazarie Otak: Our school was sort of like this in a kind of L shape. Little ones would be on this side, and the bigger ones would be placed on this side. We would enter the school on one side, and the bigger students, would enter from this other side. We were very punctual. We would never be late for school, guaranteed, as it was very close. When we were going to be late, we would have to have notes, and give them to the teachers.
Peter Irniq: When you first got into the classroom to go to school, what was the first thing, you had to do?
Lazarie Otak: Prior to going to school in the morning, the first thing we had to do was to go to pray at the church. And sometimes, when we wanted to go to church. When you wanted to go to church, you used to place your clothes at the end of your bed, then they knew when to wake you up, to go to church. But, if you place your clothes at the other end, where your pillow is, then they let you sleep a bit longer. But on Sunday, you had to go to church to attend high mass. You would go to church in the morning and then in the afternoon, you would go to church again, to say your rosaries.
Peter Irniq: Did you used to be woken up very early in the morning like around 5 a.m., so that you could be asked to be an Alter Boys?
Lazarie Otak: We would go upstairs to the top floor of the hostel, as there was small chapel there. This was a small chapel for the Grey Nuns for them to pray. So, when we were going to serve as Alter Boys at the prayer service, then they would wake us up at 5 in the morning.
Peter Irniq: You must have been sleepy or drowsy?
Lazarie Otak: Yes very much, of course! But we had to follow the rules. Most of us followed the rules, majority of the time.
Peter Irniq: The Grey Nuns operated a hospital there as well at another building, did they also send you to serve as Alter Boys at 5 in the morning?
Lazarie Otak: This was before my time going there. I know, there was also a chapel there. But because, I was probably too small of a child, I was never sent there to serve as Alter Boy.
Peter Irniq: You mentioned at the hostel, there were three storeys, boys were in the middle floor and the little girls were at the top floor. While the girls were situated upstairs, did you have relatives upstairs?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, for sure. I had relatives. There were my sister’s daughters. I had a step sister there, I also had other relatives, who were somewhat distant relatives. But, when I got there, they were no longer anything to me. I can say that for sure. They were no longer my sisters. They were no longer my cousins. It was like, they made us far away from each other and they diminished this relationship. It appeared to be like that to me. Especially this blood relations.
Peter Irniq: And you were not able to see each other any more?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. We could not longer talk to them. During the week, we were not to talk to them any more. We could not even look at them. As I was explaining about the dining room. The girls were on one side and the boys were on the other side. Sometimes, we’d sneak and look at them a little bit. Of course! When they catch you looking at the girls, then, they would scold you. They told us, because they were girls, we were not to look at them. We would be told about this.
Peter Irniq: You must have been wanting to be with one another as relatives?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, very much. We would sneak a smile with our relatives, without being seen by the supervisors. We would smile a little with them. Perhaps, this was the only one way of showing that we were related, we would smile. Aside from smiling, we were forbidden to talk to them. When we see our relatives, we would hide a smile, between us. We would smile at our sisters, and our cousins. We would smile at them a little bit, making sure that no one noticed us. They were our relatives, perhaps, it’s like that.
Peter Irniq: When you see your relatives, inside or outside of the hostel, and when they catch you talking with your sister or your cousins, what do you think, would have happen to you?
Lazarie Otak: As I mention earlier, I tried not to do things that I was not supposed to do, thinking that I would be made to pay for it. I tried not to do the kinds of things that I wasn’t supposed to do, so it’s something I tend to follow to this day. Things that I was not supposed to do, I try to avoid doing them but look, I am just a human being too. When they had all kinds of rules that we were not supposed to do, I could not understand why, we were not allowed to do things at that time. For example, I did not understand why, we were not allowed to talk to our relatives for example.
Peter Irniq: When the fall time and winter came, they did provide you with clothing for winter?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. They also provided us with Kamiik(boots), I think they are the boots invtented by the Indians, they are called in English mocasins. They would get holes on the bottom sole very quickly. When they got holes, we used to repair them ourselves, when they would get too many holes. We were made to sew them by ourselves.
Peter Irniq: What about your outer wear, such as your jackets and wind pants? What did they look like?
Lazarie Otak: I remember mostly my boots, the ones that are called moccasins. I don’t exactly remember the upper and lower clothing that we had, I don’t remember them exactly what they were like. I remember my boots in particular. I particularly remember about the fact that we had rubber boots as well. Rubber boots we had were red bottom and had laces. I even remember the type of in soles they had. I remember them very well, perhaps because, I was very attached to my own Inuit kamiik(boots).
Peter Irniq: When you got there in 1960, did they send you out to trap foxes, out on the land?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, we used to walk out on the land. Each Saturday, we would go out on the land to go and set up our traps. This would be our routine activity, every Saturday, during the trapping season.
Peter Irniq: Did you have to walk far away, sometimes?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. For example, we would leave after lunch at noon, and we would be out until about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. They allowed us one trap each. We would set up that trap on the land out there somewhere, and that’s the one, we would go out to check, to see if it caught a fox.
Peter Irniq: Did you ever catch a fox?
Lazarie Otak: I caught one fox. Only one time! But I don’t remember where the money went to, from the sale of the fox. Perhaps, I got some of it. But I know, they(the hostel) took the other part of the money, what was left over.
Peter Irniq: By the Sisters?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. I don’t know where they put it. Perhaps, they used it for something.
Peter Irniq: They didn’t tell you about what this money that is left over, will be used for this? They didn’t say that to you?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, not at all!
Peter Irniq: The money that was left over, that was yours, what did you use it for, at that time?
Lazarie Otak: The bit of money that belonged to us, had a small pouch with a number on it, a number that was our own number, the money that was ours, was in a safe, keyed into a safe. When I requested some money on a certain day, then they would give me some and only on Fridays. I was only allowed ten cents.
Peter Irniq: What did you get for 10 cents?
Lazarie Otak: A chocolate bar. It would not buy anything else, so I only got a chocolate bar.
Peter Irniq: In 1960, chocolate bar was very cheap, eh?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. It was 10 cents, or it could be have been 12 cents. We were not allowed to go anywhere else, around the hostel area. So, I used that opportunity to go to the Hudson’s Bay Company store.
Peter Irniq: Why did you buy a chocolate bar and not buy something else?
Lazarie Otak: There was nothing else that cost 10 cents. There were other things that I could have bought but there was nothing that cost 10 cents, so that was the only thing that I could have bought for 10 cents, so I bought it.
Peter Irniq: At the hostel, did you ever have something that was as delicious as a chocolate bar?
Lazarie Otak: Candies. When we were good, they used to give us one candy. That was part of the routine.
Peter Irniq: Looking back to that time, even though it seemed very far now from today, they used to let us walk on the land, even though we were little boys, to make us go check our traps and things like that, a good thing was, there were no nanuit(polar bears) then, eh?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, yes, absolutely! I will use this individual as an example, who is now deceased, his name was Andre Utuqqaq, he was from here. I was walking with him to check our traps, and while we were walking, we saw four wolves. My companion, he took some rocks and said, “shall we go towards them?” and insisting that we go, I said, “no, we could be mauled by them!” I kept him from going over to the wolves, in cases we were attacked and mauled by the wolves. He kept wanting to go but I persuaded him not to do it. The good thing is we went back home and not attacked by the wolves.
Peter Irniq: Good thing, you went back home.
Lazarie Otak: Yes, I said to him no, and as a result, we didn’t go to them.
Peter Irniq: At that time, what type of weapons did you have, besides the rocks?
Lazarie Otak: We had a small knife, probably the same size or the same type as the ones, we used for eating at the hostel. We also used to bring with us some fish for bait at our fox traps, probably part of the fish that we ate at the hostel. That was about all, we brought with us, nothing else!
Peter Irniq: When you were at the hostel, you obviously knew some Inuit from Chesterfield Inlet, were you able to visit them at their homes?
Lazarie Otak: Not at all! We never used to see them aside from the Church. Or other than the school itself. We only saw the ones that worked now and then at the hostel. We never used to see them besides going to church, at the school as well as when we would go to the movies(every Friday night). We would not see them aside from that.
Peter Irniq: What about your supervisors, who were really big bosses at the hostel, was there Inuit staff?
Lazarie Otak: I remember this when we they were about to close the hostel, in a year or two, there were some Inuit staff. But, prior to that, I don’t remember any Inuit staff.
Peter Irniq: At the school, what type of subjects did they teach you?
Lazarie Otak: Arthmetic. Social Studies. Science. Subjects that you learn at a regular school. One, I remember most was, we learned about Jacque Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Henry Hudson, and we would learn about Ivan Ho(sp), we learned about Qablunaat subjects, or about the Heroes of the Qablunaat, that was what they taught us about.
Peter Irniq: You talked about learning about Jacque Cartier, or Samuel de Champlain, you were obviously impacted by them?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. To this day, I can relate to them, as they taught us about them, in those days, I know who they were, and what they were doing, and why they came.
Peter Irniq: You talked about learning about the Europeans, do you remember learning about Inuit culture or Inuit language?
Lazarie: Not at all. We did not learn anything about our culture, our language, or our writing system of syllabics. We were only taught about the ways of the Europeans and their culture and language. I only remember learning about these things very well.
Peter Irniq: You mean, about the land of Southern Canadians?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, about their culture in Southern Canada. I was even learning to make a drawing of a tree, even though, I had never seen trees in my life. We were told to draw a tree. Only because, I had seen pictures of trees, so I drew a picture of a tree, with apples and all.
Peter Irniq: Were we able to speak Inuktitut inside the class?
Lazarie Otak: Absolutely not! We were able to speak Inuktitut, only by hiding, and when our teacher was not around and aware of speaking Inuktitut. When our teacher would leave for a few minutes for whatever reason, then we would speak to each other in Inuktitut for a little bit. But, as long as the teacher was around, we were not allowed to speak our Inuktitut language, under no circumstances!
Peter Irniq: If you were speaking in Inuktitut to your fellow class member, what do you think, would have happened to you?
Lazarie Otak: I had to get my hands ready for being hit. I don’t know how many times, I had to do this. Perhaps, when I was caught speaking Inuktitut without noticing, I would be hit with a yardstick, like this! At most times, they just didn’t slap you, they actually hit you, with a yardstick. You had to open your hand like this, and show the palm of your hand. When you had your hand like this, it mean’t that you were ready to be hit, by the teacher.
Peter Irniq: Was it painful?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, of course. Some people got it worse! Absolutely worse! There was a very scary and intimidating teacher. I was very scared particularly of that teacher. The student he was teaching for example, when he or she, wasn’t able to learning that they were being taught, although he/she wanted to learn a lot and it was obvious, they would be so scared, they would start to cry. Even when they were crying, he would be really scolding him or her. He would grab them like this, and would throw them against the wall. I did see that.
Peter Irniq: He would throw them against the wall?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, against the wall! He would grab them like this and throw them. Especially, when they were not able to understand about what they were being taught.
Peter Irniq: And he would be shouting very loudly and scolding him or her at the same time?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. He would be screaming at them as well. He would be screaming so much that the whole school, might have heard him.
Peter Irniq: He was a big man, that teacher?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, he was our teacher.
Peter Irniq: Is it part of Inuit culture to scold people by screaming. Do you know if this part of our culture?
Lazarie Otak: Absolutely not! I don’t remember anything like this from my mother and father, who would be scolding so loudly by screaming. I remember being scolded, only when I had to be scolded. I remember this very well. I don’t remember being hurt by my mother and father, to the point where I would be painful. I perhaps was scolded only one time by my parents. Only because, they had to do it.
Peter Irniq: So, in your opinion, when the students, who were unable to do what the teacher says, when they were being scolded, do you think, they were scolded like, overboard?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, too much!
Peter Irniq: Way over?!
Lazarie Otak: Yes, way over! I remember one student that this teacher hit. He had a gold ring with that was made to resemble bugs and on the ring, there were some parts sticking out, so when he was so mad at this girl, he hit her really, really hard with it. The girl was hurt and he was very hurt on his finger, from his ring. Instead of looking after the girl, he ended up looking after his finger.
The teacher who used to scold so much at the school, did you ever try to do something to him, yourself?
Lazarie Otak: Not me, personally. I hold certain amount of faith in me. I think about that person, and sometimes, I think about part of that verse that says, “as we forgive those, who trespass against us”, I think about that sometimes. Even though, I think about it, sometimes I am merely fooling myself, because, what they did to us, are very hard to forget, and difficult to easily forgive.
Peter Irniq: Today as an adult, if you were to see your old teacher today, what would you say to him?
Lazarie Otak: I have seen him already, as an adult. He was also teaching in Grise Fiord. When he was in Iqaluit for a meeting, I saw him there. I was also a teacher at the time. I saw him then, and I noticed, he was trying to be distant away from me. Perhaps, he recognized me and I also told him, who I was. He was trying to be distant from me, and did not want to be around me, at the time.
Peter Irniq: Perhaps he was scared now!
Lazarie Otak: Yes, perhaps, he got scared then. It was not my intention to do something to him, as my faith in religion was strong, particularly that part that says, “forgive those who trespass against us”. This was something I tried to hold on to within inside me. I wanted it to be truthful. But sometimes, it is hard to be true to it.
Peter Irniq: Those went to school in Chesterfield Inlet and other Aboriginal people, such as the First Nations, today, they talk about having been sexually abused as little children, were you aware of little children being abused?
Lazarie Otak: Yes absolutely. I myself was sexually abused. I can tell you what this now deceased person once said to me, that Pierre Quasa to me, that he used to see children being sexually abused. I am thankful for to him for this for him telling me about it. He, for example, supported what I said about sexual abuses. For this, I am thankful to him to this day. Because of his support to what I said, it made me feel that I was telling the truth. Yes, he told me, he saw children being abused. For this, I am very thankful to him, especially about what I said about us or children being abused.
Peter Irniq: So, you were sexually abused yourself?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, I want to talk about this as I want it to eventually go away and not have to hold it within me, forever. As long as I talk about it, some of it goes away, bit by bit. We were told, not to tell anyone at all about it. We were never going to tell anyone. We were paid for being sexually abused. We would be given one candy. After they did this to us, they would give us one candy as a payment. I remember this crisply clear.
Peter Irniq: Who was it that was doing this to you? Was it a priest, a sister or a brother?
Lazarie Otak: By a brother. We always used to think, he was a very nice man, perhaps because, we were little children. Perhaps, we were scared, we would just make ourselves available, and not being able to do anything about it. I think, perhaps, we were scared and that he was going to give us a candy. The one who used to do this to us, when I would see him in the Church, I used to wonder, “is he praying?” I used to think like that. For him to do what he did to us, and being in the church at the same time as him, it had a lot of impact on us.
Peter Irniq: That Brother?
Lazarie Otak: Yes.
Peter Irniq: About what happened to you, is there any more that you want to tell? How did they do it, did they take your pants off?
Lazarie Otak: They would take our pants off. Then, I’ll tell it all. They would suck our penises! It was a Brother, who was doing this to us. He would suck us, we did not know whether this was part of a culture or a way of life, as little children, we were too small to understand. As I said, we didn’t understand all of it, whether it was a way of life or not. But, I understood one thing myself that we were not to do this.
Peter Irniq: As Inuit, this was not practiced?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. When you never had anything like this done, it was scary and embarrassing. Even to this day, it is very difficult to talk about it publically. It’s very embarrassing. It’s like, when you talk about it, you are going to be laughed at. The thing is we are still keeping these things inside us, even to this day.
Peter Irniq: To this day, those who went to Chesterfield Inlet to go to school there, they talk about having been sexually abused at the hostel, or inside the school, and at the Roman Catholic Mission in particular, is it something that you feel, you are heavily impacted by it?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, very much. You are heavily impacted, I can say that since I am heavily impacted by it, I can honestly say, I cannot have a wife. I tired to live with a wife numerous times, but I cannot succeed in a relationship. I am not saying, I am for another man. Only because, I was sexually abused by a man, I became one, it is not like that. I look at women, that they are made for men. To see men doing these things to each other, it is not right in my own thinking. Yes, they are free to do these things but, to me, it doesn’t seem right, to see men being married together, for example. To me, it is not right. Yes, they have agreed among themselves to do these things but they did it to us, when we did not agreed to be abused like that.
Peter Irniq: It’s like, they took away your childhood?
Lazarie Otak: Yes! It was taken away from us. We were not to tell about it. It was like, they put a zipper on your mouth and put a padlock, so that you would not be able to talk about it. It took a long time but when I was healing about all this, I was told, “if you are trying to hold on to these things inside, they will want to get out, in other ways. Perhaps, when you are drinking, or other through other ways, that bad things might come out of you instead. But, as long as you keep talking about, eventually, you will get rid of it. That was what was told to me, this is why, I talk about it to get rid of it, by talking about it, bit by bit.
Peter Irniq: If you were to see the person who did this to you, or others, who did these things, what are feeling or thinking about them today? Are you angry at them in a very big way? What are you thinking today?
Peter Irniq: Regarding this question, I sometimes don’t know at all, how to answer it but I did say previously, that when I am praying, I talked about forgiveness. But, sometimes it is very hard, because I am still very angry at them in some ways. Some other ways, I am asking why they did those things to us but the strongest one that I keep coming back to is the fact they did not wanted us to tell any one. Because they told us not to tell any one, so we kept our mouths shut, for a long time, in ways, that it was too long to be silent! If I were to see the man facing me, I would ask him directly, “why did you do these things to me?” I would want to understand why? Why? Because of your actions then, I am the way, I am today. Why did you make me, the way, I am today? I would want to ask him those questions.
Peter Irniq: You are obviously heavily impacted with your life today. Did you start drinking alcohol heavily?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. It was like alcohol became my team, my partner. Alcohol was such a big partner that any bottle that I had, I had to make sure, it was finished. I was drinking so much, I would no longer know what I was doing. It was a way for me, to forget what happened to me. I was merely trying to forget what happened. I was trying very hard to hide things. For quite some time, I was trying to find all this, and this is what I had found out about myself.
Peter Irniq: Today, are you journeying to heal, regarding what happened?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, at one point. But today, we’ve used alcohol so much, so we talk about it today. And we do this every week. I talk to other people, why, I used too much alcohol. While using it, I was taken into custody, so I talk about these. When you are drinking, you can do anything, every is possible! You are no longer embarrassed to talk about thing. I was too tune to the booze and I was trying to heal with booze. Then, I thought, I will not heal by using booze. By talking about it, then I will begin to heal. I cannot say that when I talk about a little thing, I heal from it. I cannot say that.
Peter Irniq: Ever since you started healing process, where and from whom, did you get your strength from?
Lazarie Otak: Where did I get my strength from. It’s been two months since I got my grandchild. That little child has give me, strength. That child is helping me, like my mother used to play with me. Over at the school, I would never get that kind of loving. This love that I got from my mother, I gave it to my children and my grandchildren. I try to give them the strength of love, as we were never given that kind of opportunity to love at the residential school. Even when we wanted to cry, we were often told: “don’t cry, you are big, you are a big boy now.!” This crying, they had me to take it away from me. For example, my father died when I was there, I didn’t even cry for him. I was told never to cry, any more. It was let go from me, and no longer was I holding it. Then, I was told not to cry. For a long time, I could not cry. And when I was taking a healing course, I was told, if you could laugh, then you could cry too. They taught me how to cry when I was healing, so today, I am taking back the crying from myself.
Peter Irniq: The people who went to a residential school, do you get their help with journey of healing, today?
Lazarie Otak: Sometimes, yes. And sometimes no. I know some of them, were in worse situation than I was. Some of them are healing bit by bit. Just today, I said to someone, the day after tomorrow, do you remember what it was? It’s going to be May 15. Yes, he said, he remembere what May 15 was. To me, May 15 is a very important day, it was the day, when we would return home here. It was very important because on this day, we were going to see our mothers and fathers, those were the indications. Although, it has been a long time ago now, I keep holding on to May 15, as a very important day.
Peter Irniq: At that time (1993 July), we the Survivors of that Residential School, we went to Chesterfield Inlet, to have a reunin, and to talk about having been sexually abused. Did that meeting help you or the other people, who went to school there?
Lazarie Otak: To me, it was very helpful. It provided further help to me, personally. I was able to stand up taller, I was able to cry again and was no longer embarrassed about what happened to me. It was no longer embarrassing to talk about it and knew, I was not going to be laughed at, when I talk about it. That was what it was.
Peter Irniq: Did you understand that you were no alone?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. As I mention earlier, when we were being sexually abused, there used to be several of us and remembering what Pierre had said. But I tell you, to this day, the children, who were abused at the same time as me, they are not recognizeable to this day. I want to recognize who they were. We would be set up in a way, that this person was here and this person was there, that was how it was done to us. To this day, I cannot see the other children, perhaps, when this man was doing it to me, it had quite a lot of impact on me. Perhaps, I was embarrassed being abused in front of them, I don’t know. I cannot totally understand this.
Peter Irniq: When we had our meeting in Chesterfield Inlet in July 1993, we invited the Bishop of the Hudson Bay Roman Catholic Diocese, to hear, and to say something if he wanted to and had something to say. He made a half-ass apology, did that apology helped any?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, it had a little help to me. When he apologized, he acknowledge some, that it was like that the way we said it. If he had never apologized, he would have said the contrary, that nothing like that ever happened. To me, that was what it would have mean’t. When he apologized, he admitted that this was what we did, we are sorry about it. As soon as he said, I am sorry, he mean’t, that was what they did to you, I am sorry about it.
On February 27, 1996, he again came here to officially apologise to us here in Iglulik. He made his official apology through TV and was seen all across Canada, in fact entire world. The thing is, what we were allowed to go through in Chesterfield Inlet, the hard times we faced, do you think, more Canadians should hear about these things?
Lazarie Otak: I think, they should be heard more by Canadians. We want to tell the truth. We are not going to tell a lie. If we lie, it would mean that we are merely promoting ourselves. That is my feeling. We have to tell the truth and be understood, most of all. I know that we will never be fully understood. I want the survivors of residential school be understood. This is why, I agreed to be asked about it.
Peter Irniq: Were you compensated when they were giving out monies for the survivors?
Lazarie Otak: Yes.
Peter Irniq: What do you think of the compensation monies?
Lazarie Otak: I wanted to make sure that I will use the monies that I am getting for a good cause. I did not wanted to mis-use them, as when I was there at the residential school, I went through a very hard time. I wanted to spend them for me but I have relatives too, such as my daugthter, I thought to myself, I have to help them too. I have an older brother and a sister, but I used them to help my immediate family. I did not spend it only for myself. I originally said, I am going to only use it for myself. I am already giving some anyways, from the monies that I make from my work. I wanted to make sure that I spend them wisely. I probably did not spend all of it wisely. I also felt, or though, they would have an end, one day. As a result, I cannot spend money, just to be happy.
Peter Irniq: Last year, the Members of Parliament made a symbolic apology in House, what did you think of that?
Lazarie Otak: As I said earlier, they also apologized in part, to us. But, they did not apologized all the way. I have not heard anyone say this at all as of yet. I have not heard the Prime Minister of Canada, apologizing to those of you survivors, that you were abused, I have not heard anyone say that to this moment. If he come and say that, I would probably be more relaxed. Perhaps. It seems like, those of us that are survivors of that residential school, we are always in some kind of a state of tention. I think the apology would allow us to feel more at ease and relax more, I think, this is the way, I would feel.
Peter Irniq: If you would be able to see the Prime Minister of Canada, in front of you, as you are with me now, what would you say to him?
Lazarie Otak: I would ask, why did you build schools like that? For what reasons, did they have turn our backs to our mothers and fathers, I would ask him that kind of questions. Why did you send us to another school, to Inuit land, when we had school in here already? Why did we have Brother, priests, and Sisters to be our Supervisors? Especially those, who cannot marry. Why did you provide us with foundations with those were not “mothers?” I would ask him questions like that.
Peter Irniq: Would you tell him that we’ve lost our culture, our language, and our ability to provide good parenting? For those of us, who went to school there. Do you believe that?
Lazarie Otak: Absolutely yes! I truly believe that. Those that I got to hold from the residential school over there are that, I cannot go out hunting. I was told, yes, you can go out hunting. I was told that you can go from your home to your place of work. But, to be out on the land, yes, I can build an iglu, obviously, but, I cannot tell whether the ice is thin and is not safe or not, I do not know. I can tell a bit if it is not safe to go through but I have never gone down to the moving ice at the edge of the ice(where people go out and seal hunt). I have never been there. People from Iglulik go out to the moving when they are going out to catch walruses or something, but me, I have not even been down there, not even once. Here I am 56 years old. This is because, I do not hold any Inuit culture. Even the younger people, who are younger than I am, they go out to the moving ice, so as to make sure that their relatives have food. Like I said before, I was told, I go to the office every morning, to work to make sure that my family has food. They said, I could look at this like hunting. But, this work wages is not quite the same as hunting. Being a man on the land and the office is not quite the same, here in the Arctic. Perhaps, like that.
Peter Irniq: When we were there, is it like, we decided to drop our Inuitness or Inuit being?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely. I once had a woman, who once told me that I look like an Inuk but I think, like a Whiteman. That was precisely what I was told. It’s like, I have to have breakfast, lunch and supper, these are the kind of things that I still hold to this day. This is the culture of the Whiteman. Even the food I eat on my plate, I have to eat all of it, even though, I may not find it completely delicious. What I hold is something I was even trying to pass on to my children. I later found out that I don’t have to do all this, they don’t have to be like me. I did notice this about myself.
Peter Irniq: So, we were being sent to Chesterfield Inlet, to be assimilated into the Whiteman’s world?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, we were. I was even told, “you are like a potatoe”, that was Sister Allard. She told me, “you’re like a potatoe”. “What do you mean, Sister?” I asked her. “You’re brown outside and white inside.” She told me. She told me that I was like a little White boy, brown on the outside and white on the inside. Maybe because, I was doing things too much the Whiteman’s way. That was what she said to me, “you’re like a potatoe.”
Peter Irniq: Are you taking back your Inuitness or Inuit being today?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. I am trying to take back my culture and also having other Inuit around. Particularly the language. This is using, the real Inuit way. I am taking back, having “callings”such as “My uncle” for example. But I am not holding on to a lot of it right now. I notice about this myself but more so, I am noticed by my own children. I am reminded of this at times. You are too much like this. “Why are you doing this, dad?” Sometimes, they tell me this. I don’t answer them immediately, trying to figure why, I am like that. So, what I’ve taken from over there, what they were trying to make a Whiteman out of me, to this day, I am holding on to them. I notice this abut me frequently.
Peter Irniq: I want to return to sexual abuses, did you have any one to complain to?
Lazarie Otak: Absolutely not! We were not to tell anybody. Even when we were having confessions with the priest, we would not tell about those under no circumstances, while we were having confessions. We were not to tell. It was embarrassing. They knew also what was going on. Some Sister knew what was going on. I believe they used to know that Brothers were doing these to us. I remember them talking in French to each other, they would be frowning at each other in a real big way. I think, I can safely say, they knew what was happening.
Peter Irniq: Roman Catholic Pope, when he went to the United States recently, he was apologizing to the victims of sexual abuses by the Roman Catholic priests in America, if he would come to Inuit Homelands or to Canada, and apologise to us, do you think this would be the right thing to do?
Lazarie Otak: Yes. I want to be able to say something to him, please let your Roman Catholic priests be able to marry! Let your Sister be able to marry! I would say to him, they are just human beings, and able to feel just like anyone else, why do you allow them to marry. Let them have husbands! This is what I would say to him, so that they would not do abuses again. Perhaps, they would abuse less but, by being married with wives and husbands, they would do less of this, this is what I would tell him.
Peter Irniq: What about learning how to read and write English and add arithmetic. Was this good or bad? What can you say about that?
Lazarie Otak: I can say, it was good but we paid a very high price for it. I say it was good because up to now, I can be working for wages. Up to now, I can pay for my own house. Today, the young people who graduate up to Grade 12, this is hard to believe. When these young people, when they cannot do things in English, they come and ask me. Here, I only have grade 8 and they have grade 12, wow! It makes you think that is today’s education, weaker than the one, we attended at Residential School? Or is what is wrong with it? We were very well educated in part, for this, I am very thankful. And now, I can work for wages. I can have a good job and be thankful for it. But the high price part of it, I am not thankful for it.
The high price is the fact that, I am not able to hold on to a marriage, the fact that I cannot participate, at a large gathering of people, that’s the high price I paid. I cannot go to a place where everyone is happy and having a big feast. That’s the high price. When everyone else goes to a midnight mass at Christmas, I cannot go! Nothing! I cannot go to dances at Christmas time! Perhaps, I still hold a lot of the things that were done to us, I don’t think at all of going to places where a lot of people are gathering. I am just fine staying home alone. When people are out there, very happy, celebrating, for example, even if I know, there are going to be prizes won, well, I won’t go to them at all. I won’t go to meetings at all. Perhaps, I am still holding on to embarrassing things. We were often told not tell anyone. So, to be seen too much by people, I am embarrassed by that.
Peter Irniq: do you have any other things to say, something that I have not asked about?
Lazarie Otak: I was sent to that Residential School for eight years. I would go home here for only three months at a time. I was told by someone, who never went there, “wow, I am envious, that you went over there to go to school.” “No, it’s something that is not envious at all!” “Why are you envious?” I said. He said, “look, you can have a very good job, you can speak very good English”, when he was saying that to me, I said, but it was a very high price. It is indeed a very high price, for me. I can use some of my own Inuit life but I don’t use a lot of it. The thing is, we cannot go with the people, who are having a great time, telling all kinds of jokes, perhaps this is another big price that we paid.
Peter Irniq: Canadian Government established a body, known as Truth and Reconciliation Commission, if this organization could come to Inuit communities, only if they could come to Inuit communities, and if you are given opportunity to speak, what would you like to say to them?
Lazarie Otak: Here is what I would like to be able to tell them. Let us tell the truth and let us make ourselves aware about reconciliation. Let us be truthful about it, and work towards “Inuuqatigiikpaallirniq” “a case of being good neighbors.” Let us all work towards the truth and be able to live in harmony with each other. Let us be truthful about all this, and try to get rid of what I describe earlier, about being such hard stuff. Let us try to get rid of that tension.
It’s like when I see someone at a distance. I can tell just by looking at that person walking, I can tell they are not happy. By observing people, with the way they walk, they are not happy. Those that went to that residential school, are in worse situations, just by looking at them walking, they are very noticeable, that there is something wrong. They won’t say anything but, just the way they walk, or by observing their body language, you can tell, they are not totally happy. I wish those of us, who are survivors, can meet with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I wish we could bring out to public and open everything about what happened to us, even though, things that we might say, may not all be wonderful. We need to put them out to public, so that we can finally begin to be more positive. This is as long as we can talk about them truthfully, about what happened to us. I know some will not talk about what happened to them. When we talk about some of them, some tend to get angry about them. Some people cannot even say, brother or sister, they just can’t let them out. These are the people who are my fellow-community members. They are easily reminded of the words, brother, sister, or father, words they’ve learned from over there. I can say the words but make no mistake, they were not my brothers, sisters or fathers. I can say that for sure.
Peter Irniq: When you got there for the first time, your own clothes were put away right away and you were given new clothes. Can you talk about other things that you observed while you were there?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, as I said earlier, we had a large building that had three storeys. There was invisible boundry, where we were not supposed to go. We had our own playground and we could not go beyond certain areas, because of that invisible boundry. We were not allowed to go beyond those invisible boundries. Here we were at a Inuit community, and yet, we were not to enter their houses. When we wanted to visit them, we were not allowed. There was a limit to how far we could go to play outside, at our play ground, but only within that invisible boundry. We could not go beyond that boundry. When we were playing outside, we got to know our own limits, as to where we should go or not go. We were not allowed to go beyond the limits. Here we could see the little boys from Chesterfield Inlet. Once in a while, they would come to see us. Sometimes, we would play with them. The thing was, we could not go to them, we could not go to their homes. That was our routine, and they were also Inuit. Our freedom had limits! When we got back home, we took our freedom for granted, sometimes, we went overboard. Perhaps, that was what we were doing. Here at home, we also had limits or boundries. This was because of the religious organizatins. Over there, there was a real boundry. When we were going to church for example, there was a trail, that we had to follow. We were not to walk through somewhere else. We had to make sure that we walked through the established trail. We were not to run somewhere else and go to church. We were not to walk through in between the houses of Chesterfield Inlet, the only way to go to church was through walking along that trail or walkway. There was not actual road, but just a trail.
Peter Irniq: There were also some White People’s houses, have you ever visited these homes or no?
Lazarie Otak: It was fun going there for example, especially when I had to bring a telegram. These buildings were Department of Transport Buildings. Wow, it was fun to go there, I am going to a place that I had never seen before. I had to have a partner to go over, as we were not allowed to go alone. When you got into their buildings, it was beautiful. It was like going outside of Chesterfield Inlet. Otherwise, we would not have gone to their place, even though, they were our community-people. It is probably for this reason, that I am not able to go into places where there are a lot of people, together. This is perhaps because, I am still holding on to many things from Chesterfield Inlet. This is what I think, sometimes.
Peter Irniq: You were told to bring things that needed to be read or something?
Lazarie Otak: As an example, when someone got a letter or when they had to send letters out, that we were told to bring over to be sent out through communications.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember those Halloweens?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely!
Peter Irniq: What did you think the meaning was?
Lazarie Otak: The meaning for me was that, we were going to do something different. I didn’t know the meaning of the Halloween but doing different things for a little bit. We were going to go to places, where we had never been to before. That was a fun thing to do.
Peter Irniq: Haloween was like “aimmiriaqtuq” or “going out to beg” in English. Is that right? Did you go to Inuit homes, to Inuit houses?
Lazarie Otak: No, I don’t think so, we were told to go to White People’s Houses including teacher’s houses. I don’t remember going into Inuit houses at all.
Peter Irniq: We were instructed to go to White People’s Houses only. You remember that one very well?
Lazarie Otak: Yes.
Peter Irniq: The bag that you were given, what did they put in it?
Lazarie Otak: Candies I think, things that we didn’t get at the hostel. They also gave us some pop corn and things like that. They didn’t give us a lot. And when we got them to the hostel, we were not free to do whatever we wanted to with them. It was like, taking some of what we got, after meals, then, we would be able to get something from the bags. Only after a meal, I was allowed to take one thing from the bag, that was given to me. As a child, you wanted to take all of them. Only thing we were allowed to do was to choose one thing at a time. I remember this very well.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember eating anything that was sweet at the hostel?
Lazarie Otak: As I said earlier, the bannock I made and tea were somewhat delicious. Perhaps it was because, I was already used to eating them. Other things, I could not quite get used to eating, fish for example, that had guts in them. I don’t remember eating something that was really delicious at that place.
Peter Irniq: One day, we were told to go to DOT houses one Saturday, do you remember this?
Lazarie Otak: Not at all, I don’t remember this. It seems like DOT Houses were far. But when we had a meeting in Chesterfield Inlet in (1993), they were very close. I guess, as children, we thought they were far, but when I saw them again, as an adult, they were very close. I remember them being far.
Peter Irniq: What about the Inuit of Chesterfield Inlet at the time. Were you able to visit them?
Lazarie Otak: No. When we were first there, not at all, we were not allowed to visit them. At that time, I was able to recognize them by their faces, as I got used to seeing them at the church or when we went to the movies. I was able to recognize them, but never knew what their names were, or who they were. I did not know their names. It was like this, we were not allowed by fellow-Inuit with the locals. I don’t think, we were allowed to talk to them or say something to them, aside from the person who was a janitor at the school. We were able to say a thing or two, as he used to come to us, once in a while.
Peter Irniq: While in Chesterfield Inlet, do you remember a very happy situation or something that was very funny, something that made you laugh?
Lazarie Otak: No, not at all! I don’t remember anything that was fun and something that made me laugh really hard. I don’t remember anything at all. I can’t even say, “good thing, we did this, while we were still in Chesterfield Inlet.” I cannot say anything like that at all. I don’t remember anything that I can relate to, in a way where I can say, “at least, we did this in Chesterfield Inlet.” Other than the fact that, we were there to go to school.
Peter Irniq: When you first got to Chesterfield Inlet and went to the hostel, there were all kinds of rules, some of them you mentioned already, did they have rules about toilet papers too? Did they teach you about the usage of the toilet paper, such as “here is the line, you fold it three times, then wipe yourself, and if you have to wipe yourself some more, then you fold it in two, and then…did the Grey Nuns, teach you that too?
Lazarie Otak: Yes, absolutely! They taught how to use the toilet paper, and told us to tear in after folding it twice, along those little lines. Even though, no one was watching us in the wasrhoom, we would follow their instructions. If you didn’t follow them, it was scary! The Nuns also taught you about how to pee, they said, if you pee, don’t flush the toilet, flush it only, if you had a shit. Those were the rules. Every morning, we had to wash our faces, and comb our hair. We had to brush our teeth. Those rules were not our rules at home, previously so when they were applied to us, they were very foreign to us. Every Saturday, we were made to have a bath. That was how it was.
Peter Irniq: That’s it, the end.
Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk
Year of Production: 2008