By Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A panel of young adults spoke of how intergenerational trauma from residential schools continues to impact their lives and communities, on the final day of the National Gathering on Unmarked Burials in Iqaluit.
Four young people, two of them Nunavummiut, told their stories and also shared messages of hope on Thursday afternoon.
The panel was one of the final events at the three-day gathering organized by the office of Kimberly Murray, the federally appointed special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves and burial sites.
While the focus was on northern voices, the gathering was attended by representatives from Inuit, First Nations and Métis communities from across Canada.
Pakak Picco of Iqaluit, one of the youth panelists, emotionally described dealing with the loss of friends to suicide and substance use.
A common factor among all those friends, he said, was intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and day schools.
“In the last 12 months, I’ve lost three close friends and relatives, people I enjoy hunting on the land with,” Picco said.
“Whenever I get sad about it, I feel like — the federal government or the churches, I feel like they won sometimes because here we are in 2024, 2023” and “we’re still losing kids.”
Despite the loss, Picco said he sees a lot of hope.
He praised the Embrace Life Council for its healing initiatives and described the Aqqusariaq Nunavut Recovery Centre, which is currently under construction in Iqaluit, as something that will benefit people in the future.
He said he sees hope in gatherings like the one this week in Iqaluit with its audience of elders and survivors.
“We have to keep going for the youth,” Picco said, adding “it helps my heart when I see gatherings like this because it’s a shared experience.
“It’s not just our community or me feeling like this; in every community, there’s people suffering the way we are here and it all traces back to one thing.”
Jody Tulurialik of Taloyoak shared her own similar experience dealing with loss.
She referred to the previous day’s survivors’ panel during which Navalik Tologanak of Cambridge Bay highlighted barriers to receiving healing services from elders.
“There are many instances where us Kitikmiut do not have access to resources that Kivallimiut and Qikiqtaalumiut have access to,” Tulurialik said.
“I’d like to see more collaborative projects, spaces and organizations between all the regions in Nunavut.”
Megan Metz, from Haisla Nation, B.C., offered a message of resiliency.
“We cannot forget all that we have held on to in spite of these very intentional efforts to strip us of who we are,” she said.
“One day, all of us will be the ancestors that the upcoming generations will speak of so we should, in turn, honour ourselves, remember who we are and respect ourselves and our stories.”
The conference portion of the gathering ended Thursday evening with closing remarks from Murray, who echoed the comments of the four youth panelists.
“You are making us proud and you are making your ancestors proud,” she said.
Nearing the end of her two-year appointment as special interlocutor, Murray said her big task in the coming months is to compile what’s been discussed at all national gatherings held across Canada and file a report to the federal government establishing a legal framework on missing Indigenous children and unmarked graves.
Those findings will be published during a gathering in Ottawa in June.
“In my view, Canada is committing a crime if it does not help communities find all the disappeared children,” Murray said.
“Thank you for sharing your knowledge and thank you for leading the country as we continue along this path to recover the children.”