- When federal bureaucrats plucked three smart young Inuit boys
from their families in the 1960s and sent them to high school in
the south, they probably had little idea that they would help transform
Peter Ittinuar, Zebedee Nungak and Eric Tagoona did just that, making
their mark in federal politics, gaining aboriginal rights and negotiating
landmark land claims treaties such as the James Bay agreement and
the creation of Nunavut.
education came with a steep price the loss of their language
and culture as they were steeped in white culture living with families
in Ottawa, resulting in alienation from their families and friends
were told down south that whites were superior to Inuit. Then they
also faced insults when they returned home and lacked the traditional
skills common in the community.
you're 13 years old and you go home and you're being ridiculed for
being a white man, it's difficult to deal with," Ittinuar said.
develop, either consciously or subconsciously, resentments and things
like that and you become angry even though you're trying to develop
yourself. I think some of that anger manifested itself in us going
down the wrong path once in a while."
story is documented in "The Experimental Eskimos," which
has won numerous film festival awards and which will have its world
television broadcast premiere Wednesday on the Aboriginal Peoples
Television Network (APTN).
said it was tough to revisit the more difficult times when making
the film "These are things you want to forget and you
don't want to remind people of them" but he said it
was cathartic in the end.
was a relief," he said.
if the government would pay us for being experimentees, that would
put a cap on it."
three men are involved in a lawsuit seeking damages and an apology
but there has been no progress.
Nungak and Tagoona were the first children to take part in an experiment
that director Barry Greenwald says eventually included 50 Inuit
was an era in which the Inuit had only recently been given the right
to vote and had started moving into communities instead of living
off the land.
tuberculosis and starvation became issues for federal authorities,
so were northern development and education.
of a sudden, they had these residents of the Arctic wastelands whose
kids were growing up as little savages and they had to be turned
into English-speaking citizens of Canada," Ittinuar said.
plan was devised to groom the next generation of leaders by taking
bright youngsters and immersing them in the public schools
and culture of the south, cut off from their families.
says the government likely assumed it was grooming interpreters
or intermediaries that would smooth the way for them. He muses that
breeding activists was not part of the plan.
students) empowered themselves and became a thorn in the side of
the very government that brought them south," Greenwald said
of the initial trio.
was not the intention for these gentlemen to be leaders in any significant
was just to kind of do Ottawa's bidding."
the three men followed very different career paths.
who came from Rankin Inlet, became the first Inuit MP as a member
of the NDP and was later ostracized when he switched to the Liberals.
of Saputiligait, Que., became president of Makivik, the Inuit-owned
economic and political organization while Tagoona, of Baker Lake,
led the first Inuit political lobbying association.
the living in a kind of limbo between the cultures took its toll
on the men, and they grappled with a variety of personal problems
that took their lives off the rails for a time.
film, which grew from a meeting between Ittinuar and his friend
producer Peter Raymont, is a deeply human look at the three men
and their influence in changing the way Canada deals with the Inuit.
could have destroyed them yet it empowered them to achieve great
things for their people," Greenwald said of the social-engineering
who works as a land-claims negotiator for the Ontario government,
said he wasn't surprised he was taken away from his parents without
consent because that was the way things were done then.
was expected to live with the cultural consequences of the experiment
because the bureaucrats "thought on the balance of it, our
future as young white men looked far better than as an Eskimo hunter,"
he said with a chuckle.
notion of multiculturalism wasn't a factor back then.
consequences were quite different," he said with a laugh. "We
grew up and worked for the other side for a while."