In addition to the few hundred Inuit who call Winnipeg home, our city is also one of the few regular southern hosts to many Inuit guests who come here to obtain medical services, training, and other opportunities.
Together with the Manitoba Inuit Association and the Legacy of Hope Foundation, we have created a space for Winnipeggers to gain a deeper understanding of our neighbours to the north through a public exhibition called “We Were So Far Away: the Inuit Experience of Residential Schools”. The exhibit, produced by the Legacy of Hope Foundation, tells the stories of eight Inuit Residential School survivors.
On Monday, guests from the community gathered to mark the exhibit’s opening. The Manitoba Inuit Association invited their members and we also welcomed our friends attending the national “All My Relations Gathering” on Indigenous philanthropy being held by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (The Circle).
Abraham Ruben was a student at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in Inuvik, NWT, for 11 years.
Udloriak Hanson with The Circle greeted about 70 guests by recognizing their presence on Treaty 1 territory and the homeland of the Metis Nation.
The Honourable Eric Robinson, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and himself a residential school survivor, encouraged people to come and see the exhibit for themselves. He said the experience of Inuit in the Residential School System is not as well-known as other Indigenous groups.
Minister Eric Robinson
“The photos of this important exhibit and their stories need to be seen by many more people, and I would encourage our fellow citizens and fellow Manitobans to come and look.”
Fred Ford, President of the Manitoba Inuit Association, shared a moving letter sent to him by Theresie Tungilik, sister of Marius Tungilik – one of the survivors in the exhibit.
Fred Ford points at the panel of Marius Tungilik
Theresie’s letter speaks of how her experience attending a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut impacted the families in her community.
One of the historical photos in the exhibit: Ikaluit school children, Nunavut, 1958
Theresie tells of the times when it was difficult to talk about the experience with her brother, although in time Marius and other survivors were instrumental in getting people to share their stories. Through this process many have found some healing. In sharing Theresie’s letter, Fred noted that she is thriving, having found the strength for her own healing journey. Marius Tungilik died in 2012 at the age of 55.
Angie Hutchinson, Chair of United Way Winnipeg’s Aboriginal Relations Council, talked about United Way’s Aboriginal Relations Strategy and its goal of building knowledge, relationships, capacity and engagement within the Indigenous community and beyond.
Angie Hutchinson, Chair of United Way’s Aboriginal Relations Council.
The exhibit, and the brave people sharing their stories, is advancing that goal, she said. “These courageous survivors, who have shared their experiences with the Legacy of Hope Foundation, will educate generations of Canadians and contribute to reconciliation across our nation.”
Closing the evening, Nikki Komaksiutiksak described some of the intergenerational effects of the residential school system in her own family. Drawing from the examples of resilience in her own history, and the inspiration of her daughters, Nikki found strength in the power of throat singing.
She finished with a mesmerizing performance of the ancient form of singing, developed when Inuit women learned to make noises that would attract animals, in order to feed their children.
United Way is honoured to invite all to our atrium to experience the exhibit for themselves. We know it’s a transformative time and that Winnipeggers are interested in learning more about our full history.
The exhibit open to the public at 580 Main Street from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday until November 30.
Visitors note: the exhibition contains subject matter that may be difficult for some visitors and to Survivors of the Residential School System.