APTN National News
While traveling across Canada David Serkoak uses a drum and his late father’s song to help share the story of his people.
His father started the song before his death in the 1980s but never got the chance to finish it.
That’s because a forced relocation almost 70 years ago nearly wiped out the small Inuit community of the Ahiarmiut of Ennadai Lake.
“We were moved just like that,” Serkoak told APTN at a special event at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR).
“You go out your tent and the plane was waiting. Away we went.”
On Dec. 10, the International Day of Human Rights, hundreds filled the halls of the CMHR in Winnipeg for special programming including a citizenship ceremony and the launch of a brand new exhibit exploring 150 years of Canada’s human rights history.
The exhibit is called Rights of Passage: Canada at 150 and it explores 33 different human rights stories over the course of the last 150 years.
The relocation of the Ahiarmiut is one of the stories featured as part of the exhibit.
About a year ago Serkoak sat with curators of the exhibit to share his people’s story. He was on hand for the official launch.
In 1949 the Ahiarmiut were one of the Inuit communities forced to move by the Canadian government.
They were relocated five times before finally settling in Eskimo Point, which is now known as Arviat.
Serkoak was five-years-old when he had to move during the second relocation to Henik Lake in 1957.
Memories of the move are vivid for him today.
“The government had a tent for us with a bit of ration in each tent. When the food ran out then everyone started to wonder where they were going to get food for the next day for their families.”
After the move, starvation began to set in.
The Ahiarmiut relied on hunting, fishing and trapping for sustenance.
They were relocated because the government at the time believed hunting opportunities in the area were scarce.
The Ahiarmiut believed they were fine to stay at Ennadai Lake but many were too scared to challenge the government.
“All Inuit listened to the white man, whether it’s a priest, welfare worker, RCMP or any white man,” Serkoak said. “If they told you to leave, you leave. If they signal you…you come.
“If they want to hit you they can hit you.”
After the relocation, many died from starvation, disease or natural causes, according to Serkoak.
He said it’s hard to predict what would have happened to his people had they been allowed to stay at Ennadai Lake.
In 1985 some of the remaining Ahiarmiut went back to Ennadai Lake. They drummed and danced.
For many, it was the first time they were able to practice their culture since the move.
“We were told you have to change right now. You have to forget your Inukness,” Serkoak said. “Leave your culture, leave your language outside the door.
“Here you only use English.”
But this wasn’t the only loss for the community.
Serkoak estimates there are less than 30 living survivors.
There is one remaining elder alive from the first relocation.
A photo of her and her family from a Life Magazine feature released in 1956 on the Ahiarmiut hangs in the exhibit.
The exhibit uses mediums like oral interviews, radio, television and social media to explore key moments in Canada’s human rights history.
While it’s part of the Canada 150 celebrations, Indigenous Content curator Karine Duhamel says the exhibit is meant to be an opportunity for people to think about the journey over the past 150 years and how much more still needs to be done.
“We really wanted to stress the idea of multiple perspectives, lots of different stories and fundamentally of Indigenous peoples’ original occupancy and rights in this place.”
The Ahiarmiut exhibit includes an interview with Serkoak. He also lent old artefacts such as antler carvings and a toy canoe to help share his peoples’ history.
“Now they are here for Canada and the world to see,” said Serkoak.