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Celina Irngaut Testimony

Click on 'Read More' for English Translation of Celina Irngaut Testimony by Peter Irniq, May 2009

Celina Irngaut Testimony, Iglulik, Nunavut, May 2008

Peter:  Welcome!  It’s wonderful that you came. 

Can you talk about your life here in Iglulik area, prior to going to Chesterfield Inlet to attend Residential School?

Celina:  A bit about what I remember.  I remember a bit about this, and I only remember some of it in very small pieces. 

My older siblings Joanna, Gorette, and Tuutaat, my brother used to go out and I would be the only child, left behind.  I used to travel by dog team often, with whom I call, “my dear cousin”, who was our father.  I replaced Tuutaat, as his hunting companion, when he left.   At this point,  it was me, who went with him, when he went out to check his traps or when he would go to the garbage dump belonging to the (Dew Line).  I accompanied him, often. 

I even remember when we were out, my hands became very cold.  He stopped to make tea.  Before having tea, he took my (caribou skin) mitts, he put them on to his mouth, breathe in them, to make them warm.  When he put them back on my hands, “how warm they were”.  I often accompanied when the rest of my relatives were gone.  I was the only child left. 

I also remember probably in 1957 when I was maybe about three or four years old, when “my dear cousin” and I went to the garbage dump site, and he found a beautiful one-piece jump suit, that once belonged to “Christina”, who was living at the Dew Line.  I imagined, they had other clothings, so they threw it away.  He took the jump suit, shook it a few times, then put it on me, I remember what warmth!  He was not about to wash them, first.  That was a bit of what I remember.

Peter:  At that time, were you taught about Inuit culture, such as learning sew and things of that nature, when you were living in Iglulik?

Celina:  No.  I have never been taught about sewing.  I learned to sew myself, it was after, when I had been to Chesterfield Inlet and when we started living at a small outpost camp.

Peter:  That was much later?

Celina:  Yes, it was around 1983. 

Peter:  Did you learn about Inuit culture, when you were living around here, before going to Chesterfield Inlet?

Celina:  We were all Inuit.  I was not actually taught as such, but I learned it by observing it. 

Peter:  Can you speak about it for a bit?

Celina:  Yes.  What I observe was, I was absolutely free.  I would take a walk up alone, without being worried about.  No one worried about me when ever I go out for a walk but being the only child, I had a job of getting water all the time,  for our family.  Every summer, I had water for my parents.  It seems like, I was the only one. 

Peter:  You had healthy Inuit foods, to eat?

Celina:  Yes, I remember when hunters were out hunting for walrus, when we were living in Qimmirturvik(out post camp).  It was my first experience in eating some things.  I think, I was not told about what parts of the animal, were delicious to eat so, but I remember when all these clams were emptied from the stomach of a walrus, into a washing basin.  I remember reaching into the basin and eating lots of clams, and my hands and up to here to my wrist, I was “soaked” from the juice of the clams, from the walrus stomach.  They were very delicious!  They were very good to eat. 

Then, when my dear cousin was feeding the dogs and axing the meat, for the dogs to eat, I remember watching him doing this and thought the walrus igunaq(aged meat), seemed so delicious with it’s blubber, he would cut small pieces of the igunaq, and I would be eating with him, along his side, even though, this was mean’t to be for the dogs. 

Peter:  Especially here around Iglulik area, everyone seemed to have meat from the walrus, for survival, is this true?

Celina:  I remember going to Qinngusaat(traditional name of a place), going out walrus hunting by a sail boat.  We went with Ungaalaaq’s, as Ungaalaaq was my “dear cousin’s” step brother, they were adoptive by one person, I remember going out with our boat being very full, along with the dogs.  I remember it was somewhat windy and we were traveling pretty good with the sail.  We came upon a big herd of walruses, down there.  I remember our boat was very full and yet, when they got the walrus, they loaded it some more with all the meat and yet, “it was not going to sink”.  I used to think, it was going to sink, as it was so full of heavy load. 

Peter:  I guess the edge of the boat was pretty close to the water, as a result of the heavy load.

Celina:  Yes.  I remember, it was like every summer, they would be caching the walrus meat, for aging it. 

Peter:  And igunaq is very delicious to eat?

Celina:  Yes.  We, who come from this region, had it as our source of meat, since long time ago, to this date.  Because, we have it every day, we don’t consider it as delicious and as delicacy, not me.  It seems, it’s just a normal food.  I don’t think of it as delicious! 

Peter:  Amitturmiut(The people from Iglulik and Hall Beach Regions) are famous for this from all over Nunavut. 

Celina:  Yes.  Of course.

Peter:  When did you first go to school in Chesterfield Inlet and how old were you?

Celina:  I was born in 1954 and I left in 1961, when I was maybe seven years old.  I was still six years old and when April arrives, I was going to turn seven. 

Peter:  Were you living in Iglulik here, when they came to get you?

Celina:  No.  We were living in Sanirajak(Hall Beach).  We were living at Qimmirturvik, on the north side of that Nappaqqut(an outpost camp, outside of Hall Beach), the first time I went.  The next year, we were moved to Nappaqqut, so that we could be closer to Sanirajak.  We lived there, later on. 

Peter:  When you were going to be going to school in Chesterfield Inlet, were you made aware of this? 


Peter:  Were you made to be aware of this prior?

Celina:  Not at all!  We were not made aware of it.

  Can you talk about your time when you were told that you would be going to Chesterfield Inlet?

  I remember something about this, whether it was the first time or the next time, we were told to come to Sanirajak, because, we were going to be leaving for Chesterfield Inlet.  I don’t actually think, it was my first one.  But, we were living around Qimmirturvik when we were brought to the Dew Line.  We, the brothers and sisters, spent one night there and the next day, we were being taken to Chesterfield Inlet.  I remember noticing this. 

Peter:  Did they come and get you by boat or canoe?

Celina:  They brought us over, by boat.  It was my dear cousin, who brought us here, where there was an airplane.

Peter:  To Sanirajak? Or Iglulik?

Celina:  From Qimmirturvik to Sanirajak(Hall Beach).

Peter:  Then, you went by airplane to go to Chesterfield Inlet?

Celina:  Yes.  

   Can you talk about your airplane ride, from your memory?

Celina:  I was scared all the way and am still scared to this day.  I was so extremely scared for the first time, I flew, on an airplane.  Even to this day, when my children go alone to go  out for medical.  Even when they have to have an escort, I cannot even escort them!  I was extremely scared for the first time when I flew. 

Peter:  Were you flown in a small one-engine plane, that landed on the water, with floats?

Celina:  Yes, when were here in this community at a later date.  That one, I first flew in, whether it was the same plane or not.  The first plane that landed in Sanirajak was different from the first one. 

Peter:  When you were leaving your parents, that must have been a very trying time?!

Celina:  Perhaps, my dear cousin(my father), used to be anxious for us to go, as there were a lot of us.  There were 13 of us.  Because, there were a lot of us, I remember them getting anxious for us to leave, “I wish, you could leave now”.  We would all leave with my older siblings.  I think, they actually wanted me to leave when I first left.  I think, that was what my parents were thinking.  It seemed to me that they had the attitude of “wow, it’s going to be a long time yet, before you leave – wish, you could leave now”, that was what it seemed like at that time.  It seems to me that my parents wanted me to go.

Peter:  How long was the ride from here to Chesterfield Inlet?  Did you go through Naujaat-Repulse Bay?

Celina:  I think, I don’t remember half way over.  When we took off, I was so scared that I don’t remember parts of it, and remember bits and pieces here and there.  I noticed, we were through Pelly Bay.  I remember we went through Pelly Bay and picked up and saw Jacquelina and Geeta for the first time, when we went through there. 

  From Pelly Bay, do you  remember where you stopped, on the way to Chesterfield Inlet? 

Celina:  No.  I remember whether it was that year or another when we left, we stopped at Coral Harbour, than Rankin Inlet, I am not totally sure, which year it was, when we used to stop at those places. 

Peter:  Do you remember what it was like inside that airplane?


Peter:  Were there seats or no?

Celina:  The one that I remember flying with in later years, had complete seating.  This is the one, I became quite used to flying.   The one we flew with from Rankin Inlet to Chesterfield Inlet, was one-engine airplane but was full of people.  That particular one, while we were still flying, the door went wide-open.  One of the girls, was nearly falling off the plane, as a result, and she was grabbed by one of the passengers, who was flying with us.  I remember noticing that one. 

Peter:  She was grabbed instantly?

:  Yes.  She started to fall backwards but from there my memory went blank.  I only remember bits and pieces here and there. 

Can you talk more about what you remember about that person, who nearly fell off the plane, what you remember about it?

Celina:  I am not totally aware of which community we landed at first, after we left.  When we got to Rankin Inlet, I don’t remember if we slept a night or not, whether we left the next day.  However, I remember noticing that when we got into a small plane, there were a lot of us, as a result, the airplane, going to Chesterfield Inlet, was full.  That little airplane was so full, that we had to stand inside. 

When it suddenly opened, I am not sure, which one it was, this person started to fall backwards, out of the plane, one of our little children, who was going to that Residential School, grabbed the person, I just don’t remember, which one it was.  I also remember noticing that when they brought us to the community, we were brought over, all standing up, inside the plane.  I think, the reason why, it opened, it was because, it was so full.  I remember noticing that I was standing kind of in the center.  I remember that Pilot, when he noticed that the door was opened, he practically ran to the end of the plane to go towards the door of the plane.  I also remember noticing that he bumped into me, as he was going in between the little children.  I particularly remember that Inuk, who almost fell off the plane.  I don’t exactly remember, which one it was. 

Peter:  Because, one of the little kids grabbed him, he did not fall off the plane?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  Was he the only pilot or was there a co-pilot?

Celina:  I don’t know.  I don’t remember if he had a co-pilot.  But he seemed very tall, perhaps, because the plane was so small.  I thought, we were going to crash, really.  As well, we the children, were small kids as well.  When he walked to the back of the plane, he had to bend over a bit like this, and I remember that as he was going back to the plane to the doorway, he bumped into me, as he was walking in between all the children.  That was how, I remember noticing the situation.  He was probably going back to close the door. 

So, the door actually did not come off the plane?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  Did he close the door tight?

Celina:  Yes, he closed the door tight, and we of course continued our journey. 

Peter:  It must have been very scary?

Celina:  I think, this is part of the reason why, I don’t like to enter an airplane.  As long as I am not sick, or when my child is sick, I am not going to fly at all! 

Peter:  It must have been a total scare?!

Celine:  Yes, I remember bits and pieces like this, especially when I got to Chesterfield Inlet, it must have been true. 

Peter:  It is probably for that reason, you are scared to fly in an airplane?

Celina:  To fly in any airplane was scary!  Period!  For me. 

Peter:  There are stories by survivors about having to land in between the community they left and their destination.

Celina:  Yes.

  Then you got to Chesterfield Inlet?

Celina:  Yes.

When you first got to Chesterfield Inlet, what did you think of it?  What did you think of the community and it’s people?  Who were the people that came to meet you, when you arrived?

Celina:  When we got off the plane, it was my first time seeing a Grey Nun.  As I was with my older sisters, I was being “attached” to my older sister, Joanna and Goretti.  They seemed very “delicious”.   Everything seemed delicious!

Peter:  Including their clothes?

Celina:  They seemed delicious!(they had a wonderful smell).

Peter:  Why do we call their Grey Nuns, Sister?  For what reason?

  That was what they were called, Sister Girard, Sister Pilagie, they were Sisters.  Sister Allard, and others. 

Peter:  So, we merely translated Sister into Inuktitut and refer to them as sisters?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  Looking at their clothing, did they seem strange, when you saw them for the first time?

  Yes.  I did not think, they had breasts – the sisters.  This is because, I have always been, sort of foolish, since long time ago.  I remember some girls, who were very good, who behaved very well, used to be privledged to clean and wash the washrooms of the Grey Nuns, as they had their own washrooms and did not go to the girls “public” washroom.   I really wanted to find out if the sisters had breasts.  So, I tried to be very good for entire month, so that I can be chosen to clean and wash the sister’s washroom.

Then, I was chosen to clean their washroom, in fact this became my chore.  Then, I heard, someone came into the washroom, and I knew it was not one of the girls, as they were not expected to go to that washroom in the first place.  Everything was completely quiet.  The walls on each side of the washroom, were not touching the floors, like they seemed incomplete.  I can hear her moving around her dress.  Then, I peeked from underneath the wall of the washroom, and looked up.  She started to pee.  I looked on this side(she gestures), and noticed there was something “stuck out over there” and then, that was how, I knew they had breasts too.  I was really wanting to find out!  I found out.

Peter:  So, they were also just human beings?

Celina:  Yes, I found out, they were just human beings too.  I really thought, they were not really human beings. 

Peter:  When you got to Chesterfield Inlet, do you remember if you were dressed in Inuit clothing when you left Hall Beach?

Celina:  When we were leaving my mother would dress us up in brand new clothing.  We wore new clothing.

Peter:  Seal skin boots, and everything else?

Celina:  Yes.  Everyhting.  Everything was hand-made by my mother.

Peter:  Clothes, designs for the little girls. 

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  When you got to the “iglurjuaraaluk” “Big house”, the boys were in the middle, and the girls were on the top floor? 

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  When you got to the top floor, to what was going to be your home, what did they make you do?

Celina:  For the first time, I remember, they were removing lice from my head.  Well, they put on my head, some kind of a chemical, to remove all the lice on my head.  I remember, they were combing my head with a special comb, designed for removing lice.  I remember noticing that.  I was put in the bath tub, and washed.  They put on me brand new underwear.  They smelled really good, delicious! 

Peter:  About this big bathtub, and when they washed you, was it your first time seeing one?

Yes.  No wonder.  When I left my home, we had a qarmaq(sod house), I have a picture of it at home.  It was identified where I would be sleeping.  The walls and ceiling used to be covered with magazine pages, and every time, we were going sleep, my older sisters, used to teach me how to  read, as they knew how to read in English.  I still have a picture of us, with my parents, in that qarmaq.  That was exactly how, I left them.  They were exactly the way, they were living and I have a picture of them to prove it. 

Peter:  When you went into the big bathtub, did you wash yourself or did they washed you?

Celina:  As I did not know how to wash in a bathtub, I was taught about how to wash.  They made me wash under my arms, I was made to wash my feet, as they were completely black from dirt, in between my all my toes.  At home, we never used to wash. 

  As we did not have bathtubs in an iglu or a qarmaq, for obvious reasons?

Celina:  Yes.  The only time, we sort of wash was when, we were playing in the puddles of water.  That was what it was at that time. 

Peter:  The Grey Nuns, the Sisters you had as your caretakers, for obvious reasons, the boys and girls, were separate.  The sisters, who were our caretakers, did they speak Inuktitut?

Celina:  No.  Only one, that was sister Pilagie. 

Peter:  All the others, spoke English all the time?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  Did you speak English, when you got there?

Celina:  No

Peter:  How then, were you able to understand?

Celina:  I did not understand.  I was never told and I did not have an interpreter.  Arrggh…Here is why, I do not like the French language.  When I was standing between the two sisters, they would be speaking French and I knew, they were talking about me, for I have done something wrong, and I used to do wrong things, often.  I used to be punished on a regular basis.  I always knew they were talking about me and then when they were finished talking, guaranteed, I would be put into bed!   

Peter:  Being put to bed, was that part of your punishment?

For entire month and entire year, I never went to a move each Saturday, when each Saturday was a movie time. 

  Can you talk some more about this being forbidden to go to a movie?  Why were you not allowed to go to a movie?

Celina:  I was a bully.  I was nick-named Attaarjuaq, and up there, I became a horrible Celina Puja.  Ever since then, I was given that title “ruluk” “terrible”.  I was always trying to defend myself and whenever there was something done, I was picked on all the time. I was blamed quite regular.  When someone steals, “it was Celina who stole it”.  When something got broken, “Celina Puja, broke this”.  When I got to Chesterifle Inlet, it was like that all the time, and it seemed, I had to defend myself all the time. 

There used to be small pieces of papers, about the size of this(makes a gesture by picking up a piece of paper), on them, there used to be  “Good” “Excellent” “Satisfactory” “Poor” printed on them.  The sisters had to punch on each side of those indications with a hole puncher.  Whenever we went to go to bed, we had to give this piece of paper to a sister, whether we were marked “poor” or “satisfactory”.  I had so many “poor” or being bully to people, then they would say to me, “poor tonight” “poor tonight”.   I think, it was whenever I would touch my fellow-children, however lightly,  I would be marked, “poor” and every Saturday, I would be put to bed.  As a result, I did not go to a movie, for entire year.  I was always marked “poor”. 

Peter:  And going to a movie for a favorite time, a wonderful time for us?

Celina:  Yes, absolutely!

Peter: The Sisters, knew that we used to totally enjoy going to a movie, and have fun.  So, by preventing you from going to a movie, that was their punishment to you, personally?

Celina:  (Nodding yes).

Peter:  Do you remember any other big rules, over there?  You must have been noticing many big rules, when you got over there. 

Celina:  It was full of rules!   It was all rules!   Compared to what it is today, it had many rules.  For example, when we woke up in the morning, we were introduced to the number one rule, “go to church” in the morning.  We woke up at 6:30 in the morning, then go to church at 7 o’clock.  From that moment, they applied all kinds of rules for the entire day, to the time, that you were going to bed, at night. We would pray 27 times. I don’t know, it was around those numbers. 

Peter:  What other kinds of rules, did they apply for you little girls, as little girls?

Celina:  You were not to look at the boys.  You were not to be outside.  You are to remain inside the girls floor, as long as you were not going to play outside.  You have to go to bed at certain time.  You had to go for a meal at a certain time.  It was all rules, about their rules. 

Peter:  When  the girls and boys were eating, they were separated?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  Were you related to any of the boys?

Celina:  Yes, I had a brother named Tuutaa.

Peter:  Were you allowed to see him, talk to him?

No.  Absolutely not!  As we were not to look at the boys, let alone talk to them.  There were three sisters, who came to the hostel, and it was at my birthday.  One of them apparently shared the same birthday as me on April 8.  She was apparently aware that she shared the same birthday as me, she gave me three chocolate bars as my birthday gift.  I wanted to really give one of those chocolate bars to my brother, and on a play ground, there was a monkey bar.  Among the boulders or rocks, near the monkey bar, I yelled to Tuutaa, look I put a chocolate bar for you to have on those big boulders.  That was because, I could not go see him and talk to him.  When I was leaving the chocolate bar, Tuutaa, went to pick it up.  That was how, I was not allowed to see him!  That was how, we were forbidden from seeing them. 

  If you were seen, talking to your brother, what do you think, would have happen to you?

Celina:  There used to be something done to me.  After we were coming back to the hostel from the church, were had to walk all in line, and then, we would walk away from the lineups, when we were going back to the hostel from the church.  We would be going back to the hostel and then, when we were walking, I would walk as the last person at the end of the boys and girls, so that I could be close to my brother.  I was always wanting to talk to my brother and I was normally the last one to enter the dining room for breakfast. 

Peter:  Of course, he is your brother?

Celina:  Yes.  Only, I had to go back to the end of the lineup to talk to him. 

Peter:  And boys and girls were not allowed to play together ot outside at the playground?

Celina:  Yes.  Absolutely!

Peter:  What about your clothing.  Can you kind of describe your clothing?  What kind of witner clothing, did you have?

Celina:  I remember noticing having moccasins.  And also, these socks, especially, I had to mend my own socks, all the time.  All sorts of socks.  I remember having a jacket, one that I could not tie up to my neck, as every time, I wore something tight around my neck, I have always been short of breath, as a result of wearing a jacket like that.  I think, they felt a compassion for me as a result, then they provided me with a clothing, with a low neck.  I was provided with a different clothing than others, clothes that weren’t so tight around my neck.  I think, my problem was that I have asthma. 

  What kinds of food did you have?  What did you eat?

Celina:  Fish, beef, molasses, I hated molasses, it’s mixed with peanut butter.  Beef used to be absolutely square.  Fish heads that we ate, were always somewhat rancid!  We used to have maktaaq but I could never eat that as I have never eaten maktaaq, to begin with.  Others used to eat them, as I used to give them away.  When they found out about me doing that, then they would make fun of me and try have me swallow it.  I really used to hesitate eating them.

Peter:  That beef, was a cow, not an Inuit food?

Celina: Yes.  Absolutely.

Peter:  Were they frozen or something else, how did you eat them?

Celina:  They were frozen and extremely square!

  I wonder why, they fed us those like that, frozen and they are not Inuit food?

Celina:  (I don’t know – nodded).

Peter:  Perhaps because we are Inuit and eat frozen foods, perhaps because, it was of that?

Celina:  It had to be.  We are frozen meat eaters. 

Peter:  What there some food, that was very delicious?

Celina:  Yes.  Only at Christmas time or Easter time that I remember, our food or what we had was different.  They used to give us candies or apples or oranges.  It was also the first time, we saw corn flakes, aside from that we had porridge all the time, for entire time, that we were there.  When it was Christmas time and Easter time, it was like, we finally had a real breakfast. 

Peter:  Do you remember eating food that was very delicious, at the Residence?

Celina:  Porridge with biscuit(Pilot Biscuits).  That was the one I really used to find delicious and it was something that was delicious.  Even as adult, I used to try to make them the way they were made, but they were not the same as the ones I used to have over, there, as long as our current biscuits are not the same as the ones, we used to have over there. 

Peter:  I want to move on to the school and talk about it.  When you first went to the school for the very first time, what kind of memory do have, you remember?

Celina:  Sister Rocan, I saw her for the first time.  When I entered that classroom, it was the first time I saw Sister Rocan and I started my journey of learning. 

Peter:  Do you remember what the inside of that classroom was like?  Do you have a memory of it?

Celina:  There was a big folding door in this school.  We were on this side, closer to the door, where the beginners were.    It seemed like it was very pleasant, and lots of room, at the same time. 

Peter:  What type of educational material, did you started with?  What were you learning?

Celina:  Fun with Dick and Jane.  That was what I started with. 

Peter:  You had other things, later on?

Celina:  It was like this.  We were learning Dick and Jane, reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies, science, those were the subjects.  As well, there was health.  And also religion.  Those were the ones that I saw, anything others, there was hardly any. 

Did you learn about Inuktitut?

Celina:  Only in the afternoon, maybe around 3:30 or 4:30, when we taking religion. 

Peter:  Who taught you?  Was it a priest or by a Sister?

Celina:  Rosalie(Sammurtok).  Rosalie was our Inuktitut teacher.  Also, we were taught by Kajualuk( an Inuit name given to Father Henry, as he had a long beared when he came up north as missionary, and Inuit called him Kajualuk – Big Brown.  And also, Inuit could not pronounce his name.  When Inuit could not pronounce the names of Qablunaat, who came north, they used to give them an Inuit name, normally, with the way they looked).  And Kajualuk, used to teach us in Inuktitut. 

Peter:  Priests who used to speak Inuktitut, did they also used to come and teach?  That is aside from Kajualuk?

Celina:  Only about religion.  This is from my own memory.  Priests only did religion and that was why, they would come to the classes inside the school.  At the hostel, it was not so. 

Peter:  Were you taught in English all the time or most of the time?


Peter:  Were you able to speak Inuktitut inside the classroom?

Celina:  They forbidden us to speak Inuktitut.  We were not to utter a word in Inuktitut. 

Peter:  If you were allowed to speak in Inuktitut in the classroom, if you were not forbidden to speak the Inuktitut language, would you have spoken in Inuktitut?

Celina:  Only, if I was asked to speak Inuktitut.  Provided that I was not allowed to speak Inuktitut, I would not have talked in Inuktitut. 

Peter:  Did you ever talk in Inuktitut, inside the classroom?

Celina:  Yes, I did but when I did speak Inuktitut, I was punished and put into a corner of the classroom. 

:  Do you remember if you were hit with a ruler on your hand, for speaking Inuktitut?


On the palm of your hand?

Celina:  Yes, very much.  I was hit so hard that, my right hand, could not grab anything for two weeks!  It was Mr. Demuele, who hit me very hard.

Peter:  Did he catch you speaking Inuktitut and hit you very hard?

Celina:  He caught me, cheating in spelling.  Darn it, I wrote the words here on the palm of my hand.  He must have noticed me that I was looking at my hands like this.  He hit me very hard on both hands.  My right hand was open like this, for a long time.  And the thing was, I could not use my left hand to write.  When I was holding a pen, then I would do it like this, at the tip of my fingers. 

Peter:  When you were hit very hard at that time, did you complain to anyone, someone in authority?

Celina:  No.  There was no one to complain to.

Peter:  To think of complaing to someone, there just wasn’t any?

Celina:  Yes.  Yeap! 

Peter:  There were many students from all over the place, including Iglulik Arviligjuaq(Pelly Bay).  Everyone spoke a different dialect.   Did you understand the dialect of Pelly Bay-miut?

Celina:  I used to speak to the people from Pelly Bay in English.  I think, they were also embarrassed to speak their own dialect, so it seems, they spoke English, more than anyone else. 

Peter:  Were you allowed to speak Inuktitut outside of the school?

Celina:  Yes.  Or when we visited local Inuit homes in Chesterfield Inlet, we were then free to speak our language.  Or when we were out skating for example, then we were free to speak our language. 

Peter:  The rules of punishment, they were very strict, weren’t they?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  Do you remember seeing the little girls and the little boys, grabbed by their shirts and were thrown against the wall, in the classroom?

Celina:  Yes.  Mr. Demuele used to do that quite often.  I thought, he was going to break Loisa Kumaksiutiksaq into pieces.  She was one of the smallest ones, in our classroom.  She was often physically beaten, along with Utakuttuk and Andre(Uttak).  Those little ones, like Utakuttuk, who was only five years old,  used to pee his pants in the classroom and every morning, he had to wash all the time.  It seems, he used to wash all the time, every morning. 

Peter:  He would have an accident?

Celina:  Yes, he would have an accident and peed his pants.  Like when you were in bed at night also, people often had accidents because, it was very dark in the dormitory.  So the only light was around the Crusifix and it was red.  It was scary to get up and go pee as it was very dark and the boy, was just a small little boy.  That was why, he used to have an accident.  I used to be scared of the dark, even though, I was much bigger. 

Peter:  You were scared of the crucifix?

Celina:  I used to be scared of it, as it was very red. 

Peter:  The sisters made a really big deal out of Jesus and God.  I wonder why?

Celina:  Yes, it was.  This is why, we were made to pray very, very much.   I actually was very tired of going to pray.  They made us go overboard, with praying.  Today, I go out to pray, free to go when as I please, following my own mind. 

Do you remember some of the punishments by this one teacher.  When he would get very angry at the pupils, he used to use a white chalk to throw it towards the pupils?

Celina:  Yes, Mr. Demuele used to do that.  It seems, he was Devil’s Right Hand Man, that was how, he appeared!  Is he dead now?

Peter:  I don’t know.  He wrote a letter to our lawyer, not long ago, saying that, when he was punishing his pupils, he did not punish them like that.  That was what he said in his letter.  He said, when he punish his pupils, he was only trying to discipline them.  That was what he said also.

Celina:  Oh?  He was lying!  He was absolutely lying! 

  About his ways of punishing his pupils, do you still imagine hearing them?

Celina:  Yes.  Yes, when you want to remember them, yes.  Absolutely!  I can still imagine him.  He had a real black hair.  He was a very intimidating person! 

Peter:  He was really a big boss man?!

Celina:  Yes.  His wife was very ugly!!  She had a really big nose. 

Peter:  Young boys were made to go out fox trapping.  What about the young girls, what kinds of things, were they made to do that resembled Inuit culture?

Celina:  Chewing and softening bearded seal skin for seal skin boots.  They used to make us chew the skin to soften them, when the local people from Chesterfield Inlet, would bring them up to the hostel.  Every Saturday, it was our responsibility to soften them up.

Peter:  What about recreational games.  I remember when both boys and girls used to go out skating.  It seemed skating was a very big recreational activity at the Tasiraaluk(the big pond).

Celina:  And at the skating rink.  Before they dismantled it.  I used to go to the skating rink, to really go after a potential boyfriend.

Celina:  You really wanted to have a boy friend, was that the reason why, you went skating?

Celina:  I really liked Harry Aggark.  Do you know him?

Peter:  Yes, of course.   Were you allowed to have boy friends?

Celina:  I really, really wanted to have a boy friend.  The Grey Nuns were not always watching, at least in part, so they would not sometimes know what we were doing.  I remember we used to hang around with the boys, especially when we became teenagers.  When I would write to Harry, I would give them to Paul Quassa for him to give to Harry.  When Harry got one of my letters, he wrote back and said, “quit writing to me, I don’t like you, you’re very ugly!”   That was what Harry wrote and said to me, when he wrote to me.  Paul Quassa was our middle man, he would deliver the letters.  I was not that good looking but it was only from him, that I used to get a Valentine’s card.  I think, he got a Valentine Card, maybe only from me. 

Peter:  About the little girls, do you know if they were sexually abused at the hostel or at the school?  Do you remember noticing this?

Celina:  Being chased?  Yes, Father Courtemache, used to chase the girls.  I remember him when he used to do this, he would have you sit on his lap, and then, he would be moving his legs, back and forth and making you feel him.  To those, who he was making him feel him, he would give them candies. 

Do you remember Father Franzen, known as Iksirarjuakuluk(Little Priest), he went after me.  He went after me by feeling my breasts.  Immediately, I liked that very much.  When a certain Saturday came, he came over to our residence, I was trying to be closed to him, and I would touch him through clothes, with my breasts, as it was really wonderful, when he touched mine.  Darn guy, he told me to stay away.  “I think, I saved myself from being sexually abused”. That is what I think. 

Peter:  Do you know of others, who were abused like that?

Celina:  Not really.  I used to see the little girls, who were made to be in the bedrooms.  I don’t know whether I would call it a sexual assault but I have some flashbacks, about being in a bedroom.  There was a light here, which was very bright.  I remember, a Sister standing there, and I was completely naked.  I don’t know if was assaulted because, I don’t remember anything after that.  I remember noticing girls, coming out of that room, but I don’t know if they were being assaulted, sexually. 

Peter:  Maybe, you were too young?

Celina:  Perhaps yes.

Perhaps, when you became older, you might seen or heard about this?


Peter:  Prior to going to Chesterfield Inlet for a Reunion in July 1993, we made this issue public.  Many people are very much impacted by this within Nunavut.  Especially those, who went to school in Chesterfield Inlet.  How can we help those people further.  What can you personally tell them?

Celina:  I have personally experienced  that, being made to have sex, without permission, can be the biggest thing to break you apart, as long as you didn’t want it.  When I was being touched like that, when I did not wanted it, as I became a window, and was widowed for quite a while, when my husband died, and I would wake up to this person, who had taken off all his clothes, and was beside me.  The thing was, I did not wanted to do it with him, that was how it was.  Can you heal from this?  As for me, I don’t think, you can heal from it.  You have to be continually reminded of that person, who was doing this to you, even though, you have become an adult.  No wonder, children sometimes become bad, it is something that continually remind you about it, even long time after, it happened. 

Then, I guess, one is going to die, being reminded of it all the time.  You will be reminded of it all the time, as long as you have not healed from it.  Yes?

Peter:  It becomes a lifetime healing?

Celina:  Yes, you have to work to heal for life.  Provided that you have been sexually assaulted without your permission.  It is something that hurts most, from all the other hurts. 

Peter:  Is it embarrassing?

Celina:  Because, it is very embarrassing!  It is the most embarrassing thing.  You become an enemy, hated.  I know of one person, who was sexually abused was destined to become a social worker, as this person, never had another job.  People seem to be at peace, through a good social life. 

Peter:  Obviously, you are often reminded of what happened  in Chesterfield Inlet, and you know the priest, and his name and all?  You knew who he was?  That place reminds you of many things, sometimes instantly.  Many people who have gone to school there, now have to take healing courses.  They do this through talking with each other, through meetings, what kind of strength have you been given so that you can get beyond that kind of life?  The thing is, one can never forget it.  However, in order to live a good life, you have been given strength by someone, and you can live beyond it?

Celina:  Perhaps, yes.  But the thing is, I am not easily insulted or hurt.  Now, I am actually going through a very painful period of my life, especially since I have someone who committed suicide.  I have been sexually assaulted, neumerous times.  My husband has died.  Both my parents have died.  My child has been alleged to have murdered someone.  This is what I am going through now, and it’s something I am going through for the first time.  Even my child who has committed suicide, his case, seems small.  Things that happened in Chesterfield Inlet seem small, the time that I used to be beaten severely, to the point where, my ear was taken off,  looking at them from the side, they don’t seem to be hurting, or painful.  My child, who happens to be my favorite someone I truly love and attached to, might be spending the rest of his life in prison.  What happened in Chesterfield Inlet, doesn’t seem to be hurting any more. 

Peter:  In order to forget what happened to in Chesterfield Inlet, perhaps many of them turn to alcohol, to forget?

Celina:  Yes, this was true to my late husband.  My late husband, his name was Celestino Manittuq, he spent, I don’t now how many years in Chesterfield Inlet Residential School, became a complete alcoholic.  I was trying to be a good wife but he didn’t want to have anything with that part.  The thing was, when he woke up, he would start drinking, and drank the entire day.  That became his life, every day for many years.   He was my husband for 20 years.  That was the kind of life he lead, when he woke up, he would begin drinking until he fell asleep at nights.

The thing he had to do was to run away from the booze.  We had children at this point and we moved to a small outpost camp.  We were at our outpost camp for about six years.  But he had to run away from the liquor.  He stayed away from that, until I went to school in Iqaluit.  Then, he started to drink again, apparently he was poisioning himself, when he started to drink the second time around.  It was not even two years, he died of alcohol poisioning.   Many people became like that, including my older sister Joanna.  My relatives are alcoholics.  I am the only one, who drinks less, than my relatives.  I think, I was also broken by booze, as all I wanted to do and drink too. 

Peter:  By drinking, you were trying to forget what happened to you at the Residential School in Chesterfield Inlet, the sexual abuses, the punishments?

Celina:  Yes, I’ve tried. 

Peter:  Were you also made to pray big time in Chesterfield Inlet?

Celina:  We prayed all the time, as it seemed. 

Peter:  I think, you said, you prayed about 27 times a day.

Celina:  Can I count them?

Peter:  Go ahead. 

Celina:  When we first wake up in the morning.  We went to Church at 7 a.m.  After we got back to our dormitory, we prayed when we were about to eat.  After we had our meal, we prayed.  Just before we started actual school, we prayed.  We prayed at noon, just after the morning school session was over.  Just before lunch, we prayed, after lunch, then just before we got going at the school in the afternoon.  When we were given a catechasm, we said the rosary, when we were going to bed, when we made mistakes throughout the day, just before supper, right after supper.  Yes, we prayed very big time.  If I was too loud, I was asked to penance by the sisters.  I was told to say, Hail Mary three times.  Five minutes later, if I should bump into one of the girls, and was blamed for doing it, I was told by the sisters, to say Hail Mary three times again.  After that I was told to go into the corner and told to say Hail Mary three times.  Then, if was told to go into a corner again, then I was told to say the entire rosary prayer.  For the entire day, if you count every bit of prayer, you can total it up to 27 times. 

Today, do you still go to the Roman Catholic Church?

Celina:  I don’t really have anyone to follow.  I am however, baptized.  I am not exactly Roman Catholic and not really do the sign of the cross or an Anglican.  I only believe in God, only within myself or personally.  I don’t use the church any more.

Peter:  Today, how do you look at the priests and the sisters?

Celina:   Today’s priests are not the same as those damn ones, that we used to have.  Our current priest here is a very good human being.  It is obvious that he is not going to abuse anyone.  While I am angry at those ones we had then but I cannot be angry at those we have today.  I see them as something, they are not the same. 

Peter:  Pope was visiting in the United States quite recently.  Apparently, there are victims of sexual abuse too, in the United States.  I don’t think, anyone was spared from abuse by priests from all over the world.  Particularly to the Aboriginal People.  The Pope was apologizing, it seemed, each time he spoke in the united States.  If you could see the Pope today, what is it, you would like to say to him?

Celina:  You were not there.  They were there in the 1950’s.  This Pope is in the 2000’s.  I cannot judge this Pope for what they have done, to us.  I don’t know what he was at that time, perhaps he was a Cardinal.  After being a Cardinal, then he could become a Pope.  This Pope was not the one who did these things to us.  It was them.  They were not allowed to marry.  No one has ever been left out from sex.  Event he animals do it.  The thing is you have to have a partner.  The other thing is, you cannot become a saint, while you are still alive on earth.  As long as you do these things, whether you are a man or a woman, you would never become a saint.  They were caught, with their own makings.  Celibacy, you cannot not be celibacy, as long as you are on earth.  I am not naming the Pope.  But, the ones that were in Chesterfield Inlet, are the ones, I put a blame on, often. 

Peter:  Were you compensated for Common Experience Payment?

Celina:  Yes. 

Peter:  What do you think is the purpose of receiving this money?

Celina:  For putting us through very difficult times.  For, “we stole your culture, we stole your language, I think, it is trying to pay for those issues.  But, I don’t think of it like that at all. 

Peter:  Are you also waiting for the Prime Minister’s Apology to the Aboriginal People of Canada, to us Inuit?

Celina:  I am waiting for our Bishop to apologise.  I think, it was the priests who did these things to us.  I think, they are the ones, who should be apologizing. 

Peter:  If you should see the Bishop today, what would you say to him, about all this?

Celina:  That was Bishop Lacroix.  He’s dead.  Bishop Roleau, he was not around in those days. I cannot put a blame on people who have died, since.  I guess, the thing to do is to forgive them.  I don’t even think of the Prime Minister.

Peter:  One who used to do so much scolding to you, what would you say to him, if you see him, providing he is still alive?

Celina:  At least.  I have been healing and taking healing courses since then.  If you would have asked me that question sometime ago, I probably would have been really yelling and screaming at him with anger, but looking at my own healing and training in the past, and being able to speak English and not forgetting my Inuktitut language, and having taken the route for healthier life, I have forgiven those people, who used to be bad to me.  Now that you’ve asked me, if I were to see my former teacher, who used to be be bad to me, I would probably say to him, “if you could apologise to me, I would forgive you.  And also, what has been done is now passed. 

Peter:  Concerning the Survivors of Residential Schools, including Chesterfield Inlet and for First Nations people, the Canadian Government has established an organization called Truth and Reconciliation Commission, if they could come to Iglulik to hear the stories of Residential School Survivors, who went to school in Chesterfield Inlet, we see them as our ear to the rest of Canada and to all Canadians, what do you think, you would say to them?

Celina:  I would just probably say to them that, according to Statistics Canada, our children are always considered as negative.  For we have gone to the Residential School, our children seemed to have gone the way they did, and it feels, it is our fault.  The problems have kind of become inter-generational, like, it’s is fault, as Residential School Survivors.  I would probably ask them about what they can recommend about way to improve the lives of our children, never mind us, who have already gone for training and healing, as a result of  Residential Schooling.  I would ask them, how can you help our youth, to overcome their problems. As parents, we have no resources.  Although, we have some healing facilities, they only seem to be geared to the Survivors of Chesterfield Inlet Residential School survivors.  I would say to them, look at the problems our children are having.  Take a look at what they are doing, and help find solutions for them, so that Statistics Canada, can improve the way, they look at our youth today. 

It seems like, the children of the Residential School Survivors are having major problems.  Like they say, “drug addicts are the worst in Nunavut” “unmarried girls are having the highest rate of pregnancy”, and this is the outcome of Residential School Survivors.  That is what I would say to TRC. 


Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk

Filmmaker Contact:


isuma [at] isuma [dot] ca

Year of Production: 2008

Country: Canada

Region: Nunavut

See more

More from this channel: Testimony I Residential Schools

  • 1h 56m 16s

    Peter Irniq Testimony

    uploaded by: Zacharias Kunuk

    channel: Truth and Reconciliation

    Click on 'Read More' for English Translation of Testimony by Peter Irniq, May 2008

    English Translation of Testimony by Peter Irniq, May 12, 2008, Iglulik, Nunavut

    Peter Irniq: We had a terrible Hudson’s Bay Trader back in 1956, like many of these people, were terrible. That summer in 1956, the Dew Line ships came and when left later on, they left a whole lot of material. Some things like pellets beach along the shore line, so one day, my father and Celestino and his father, walked over to where these pellets were beached, with the idea of taking them back to our tent. When we got there, the two adults, Celestino’s father and my father tie up the pellets with a seal skin rope, and Celestino’s father, started to pull the pellets back to his tent. Right at this point, this Bay Manager came along with his Jeep. With his was his girlfriend, even though, he was married. Well, me I took a beached light bulb, that was no longer going to be used, as I wanted it as my toy. Just when the Bay Manager was coming up, my father said to Amarualik, who was pulling the pellets, back to his tent. “He’s coming to get you!” meaning, the Bay Manager. He dropped his load and ran like heck to his tent, running away from the Bay Manager. My father waited for the Bay Manager to stop. When he stopped, he ordered my father not to touch the pellets. “Don’t touch those pellets, they will be used again.” My father responded in Inuktitut that translated into something like this: “You are a big lyer!” Then, he pointed to the woman inside the jeep and said to the Bay Manager, “she will be used again, stop being with her!”

    That night Amarualik came over to visit and while drinking tea, they had a great big laugh about what happened that day. All they wanted to do was to use the pellets for qamutiik(sleigh) cross bars. The thing was, nothing was going to happen to the two men or the two of us boys. They were also not going to re-use the burned out light bulbs.

    Zach Kunuk: Perhaps, you could tell a story about where you were born.

    Peter Irniq: Yes, I was born in Naujaarjuat(A place of plentiful seagulls fledgelings) Lyon Inlet. My parents are known around here in the Amittuq, particularly by Elders. My father’s name was Angutitaq and my mother’s name was Katak. My sister’s name was Iguttaq. My older brother’s name was Ipuittuq Ivaluqut. Prior to my birth, they used to live around here. They lived here, perhaps from around 1940 to about 1946. At that particular period of time, they traveled by dog team from Gjoa Haven’s Utkuhiksalik(Back River) to Naujaat’s Ukkusiksalik(Repulse Bay’s Wager Bay). They lived there for a time, then they traveled this way through Naujaat-Repulse Bay, Sanirajak(Hall Beach) and then to Iglulik. They traveled all the way here, by dog team only. They used to talk a lot about people from this Region. When I became an adult, I got to meet the people they met and I used to say to myself, “oh those are the people, that my parents used to talk about”.

    Over there, we never lived really in the community of Naujaat – the Settlement, as we were true Inuit, living off the land traditionally. We were true Inuit, with truly living the Inuit traditional ways. For example, for those watching us, we lived much like the ones that Isuma Produced sometime ago, Nunavut Series. The ones you guys made. At these scenes in the spring time, that is exactly how we used to live. We used to look for eggs, when there were eggs. And also, we hunt young mature seals, called Nattiat in the spring time as well. We went fishing, when it was time to fish. My father fished with kakivaak(fish leisters), that is how, he used to catch fish. He used to do this on the rivers and on the lake ice. He used iqaluujaq(fish inviter without a hook). As you pull the iqaluujaq up and down, just like jigging for fish, the fish would come, and my father would spear the fish down below, with his kakivaak. He used to catch a lot of fish, along with my brother-in-law at that time.

    I grew up in a place called Nattiligaarjuk(a lake that has seals) Committee Bay. We used to fish there and we also used to fish at saputit(fish dam) built across the rivers to trap the fish, from going up stream. We fished just like in the films that you made. I used to participate in fishing, when I was just a little boy. When I started to learn how to fish at saputit, it was always hard to get some kakivaak material, such as muskox horns. That is what the kakivaak were made of. So, instead of using the precious kakivaak that the adults were using, my father used to make me kakivaak out of old fox traps. He fashioned them just like the real thing. We had no muskox around Naujaat either, so it was hard to get the real stuff to make the kakivaak. There is still not much muskox, perhaps you see one in the long run.

    Up there, when we would fish at saputit in the mornings and in the evenings, there would be lots and lots of fish(Arctic Char). We would be spearing all the fish. I was a young boy at that time around 1952 or 53. When I was fishing inside the saputit, the water used to go up to my chest, so I was pretty small, fishing with my father and my brother in law. When my father and my brother-in-law were wading in the saputit, the water was just up to their knees. I guess, I was pretty small then. When I would spear a fish, I would pull the wooden handle of the leisters, towards my mother, who was on the dry land, then she would pull the fish on to the dry land. That was how I used to catch fish.

    I remember when we were fishing one evening. It was so much fun and it was so wonderful! I remember being hit by a big fish, right behind my knee or at the back of my knee. That hurt really, really bad. When the fishing was finished that evening, my mother and I decided to look at my leg, I had a really big bruse(sp). Ouch!! It was painful! The reason for this was that the fish were swimming very fast all over, inside the saputit.

    I also remember another story. It was a beautiful day and when we looked at the saputit from our tent, the fish were almost jumping up above the water. There were so much fish! I remember it was a beautiful day, sunny and hot. As a rule, my mother woke me up very early, so that we could all go fishing. When everyone else had left to the saputit to fish, I stayed behind. I was thinking that I didn’t wanted to leave the nice warm bed inside the tent, after all, I was a young child. I was going to go along with everyone but I decided not to go, as I really wanted to stay in bed. The bed was too cozy to leave!

    After the fishing was done, everyone had came back to the tent. My mother was extremely angry with me. She was trying to teach me how to fish at saputit, and teach me how to fish. She then, spanked me quite a few times on my bum. That hurt very much. Every since then, I learned my lesson and tried to be obedient as I did not wanted to be spanked again. We Inuit, when we were spanked once, we would learn a great deal of lesson. Spanking was one of the ways of disciplining someone, it allowed us Inuit to be listenful, that was how it used to be.

    The other thing was when the days would now begin to get dark in the evenings, and you could see the stars in the darken sky, and it was now obvious that the fish had stopped swimming upsteam. Now then, the little ducklings were swimming, with their mothers the sea water. My father would have an age-old knowledge, that they are now swimming in the sea, it was time to move inland to search for caribou. At this point, the caribou fur or hair was just right for making clothes, and there is now lots of tunnuq(fat) on the caribou. We would then practice our traditional methods of hunting caribou through “tagjarniq”, “nunarpangniq” in your Amitturmiut dialect, “moving inland”. We would do this on foot and walked many miles in search of caribou for survival of our family, dogs and for our clothing and winter supply of food. As a child, this walking on the land was very boring. Adults would be carrying heavy loads on their backs of our belongingss, such as tents, beddings, etc. The husky dogs on the other hand, would be carrying our other supplies as well on their backs, such as tents, kettles, food we had to survive on. When I would get tired, “kaka” me, by putting me on his back, and carry me, along with all the load that he was carrying on his back. When I was no longer tired, I would again start running back and forth, in front of family.

    Up where we used to live in Nattiligaarjuk(Committee Bay), we lived all of the seasons. At one point, when we were inland, walking on this big sandy area, that extended many miles. Well, as I was walking and running ahead of the others, I noticed a little black spot ahead of me on this sandy surface. I ran towards it and when I got to it, it was one side of muskox horn. It was so old that it had lichen on it. It means, it was there for quite a while. I grabbed it and then here I ran back as fast as I could towards my father, mothers and other members of my family, to show off my find. I gave it to my father. My father was ever so thankful for me, for finding such a treasure, now, he could make a kakivak out of it. At his spare time, when the days were not good for hunting, he would patiently make a kakivak(fish liester) out of it.

    During this particular period, which was in the fall time, my mother would sew all our caribou clothing, preparing them for winter use. On the other hand, men did cache the meat and fat for the winter supply. I truly love to eat the tunnuq(fat) and marrow. It’s amazing, how much I love to eat the caribou fat and marrow. I used to truly enjoy eating the patiq(the marrow). One time, my mother made me eat lots of patiq. I ate so much of it that, I got sick and had enough of it. Again, she was teaching me a lesson, not to eat too much of it. Since that experience, I don’t like to eat as much patiq as I used to, but still I like them, including the tunnuq. I also enjoy eating “kiksautit” and “iluit”, the caribou guts. These are the most delicious parts of the caribou. I also used to enjoy eating the eyes and ears of the caribou. These were the kinds of things I used to crave for, when I was a little boy. These were the delicacies for the little boys, like myself, when I was a little boy. To this day, whenever I go out caribou hunting on the land, I still eat the ears and eyes of the caribou. To me, that taste of a good delicacy is still there. My thought sometimes instantly returns to Inuit culture and traditions. This is how, I grew up in and around Naujaat.

    In the winter time, I remember my father and others used to hunt seals very traditionally through the “agluit” “seal breathing holes”. They used very traditional hunting methods in those days, using only a downed hair of a bird, as an indicator when the seal would be coming to breathe through it’s seal hole. They also used a small thin piece of metal, which was lowered to the seal hole, to know when the seal would be breathing and then, it was time to harpoon it. They could not see the seal breathing, as all the seal holes were covered with snow during this period of time, which was normally in the month of March, when the days were getting longer. As a young man, I learned the techniques and I hunted using these thousands of year old methods. That was part of my life. In 1961, when my father decided against me going back to a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, this period of my time was a really awesome period for learning about my own culture. Hunting with “qiviutaq”s birds downs and savgutaujaqs(thin metal) indicator of when the seal was coming up to breathe, these are one of the many things, I learned from my father about my culture. I learned a great deal from my parents, sometimes learning about Inuit myths and legends, listening to them telling stories about these was one of the most pleasant past times.

    I used to ask my father to tell Inuit legends. Sometimes, he would tell a story about Kiviu, Inuit legend, who journeyed through many places. He would tell a story about Sakaliktuarjuk, a poor hunter who fooled every one in the village, that he was actually a good hunter. He would tell a story about Akturraarnaat, an evil mother, whose son was blind. My mother would tell a story about a sister and brother, who became thunder and lightening. These are the things I grew up with, as a young child. I learned about traditional pisiit(songs). My mother, father, my sister and my brother-in-law were very good sings, so I used to listen to them singing, traditional songs. I grew up to become an adult, knowing some knowledge about traditional songs of the Inuit and know how to sing some songs, to this day. I also have some knowledge about shamans. I used to watch my brother-in-law, practicing his healing of the sick. He was a shaman. My brother-in-law used his powers to heal the sick, using his angakkuuni(being shaman) techniques. My father, on the other hand, used to say, that he was not a shaman. Later on, I learned, people used to talk about him, that he was also an angakkuq. He was an extremely good hunter. He used to say, “out there” there must be something that we could see in terms of animals such as caribou. He would repeat this often, to the point where, it was repeated too often. He then, used to tell a story about spirits of angakkuit(shamans).

    He used to tell stories about some Inuit who had birds for spirits. Some other people had other spirits, such as wolves, and Nanurluk(a polar bear spirit). Others used to have human beings as spirits. Sometimes, they used their parents, normally deceased as their spirits, such as mothers or fathers or other relatives. My father used to tell us a story about having a ptarmigan for spirit, and how unpleasant this was, when flying. He said, this is because, they not only fly very fast but flew all over the place. It seemed like, you can hit a hill or something. He said, he used to hear this from other people. He said, other hand, having an ukpigjuaq(an owl) for a spirit, they are very easy to fly with. He said, they would fly high up in the sky and can look both ways. And they could see everything and anything down on the ground. I used to think later on that maybe he was talking about himself. Maybe, he used to fly, but we just didn’t see him fly. This was probably how, he used to know where these animals are, that are “out there”. When he finally goes over to the land, that he was talking about repeated, sure enough, there was caribou. He was like that. I grew up learning by observing all the things about Inuit cultre.

    In the summer time, as children, we used to go down to the beach when the tide was low, looking for Kanajuit(sea scorpions or scanvenger fish with large mouth). Sometimes, we used the go down, when pieces of broken ice were on the beach. We could start to hear the “qallupilluit”, they would be knocking again the ice or the ground. Qallupilluit are spirits, and cannot really be seen by any human being, unless you have extra ordinary powers, such as shaman. My father said, they had feathers like ducks. When we were children, like my friend, the late Simon Aglak, we used to like to go down and look for kanajuit. We used to live on the east side of Naujaat, at Kuugaarjuk, quite a bit of distance from Naujaat. When the tide was low, Simon and I used to look for kanajuit. We used Inuit Traditional Knowledge, looking for these kanajuit. Sometimes, when we would be walking close to the ice, qallupilluq(single) would begin pounding against the ice. When that happens, my mother would yell and say, “you might be gotten by a qallupilluq, come up to the land here”. When you were going to sleep at nights, as long as there was ice around, you could hear the qallupilluit pounding against the ice.

    When we were looking for kanajuit, my mother also used to say, when you are out there, and if you see a “nipisa”(a round-shaped black fish with sticky pad protruding from throat with which it clings on to things, or sticks to your hand, like a scotch tape). My mother would say, the only way to take it off is with an ulu(a half-moon) woman’s knife. One time, when Simon Aglak and I were looking for kanajuit, I lifted the rock to see if there were Kanajuit, and all of a sudden, I saw this fish, I grabbed a hold of it, and it got stuck on the palm of my hand. My mother carefully, took it off with her ulu. That was how, I grew up as a child, with my parents in Naujaat.

    Ever since I can remember, I used to hear about other Inuit from Uqsuqtuuq(Gjoa Haven) Region, Qairnirmiut(the people of Baker Lake area), Talurruaq, my father used to live within those regions. I used to hear about our fellow-Inuit in those areas. I grew up as a true Inuk, living in an iglu in the winter time. While living in an iglu, it can be old at times, especially when there was no oil on the qulliq(Inuit oil lamp). When you live on the sea coast, you used seal fat to light your qulliq. But when you are on the land, or inland, you would have a small oil lamp, that you carried with you. Since there was no seals on the land, my mother would use tunnuq(caribou fat) to light the small qulliq. She used to light the qulliq when she was going to sew our clothes in the evenings. We also used to chew the caribou fat to make candles. We used them for lights in the evenings. This is how I grew up in the Aivilik Region of Nunavut. When I was growing up, I grew up with much happiness and with wonderful things happenings. That was my cycle of life.

    Zack Kunuk: What is it your Inuktitut name?

    Peter Irniq: Taqtu Irniq, those are my Inuktitut names. My mother used to tell a story of her dream, when they lived in Maluk&ittat/Naujaarjuat or Lyon Inlet. She said, she dream’t about this Irniq. That Irniq had relatives in Naujaat as well here in Amittuq. He lived in that area around 1940 or 47. In her dream, my mother said, this Irniq wanted to be named in me. She said, her dream was almost life-like or as though she was awake. We were not related at all. This is why, I was named after that Irniq. Taqtu on the other hand, belonged to a lady relative of ours in Naujaat. When I was born, she named me after that special lady named Taqtu. When I was born and getting older, I remember calling her, “Taqtuuqatiga” “my fellow Taqtu”. This was part of Inuit culture that we practiced. To this day, whenever I talk about her, I refer to her as “Taqtuuqatiga”. This is very important aspect of Inuit culture. I only have two Inuit names. On the other hand, when I was born in 1947 and baptized by a Roman Catholic priest, I was named Pierre. Inuit called the priest Kajualuk(because his big beared was brown) so Inuit called him Kajualuk, translated to “Big Brown”. When I was going to a residential school, I became to be called as Peter, by the Qablunaat(White people).

    Zack Kunuk: When you still a true Inummarik, I guess, you would never pronounce the names of the older people? You would have calling titles for them, “tur&urautiit?”

    Peter Irniq: Yes, particularly, the old, old people, people who were much older than us. They were the fellow-Elders of my parents, my father. We were taught from never to call them by name. Even, if we did not have calling titles for them, we were told not to call them by their names. We respected their Elderships and their ages. It was like honoring them. As children, we were told not to call the older people, those who were older than us, by names. Some we had calling titles for them, and even when they were not related to us for example, we would call them, “my avvakuluk” “my dear little same name”. “My uncle over there”. We had different calling titles for them. “My same-age or equal-age person”. When people were named after certain individuals, we naturally had calling for each other. We were taught to respect and honor. When an Elder came into our tent, and I was sitting down, I was to stand up immediately and allow the Elder to sit down. I was told, do this, without being told.

    Zack Kunuk: When was it that you were sent off to school?

    Peter Irniq: Some Naujaarmiut(people from Naujaat) were sent off to school around 1953, 54 and 55. In those days, they were being sent to school in Igluligaarjuk(Chesterfield Inlet). As for me, I knew I was never going to school. I knew this because, I grew up as a true Inummarik, and knew that I would live an adult life as a true Inuk, a hunter, fisher, and trapper. Ones that are older than I am, they started going to school around 1954-55-57 to Chesterfield Inlet. It was around that time. For me, going to school was something that I was not prepared for as we never lived in a community with other people. My father used to say that living in a community, all you get is welfare from the Qablunaat. He didn’t want to be like that. He always wanted to be close to animals for food and clothing. We lived in Naujaat, I think, only two times, once in 1956 and another time in 1957. At that time, my fellow-youth, were being sent off to a residential school. As for me personally, we living in Tinujjivik(a favorite fishing spot of the Inuit in the spring time, when the fish were swimming down stream). We living there in the summer time and it was in the month of August. It was a time of year when the days were really beautiful, sunny and hot. Tinujjivik is not visible from Naujaat, but if you live in Naujaat, you could see in the distance, the outpost of Tinujjivik. It is around 13 miles west of Naujaat. Tinujjivik is a place for fishing. In the spring time, people would build saputit and when the tide is low, the Arctic Char would be trapped inside the saputit, and that was how we used to fish at Tinujjivik. We would move there in the spring time and moved a short distance to the east, where there are more seals in the area.

    Well, that summer of 1958, we could see a boat coming, with an engine. We could see it very clearly, as it was a very beautiful day. As our custom goes, my mother started to make tea by burning heathers, as this was a summer time. We only used heather and other moss to boil tea in those days. It was such a wonderful feeling that we are having some visitors, so she decided to make tea to welcome the visitors. Then they beached the boat. As they beached, we walked down to the beach to greet the visitors, and all of us, walked down behind my father. But that father, a priest, the late Father Dedier, came off the boat, first. He came off the boat, and said to my father, “Peter Irniq is going to school in Igluligaarjuk so we came to pick him up”. He didn’t even greet my father by shaking hands! I have never seen my father panicked but at that point, he was panicky. So he ordered me by saying, “they came to get you, go put on some nicer clothes”. My mother and I quickly went back to our tent and she made me put on niururiak, a seal skin boots, with the fur outside. I got all dressed up in my best, and off we went to Naujaat. The visitors didn’t have tea. As Inuit, they would have stopped to have tea, if they were regular visitors, then leave after they had tea. I don’t have any idea why this happened the way it did. I wondered, if the priest had told them earlier that, before anything happens, we should leave immediately. I don’t know. When we were traveling towards Naujaat, my goodness, it was lonely. It was the loneliest time of my life! It was too awesome!

    Zack Kunuk: You then, left your parents?

    Peter Irniq: “Yes!”

    It comes back instantly! My parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and my little brother, who died in later years, my niece, I watched them, as we are traveling farther and farther away from them. They were all standing by the shore, seeing me off, until I was no longer visible by eye. Wow! Perhaps, it’s that particular incident, when I was suddenly taken away, it’s been long time ago, since 1958, to me, it comes back quite suddenly, to the time I was a child. That very part, it is very difficult to become adult with. You stayed a child forever! Even though, I am a old person now, but sometimes, you have to returned to it, or re-visit it, instantly. And so, we were on our way to Naujaat.

    Zack Kunuk: How old were you at that time?

    Peter Irniq: Eleven. Yes, I was 11 years old, when I was taken away. So, we were traveling towards Naujaat. I watched my parents, as they were no longer visible by eye sight. They were still standing on the beach. They were also watching until we were no longer visible in the horizon. When we finally got to Naujaat, I was made to go to Angutinguaq family. My father and Angutinguaq were cousins. So I was to stay with this family, according to the wishes of the Roman Catholic Church. They were the adoptive parents of Jack Anawak. We had been here for some days, I guess my parents would watch from where they were, to see if the plane had come and coming to land in the water in Naujaat. Even though, Naujaat was some distance away, they could see airplanes from where they were. Since, they did not see any planes landing in Naujaat, a few days later, my father and my brother-in-law, came over by canoe with an outboard motor. When they arrived, it was so wonderful! Since they arrived, I became relaxed, knowing that I now have a foundation here in Naujaat.

    At that point, Angutinguaq, who I called Haluuruluk. Since they were in the south in 1925, spokes some English, I was to call him, my Haluuruluk(my darn Hello). Now that my father and my brother-in-law here, I had a foundation and practically no more worries and stress. At that point, Father Dedier had said, the plane would be here to pick us up, after three or four days, to bring us to Igluligaarjuk. He said, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. Now that we are free to do whatever we wanted to do, and there was lots of broken ice in Naujaat at this point. My Haluuruluk had a boat called Uvajuk, it was very tippy so it was called that name. Using Uvajuk, we would go down to the sea, in between the ice, to see if there might have been bearded seals or walruses. We were doing this, while we were waiting for a plane. Once we were out there, they got me to steer the boat, while my father, Haluuruluk and my brother-in-law were on the look out for the animals, maybe polar bears. We waited may be about four days, a single engine plane came to pick us up. And so, we board the plane, and we were now on our way to Igluligaarjuk. It was my first time in an airplane. I remember my father having a discussion with another Inuksuk, when I was much younger child. This man was on an airplane previously. My father had asked him, when the plane was taking off, do you watch the ground? We used to get very few planes in Naujaat in those days. So, this man was telling about an airplane ride he had. He said, when they were taking off, and he was looking down on the ground, he could see that as they were going so fast, he could see stripes of blue, green or red or yellow. Remembering that story, I was looking down on the water as we were taking off. As you know it was my first time on an airplane. I kept on a lookout for green, red or yellow stripes. There was nothing. It was actually a slow airplane. Perhaps, he was exaduating(sp), to make the story more interesting. And when we were going back home, we were taking off from the snow, it certainly was not like that, there were no beautiful stripes. There were about 10 or 12 of us, who were brought from Naujaat to Igluligaarjuk. We traveled to Chesterfield Inlet for about two-and-a-half hours.

    Zach: With a single engine airplane?

    Peter Irniq: Yes, with a single engine airplane. This airplane belonged to the RCMP, the one they used to bring us over. On the side of the airplane was a yellow stripe, with a dark blue paint. The tail of the plane had a yellow paint as well.

    Zach Kunuk: When you are getting close to Igluligaarjuk and the time you were landing to Chesterfield Inlet, can you tell us about that?

    Peter Irniq: I remember this very well! I don’t forget things at all, so I remember it very well. I am an Inuk. I grew up as a real Inuk, at that time. My mother and father, always used to tell me to be looking or observing…always. If you see something, then you will be able to tell me. Look for animals. I used to look around for anything, at that time. When we left Naujaat, it was a beautiful day. We arrived to Igluligaarjuk, it was even more beautiful. Hot! There were some clouds. There were beautiful clouds, with the sun shining. When we got closer, the sea water didn’t seem to be as beautiful. But the land, was beautiful, much like Naujaat environment. The stone formations were beautifully bright! I could see all those each time I look down below me, from an airplane. They very much resembled, Naujaat rock formations. Naujaat has those. When we were getting closer to landing, the land and sea were both beautifully pleasant. That time, we landed at Tasiraaluk(a small big pond). Tasiraaluk belonged to Iguligaarjuk, it was situation just around the houses. We landed there at Tasiraaluk, a fairly big pond. The airplanes landed so it was quite a large pond. The Roman Catholic Church used it for water supply. We beached on a beautiful rocky beach with the plane. When we beached, we all got off. I saw some Inuit there but then, I saw the Sisters, the Grey Nuns, for the first time in my life. They wore long dresses, and their hoods had little “furs”, but with lots of little holes, just like window screens. Some of the nuns were extremely beautiful! When I first started seeing Qablunaat, they were always beautiful. To see the Grey Nuns, they were even more beautiful than the Qablunaat, that I had seen previously, which weren’t many. I started to see the Qablunaat there, some belonged to the Department of Transport and others were priests. I used to think, I wonder if White People had ugly people. They all seemed to beautiful and handsome. The Grey Nuns that I noticed so much being different than most people, were to be our care takers, supervisors. They came to meet us. So, I was standing there, as I didn’t know where to go, nor have any place to go. My fellow Naujaarmiut were there, Paul Maniittuq, John Ninngak Mike Kusugaq, and Katherine and the late Francios Nanuraq. There was also Nick Amautinnuaq and Jose Kusugaq, who we knew only as Amaujaq in Naujaat. When our names were changed by the Government of the Northwest Territories, he became Jose Kusugaq. He was along with us. There was also Agatha from Naujaat. There were others, Maria, Theresie, now Theresie Tungilik. She has his father’s name today. Those are the ones who came here to Igluligaarjuk. There was this little Qablunaaq, he was slightly bigger than I am. As I was 11 years old, I was not that tall. I maybe, was about this height. As he was standing next to me, and kept looking at me and then asked me: “What is your name?” with a French accent. I understood what he said, as the year before in 1957, we were taught some English by the Roman Catholic priest, perhaps for a week or so. We were taught in English about things that were inside the Roman Catholic Mission in Naujaat. “Box” “Seal” “House” so we learned a little bit in English, then. “Fish” I used to tell my father about what we had learned. He used to recognize the words that I told him about. The four of them, including my Haluuruluk Angutinguaq, Tapatai and Savikataaq were in the land of the Qablunaat in 1925. They were in Newfoundland, Halifax and in Montreal. When they returned, they learned some English and were able to speak some English. So what I was learning, he would recognize them once I tell him about them. We were taught by Iksirajuakuluulaurtuq(Formerly Father Franzen), and Father Dedier. So, when he asked, “what is your name”, I understood him. As I answered him, I was extremely timid and said, Peter. Also, I was feeling very strange to see the Inuit of Igluligaarjuk. Everything was too awesome for me!

    From there, we were led by a Sister to the hostel. I walked along with my good friend Paul Maniittuq. Both of us walked in behind a Sister, as we were told to follow her. We were apparently going to the big house, the Turquetil Hall. It was a huge building, green in color. I turned to one side and noticed another big building. These buildings looked really big. I also noticed the Church Rectory, it was beautifully built. When I looked to the west, there was a Statue of Virgin Mary, surround by rocks, it was beautiful. From there, we saw another large building, two-storey, this was a hospital as well as being a home for the Nuns. This one was not to be our home, at that point. The one, we were going to was a two-storey hostel, it was to be our home for entire winter or during all the time, that we were going to be in Igluligaarjuk. We called it Iglurjuaraaluk – a real big hosue. When we got there, we were told to take our clothes off. We were to have a bath. We were deliced. We got our haircuts. We got our haircuts with those old fashioned manual hair cutters. I had a very short hair. In fact, all of us young boys had very short hair at that point. I also noticed that day that the young girls also got a hair cut, by cutting their hair, right across their forehead. They looked so different. It was the firs time I ever saw a bath tub, as we didn’t have bath tubs in Naujaat. It was the first time I ever saw and worn shoes. I put a short sleeve shirt for the first time. That was the first time, I ever put on a foreign clothing like that. Wow, it was so awesome! There were lots of boys and girls, Iglulingmiut, Qamanittuarmiut(Baker Lake) kids, Arviarmiut(Arviat kids), there were many of them. That day was something to remember, that very day in Igluligaarjuk.

    Then when the night time came, we were told to go into our large, huge bedroom. There were many beds. I was given my bed, complete with sleepers or pjamas. I didn’t know a darn thing about these items, as we did not use them in Naujaat. As an Inuk, I slept completely naked, at home. Just before, we went to bed, we were told “to kneel down” and pray. I guess, this was the beginning of praying. We prayed a lot. That evening was just the beginning of our praying. When we woke up the next morning, we prayed firs thing, then just before our breakfast, when we got to the school, we prayed first thing, we used to go to school at 9 in the morning. Right after we said the Lord’s Prayer, “our father who art in heaven…” then we sang, what is apparently a “Oh Canada” song, Canadian National Athem. I didn’t know what I was singing about but just trying to follow along and copied everybody. I was completely unaware of what these songs mean’t.

    We had our teacher, who was a Grey Nun. After that first morning of schooling, we had to pray again, just before we left for lunch. When we got into the dining room of our hostel, we prayed. Just before we left for school, we prayed again. When we got to the afternoon school, we prayed again and then sang, God Save the Queen. We stayed in school during the afternoon for about two-and-a-half hours. Then when the English classes were finished, a Roman Catholic priest came over to teach us catechasm. This activity was also very noticeable to myself, especially, during the early stages of staying there. I was happy with this exercise, as we were able to speak our own Inuktitut language. Whereas at the school, we were told to speak only English. We were completely forbidden to speak our own Inuktitut language.

    At that time, Father Farard used to teach us catechasm. I had some idea about the Bible and the prayer, mostly I’ve learned this from my mother. This was prior to going to Igluligaarjuk. Prayer books were used quite a lot in those days, I even have one at home, one of the first prayer books of the Church. The top page has a drawing of a church, couple of iglus and Inuit. I have the old prayer book. When that priest was teaching us about the bible, I was the most knowledgeable one about it. I knew so much that I won a prize from Father Fafard. This was shortly after, we’ve been there for a short time. For my Prayer Book knowledge, he gave me a green apple for a prize. I didn’t know it was an apple. When you go outside, you can eat it, he said. So, when we got outside, I decided to take a bite out of this apple: Oh, what a horrible taste!! I found the apple so horrible tasting, so I gave it to Marius Qajuuttaq, who was walking with me up to the Turquetil Hall. I told him, I just hated the taste of it so I said, you can have it. A year ago, he has already been to that school, so he like it and found it very delicious! As for me, I ate a lot of Inuit food, such as dried meat, so I totally found dried fish very delicious. So, I gave that apple to Marius. I wonder, if he sometimes thinks about it today.

    Zack: Would you like some break?

    Peter Irniq: Yes, let’s

    Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk

    Filmmaker Contact:


    Year of Production: 2008

    Country: Canada

    Region: Nunavut

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    uploaded date: 03-11-2011