Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, delivered an emotional apology on Friday for the federal government’s “colonial mindset’’ and its mistreatment of thousands of Inuit during an empidemic of tuberculosis in northern Canada in the 1940s and 1960s.
Trudeau apologised while speaking at an event in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s Arctic territory of Nunavut.
Trudeau acknowledged that thousands of Inuit were separated from their families and taken thousands of kilometres from their homes for treatment, many never to be heard from again.
“We are sorry for forcing you from your families, for not showing you the respect and care you deserved,” Trudeau said, addressing an audience that included representatives all four Inuit regions of Canada.
“To the people whose loved ones were taken away, we are sorry. We are sorry for breaking what is most precious: the love of a home,’’ he said.
Beginning in the 1940s, thousands of Inuit were sent away from their communities for tuberculosis treatment in southern Canada.
They were cut off from their language, culture and families, and those who died during treatment were buried far from home, leaving families with no knowledge of the fate of their loved ones.
The legacy of the mid-century outbreaks reverberates throughout Inuit communities of northern Canada, many of whom suffer rates of tuberculosis that are nearly 300 times higher than in southern Canada.
“We are sorry that, because of our mistakes, many Inuit don’t trust the health care system so they can’t get help when they need it,” Trudeau said.
“We are sorry for the colonial mindset that drove the federal government’s actions.’’
The mistreatment of Inuit tuberculosis patients was a “massive human rights failure,’’ said Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national Inuit organisation.
He thanked Trudeau for the apology.