Serapio Ittusarjuat Testimony
Peter Irniq: Serapio, welcome!
Serapio: I am very welcomel!
Peter Irniq: At that time, as an Amitturmiutaq, you were obviously born here.
Serapeio: I was apparently born between Iglulik and Sanirajak(Hall Beach). I remember slightly, living in Avvajja. From there, we were here in Iglulik. And then, we were living elsewhere. And at that point, I did not live in Iglulik again, when I was sent to out school. This was after the Government had relocated and gathered the people who live on the land at outpost camps.
Peter Irniq: When you were growing up, did you grow up as Inummarik+(a true Inuk)?
Serapio: Absolutely! Yes, I grew up as an Inummarik. When I would put on my kamiik(boots) in the morning, they would still be frozen. When it was becoming spring time, then you didn’t worry about it any more, in the day time.
Peter Irniq: How old were you when you went to school for the first time in Igluligaarjuk(Chesterfield Inlet)?
Serapio: Ten. I was 10 years old when I first went to school. The first ones that went to school were nine and 10 years old. There were 10 of us, that went to Igluligaarjuk.
Peter Irniq: What year was that?
Serapio: 1955 was the first time, we went there. There were already others that were there before us. Perhaps, four or so, who were there first.
Peter Irniq: When you went to school in Igluligaarjuk, how many of you were there from Iglulik?
Serapio: In total, there 10 of us from Iglulik. As there were no airstrips in those days, we flew on a float plane, that landed in the water, and that was the one that brought us there. As there was no Global Positioning Equipment in those days, we landed at a certain place, along the way, and we were there for about three days.
Peter Irniq: Prior to going to Igluligaarjuk, did you live in iglus, sod houses and tents in the summer time and traveled by dog teams? Is that the kind of lifestyle you had?
Serapio: Yes, this was the life that was followed, yes. We were on the other side at akkimaniq, on the other side on Baffin Island. We didn’t have too many parts for our outboard motor, so we were sailing with a sail, for what looked to be a long period of time. When we got here to Iglulik, we came here to learn that the students were just preparing to leave for Igluligaarjuk(Chesterfield Inlet).
Peter Irniq: When you got to Igluligaarjuk(Chesterfield Inlet) what did you see there for the first time?
Serapio: I didn’t see anything in particular but I noticed at that place we knew as Iglurjuaraaluk(the big house), there were a lot of people, that were gathering together. There were lots of people! That was the first time, I was among so many people.
Peter Irniq: You were at Turquetil Hall at that point?
Serapio: Yes, we were there. It was not totally finished. Girls and boys, had one place to sleep in. The third floor was to be the girl’s dorm but it was incomplete at this point, so we used part of it as our school.
Peter Irniq: What were you learning at the school?
Serapio: We were learning to speak English immediately, upon arrival to the school, by reading these small little reading books…with a little dog, I remember a yellow and red colors in the book(Dick and Jane reading book)..perhaps, you have seen those books as well, (when you went there), so we used these to learn.
Peter Irniq: So, in addition to learning about English language, were you also learning about adding arithmetic?
Serapio: Yes…we were taught about arithmetic and told to be with certain groups, with higher abilities or lower abilities learning about arithmetic.
Peter Irniq: Why were we sent to school in Igluligaarjuk(Chesterfield Inet), do you have an understanding as to why?
Serapio: I don’t totally understand it but..maybe the government thought, Inuit should go to school. I don’t know why but only the Roman Catholic children were sent to that school. Others, who didn’t attend churches at Roman Catholic Church, were sent off to Arviat. That was what I was aware of at that time.
Peter Irniq: When you were going to school there, was there a drastic change to your life style?
Serapio: Yes, there was quite a drastic change. The food was very different. The food that we ate as Inuit or Inuit food, was very good for Inuit health, and it was no longer there at the hostel, that was quite a big change from home. Especially the first year, I felt very, very poor!
Peter Irniq: Could you give some examples of how your life changed when attending school in Chestefield Inlet?
Serapio: The first year that was not a great change was the fact that we were together. The second year was more noticeable. When you have sisters for example, and girls have brothers, you were not allowed to see them. This was a drastic change for us, as relatives. It had a lot of impact on relatives. We were very much separated, and not being able to see each other.
Peter Irniq: So, you were not able to see your sisters or your sisters not able to see their brothers?
Serapio: Yes, that was what we were to follow.
Peter Irniq: If for example, you were seen talking to your relatives, what would have happened to you?
Serapio: Punishment, we were going to be punished, absolutely! Or, you would be sent off to bed. Or you were told to stay “over there” and “not move”. Those were not and are not the part of the culture of the Inuit.
Peter Irniq: Perhaps, we were told to become Whitemen too much?
Serapio: I think, yes, yes. Even inside the classroom, you were not to speak Inuktitut. You were not even allowed to joke, as oppose to Inuit culture.
Peter Irniq: Since, you were told not to speak Inuit language in the classroom, what would have happened to you, if you were caught speaking Inuktitut inside the classroom?
Serapio: I would have had to write what I said, quite a few times on the blackboard. Or, I would have been slapped severely! You would have been hit with that stupid yard stick, on your hand!
Peter Irniq: With a huge yard stick?
Serapio: Yes, very big yard stick!
Peter Irniq: Was it very painful?
Serapio: When you got hit with it, it was quite painful.
Peter Irniq: We were told, directed to never to speak Inuktitut. So, you would have had to speak English all the time, in the classroom?
Serapio: Yes, we would try to speak English all the time. Having learned the language, we now try to speak English, as a result.
Peter Irniq: Did you get letters from your parents or did you used to phone them?
Serapio: We used to try and talk to our parents through the Roman Catholic Mission(using Very High Frequency Radios)as there were absolutely no telephones, this was done at only during Christmas time. The thing was, we did not get letters very much at all. It was impossible to get letters that often.
Peter Irniq: Why, was this, was it because of lack of airplanes to the communities?
Serapio: Air planes did not come very often at all.
Peter Irniq: And that was the only means of transporation?
Serapio: Yes, airplane was the only means of transportation, when you were being sent off to the school. It was not easy in those days. The ones that came from Pond Inlet, apparently did not go home, for a few years. They did not get to see their parents at all, because of lack of airplanes.
Peter Irniq: It seems to me that I remember when you were sending letters home, or the letters that you got from your home, they would be read before they were sent out, or when they come to you, they were read, before they gave them to you. Is that your recollection too?
Serapio: I don’t remember for myself personally.
Peter Irniq: With the English language which you’ve learned from Chesterfield Inlet, how much useful is that to you today?
Serapio: It is useful, apparently. Just as an example, if I had not gone to school there, I would not be able to work as janitor. Things I’ve learned from there, they have taught me a great deal about hygienic(sp). If I had not gone to school, I would not have been able to work in an area like that.
Peter Irniq: To this day, we hear people that went to Chesterfield Inlet to go to school, they were not allowed to speak Inuktitut. Were you taught about Inuit culture?
Serapio: We learn a very little about Inuit culture. We had an Inuk, carpenter, at that time or instructor. He was very nice man. If it weren’t for him, we would not have learned how to make fish nets. We learned how to make fish net, as we were taught by an Inuk instructor.
Peter Irniq: How about, Inuit oriented courses, such as traveling by dog team, or learning to build an iglu(igloo) or trapping for example, were you taught these courses as well?
Serapio: Yes, trapping is something we grew up. We were allowed to go see our traps once a week, this part was a very useful course for us.
Peter Irniq: Did you walk on the land for this?
Serapio: Yes, we would walked to the areas, where we thought, there would be some foxes. We would set our traps in areas of our own choosing.
Peter Irniq: You already knew a lot of these things, before you went to Chesterfield Inlet, is that correct?
Serapio: Yes, I already knew, how to trap, I already knew, where to put traps, where they would not be covered with snow or anything like that..I already knew about this trade, prior to going to school at Chesterfield Inlet.
Peter Irniq: When you were being sent off to school, I wonder, if this situation when you were being sent off, was quite difficult for your parents?
Serapio: It must have been quite difficult. Some people’s children would all be taken away, in which they had no more children, at home.
Peter Irniq: If parents had many children, five or so, they would have been depleted of theire childrfen, as soon as they become school age?
Serapio: Yes. Yes. Even the ones, who looked too small to go, before they became six year, they would be sent there.
Peter Irniq: Perhaps, some were still in their mother’s amautis(mother’s carrying parka for babies)?
Serapio: They were no longer in their mother’s amautis but..I remember my cousin, he was still not quite able to speak Inuktitut fluently, when he was taken away. He was very, very small, when he was included to go away.
Peter Irniq: He was suddenly separated from his parents?
Serapio: Yes, separated, instantly!
Peter Irniq: Today, we hear a lot about what happened at the residential school there, or we hear from First Nations, that children were often sexually abused, when they were little children. Are you aware of this and can you tell a story about it?
Serapio: Yes, however, more were abused like that, it is quite a fact. Yes, we were punished by the authorities, the priests, not to do it. But, why would those people say that, maybe, they reversed their stories, to indicate, that they were lead to do it. The victims, were punished for doing this.
Peter Irniq: Are you aware that the children were abused by the Grey nuns, the priests and Christian Brothers? Can you say?
Serapio: Perhaps, by all of them.
Peter Irniq: Why would these victims not complain to anyone, to some Inuit?
Serapio: Perhaps because, as children, as our culture, we were told not to complain, this is something that we were holding on to more, at that time. Also, maybe it was too embarrassing to talk about.
Peter Irniq: Even if we could have complain to someone, I wonder, would they have believed us?
Serapio: I don’t know, perhaps no one would have believed us. The first Qablunaat, would looked upon with a great deal of authority. They were looked upon as people, who never made mistakes. That was how it was. Perhaps, they would have believed one of them.
Peter Irniq: There was also really no one to tell in those days. Our parents were so far away from us, when we were in school.
Serapio: There was really no one to complain to, really in those days. There was really no one, who could help us, there was really no one, who we identified with, and no one mentioned anyone’s name. There was really no one, whose name was mentioned to help, even up to the recent times in the 70’s.
Peter Irniq: With the schooling experience you received in Chesterfield, you know, a need to speak English and not being able to speak Inuktitut, does this a lot of impact on you?
Serapio: Yes, it has had a lot of impact. It’s difficult to measure, but it has a lot of impact in terms of knowing what to do and moving forward.
Peter Irniq: This issue of sexual abuse, it has had a lot of impact on people. Does it have a lot of impact too, especially with your ability to think?
Serapio: Yes, since it has had a lot of impact, just to survive, it has been very difficult. Perhaps, it is because of it, I had some illness.
Peter Irniq: Since this issue has had a lot of impact on Survivors, how have you moved forward in terms of healing? Have you had a healing journey as well?
Serapio: Yes, I have had a healing journey with this. I went to have a healing journey in Chesterfield Inlet, to be together with all of the participants and those who actually live there. This was a great big help to me. (There was a reunion held in July 1993 of Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School Survivors in Chesterfield Inlet).
Peter Irniq: How did you do this?
Serapio: There were many of us, who took part in healing. When it became too difficult, then a counsellor was provided for us.
Peter Irniq: This healing journey has been very difficult. What was the most difficult part about healing for you?
Serapio: Some of this journey had to do with some people, who are no longer with us. Some of the very difficult part of this is forgiveness. First I have to try to forgive myself as well. Since that healing journey, we also had other healing journey for a while, through meetings or get-togethers. We were also given common experience payment for this, I don’t see this as part of healing at all. It doesn’t have any impact on healing, what-so-ever!
Peter Irniq: Does it help a tiny bit?
Serapio: Yes, it does help. But, it doesn’t help at all towards healing.
Peter Irniq: Since attending that reunion in Chesterfield Inlet, how did it help your own healing journey?
Serapio: It became much healthier, even though, it was not a hundred percent. In 2004, I was in Chesterfield Inlet, there, my body became very much healthier. I was well rested and no longer tired. And whatever pain I was feeling, it was no longer there. The land, the environement, can have make you like that.
Peter Irniq: The healing journey did have a lot of impact with our fellow survivors, would you say that?
Serapio: Yes, I can say that but, if an individual recognizes that he/she wants to heal, then they can heal. If I try to tell a person to take a healing journey, he/she won’t do it, unless, they themselves feel, they want to heal, according to their own feelings. This is apparently, a solution.
Peter Irniq: Since that Reunion in Chesterfield Inlet in 1993, and the Bishop of Hudson’s Bay Diocese, came here to Iglulik February 27, 1996, to apologise to the survivors of residential school, did his apology helped?
Serapio: I did not see his apology in Chesterfield Inlet. When he came here to Iglulik, I did not see his apology, both verbal or written. Nor did I hear anything about his apology. Since he did not apologise, his comments did not have any help to me what-so-ever. Perhaps, it did something to others, I don’t know.
Peter Irniq: The Canadian Government sent us to residential schools, both the First Nations and Inuit. What do you think, they should do? Should they apologise to us? Should the Prime Minister of Canada, apologise?
Serapio: I think, they need to apologise. It was with their monies, we went to school. When we turned 16, they stopped us, and there was no other school open for us at that time. This was before, Churchill Vocational Center was opened. As a result, we were placed anywhere, and doing nothing, it seems to me that they should apologise about this as well. It was like, they taught us how to speak English, and then, kicked us out, as soon as we turned 16 years, this didn’t seem to make any sense at all.
Peter Irniq: If the Prime Minister of Canada could apologise and say, “I am sorry, they things were done to you, when you were still small little children. Since these kinds of things would not have been done by our parents, such as severe punishments, or we say, we have a lot of culture, language, loss of parenting skills, and we were sexually abused. We were also mentally abused. Should the Prime Minister of Canada, appear before Television cameras and apologise for the wrong doings at Residential Schools? Would this big a help towards healing on the part of the Aboriginal People of Canada?
Serapio: Yes, it would help, towards healthier people. At that time, Prime Minister of Canada was Defenbaker. Since he was the big boss, we were sent to residential school there. Since he was the big boss, he sent a representative to Chesterfield Inlet, when I was there, one that became your fellow-Yellowknifer, later on in the 1970’s. His name was Mr. Devitt.
Peter Irniq: Yes, I saw him there.
Serapio: Yes, he was the big boss of education around then, and later in years, he also was a big boss with education system in Yellowknife for the Northwest Territories(in the 1970’s). He was the only one, who seemed to help a lot of survivors.
Peter Irniq: Now that we have Nunavut, and with the education system that we got from there, did this help us to achieve Nunavut?
Serapio: Since obtaining Nunavut, we didn’t seem to have receive anything, such as a house to recognize the creation of Nunavut. If we would have had a building to recognize then, it would have seemed that we got Nunavut, it would have been a symbolic gesture.
Peter Irniq: What do you think about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whereby we can go and tell stories about what happened to us, as former students and survivors? They are supposed to be traveling all over Canada to hear stories from us? If we can talk to them, would you go and talk to them?
Serapaio: I would try to go and talk to them, yes.
Peter Irniq: Why?
Serapaio: In part, we were not at all prepared by anyone prior to going to go to school.
Peter Irniq: Do you think, all Canadians have a right to know about what happened to us?
Serapio: Once we have an agreement on similar stories to tell, then I think, it could move forward. I am speaking about Metis, Indians, Inuvialuit, Central Arctic People, if we don’t all agree on what to say, then we would probably have some difficulties. They would be in a similar situation as me.
Peter Irniq: Since, we were taken away as little children, from our parents, and our parents suffered a great deal, as a result. Would you agree to have your little children taken away at that very small age?
Serapio: If it will take a long time to be like it used to be, I would not agree to have them sent away. I have learn my lesion from this. I would not agree to have them sent away for 10 months, at the age of five years old. I would not at all have them sent away.
Peter Irniq: Those of us that went to school there, we say, “we will not allow anyone to be treated the way we did”, is this a good message to tell the other communities?
Serapio: It might have a useful message.
Peter Irniq: How much?
Serapio: We Inuit are not the same as people. For example some of us may not have voiced our opinions about this. Here in Iglulik, Qablunaat are not at part of the community. Sometimes, it gets difficult, when you notice that some people are not trying at all, to be part of the community. I guess, if I was never abused, I would not mind so much, but having been abused, I have to make notice of this.
Peter Irniq: I don’t have any more questions, do you have anything else to say?
Serapio: I don’t have anything else to say. I just wanted to say, but want to say, thank you. However, it is difficult to meet with the other people now, even healing journey is very important, but I would be happy to see those, who can, get back to where we met, I would not mind this at all.
Peter Irniq: You mean, meeting again in Chesterfield Inlet for another reunion?
Peter Irniq: If this happens today, it would provide a lot of help, is that true?
Serapio: It would surely, help a lot! At that time when we first met, we were too embarass to speak about issues(related to sexual abuses). Now, we know better and can be supportive to each other. Some have passed on. So, if we can have another meeting, we would be able to move ahead, much bigger.
Peter Irniq: When you first went to that school in Chesterfield Inlet, was that your first time ever, entering a classroom? What was it that you remember, about inside that classroom? Do you have a good memory about them?
Serapio: I remember them very well. There were little toys, beautiful little toys. They were designed for those who knew how to use them. There were needles, for making fish nets. There were toy qamutiik(toy sleds), and learning about some Inuit things, was a lot of fun, even though, it was very small part. Making fish nets and learning how to do them at the same time, was a lot of fun, and especially since you got to own them afterwards. We tried very hard to make them nice. It was so much fun making nets, that I used to finish the entire spool in one day.
Peter Irniq: Who did you have as your teacher for that, a Qablunaaq?
Serapio: We have an Inuit teacher for learning those all Inuit-oriented training.
Peter Irniq: For all the others, were they all Qablunaat?
Serapio: Yes, for all the other things, we had Qablunaat teachers.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember drawings inside the classroom, that were made by Inuit students?
Serapaio: I remember, we made Inuit cultural drawings that were to be put in a book, to be sent to Ottawa. I was extremely lucky to draw one of those and won some money for a prize, even though, it was not a lot of money, but it became very huge and useful. That drawing must have made some impression on me, I did make some money from drawings later on.
Peter Irniq: When you were at that Residential School in Igluligaarjuk, were you happy?
Serapio: It was happy, although, it was not a happy time all the time. But, when we were to be returning home, it was a very happy time, as we were often very homesick. It used to be around May 10, when we would be stopped from schooling. There were students from quite a few communities. Part of the problem at that time was, the weather, it was not always nice. As a result, some people who were waiting to go home, would have to wait. Sometimes, it was not pleasant, when it was your turn to go back, but due to weather, you had to reschedule.
Peter Irniq: When we were about to go home, we used to be told by our supervisors, that “you really had a good time this year here, be sure to come back next summer, make sure, you tell your parents about that” do you remember being told about this?
Serapio: Absolutely! At that first year perhaps, all the students went home, and we ended up not being able to go for sometime. We were made to feel very free at that point. We could sleep in as long as we wanted to. You finally followed whatever you wanted to do. You could take whatever you wanted to eat, as much as you can. That was one time experience that I truly noticed, perhaps because, we were going to be going home soon.
Peter Irniq: Do you remember all the food that you had to eat at the Turquetil Hall?
Serapio: Yes, I remember them all very well. But, the fish we had, froze only with the coldness of the land, so part of them would get rancid. Eating them boiled like that, they were not delicious. The ones I used to hate most was when we would go out on the land, and they used to give us sardines. They are something that we would not eat at all, at home. One time, I ate one of those and it was so rotten that I became very sick and went into the hospital that very evening. I had food poisioning as a result. Luckily, there was a doctor there, and during that particular year, he was in a plane crash. Since that time, there was never a doctor again. That was the worst food that I ate at that time.
Peter Irniq: Did you eat Inuit food?
Serapio: Yes, fish only. Only, once in a blue moon, we had a bit of caribou meat. There was no marine mammal food, except for arctic char.
Filmmaker: Zacharias Kunuk
isuma [at] isuma [dot] ca
Year of Production: 2008