Peter Ittinuar

Photo by Jody Waardenberg

Photo by Jody Waardenberg

To open the new semester of the Laurier Free Film Series at Wilfrid Laurier University, former MP Peter Ittinuar was invited to campus for a screening of the film Experimental Eskimos.

 

Ittinuar was the first Inuk person elected to the House of Commons and was instrumental in the formation of Nunavut territory. He is also one of the subjects in the film.

 

Experimental Eskimos is a Canadian documentary film first released in 2009 and documents the experience of three young Inuit boys in the 1960s.

 

The Canadian government tested children from northern Canada on the basis of IQ and selected three children — Ittinuar, Zebedee Nungak and Eric Tagoona — to be relocated to a school in Ottawa as an experiment to see if they could assimilate and compete academically with white children.

 

The film looks at the later political and personal lives of the three boys as they became some of the foremost advocates for Aboriginal rights in Canada while struggling with the trauma of being taken from their families as children.

 

The event was organized by Melissa Ireland, Aboriginal student support coordinator, and Philippa Gates, professor in the department of English and film studies.

 

“For this series we have the most high profile speakers,” Gates said about this semester’s Laurier Free Film Series. “We’ve been running the film series for almost ten years and it’s always been a low key event.”

 

The largest group in the audience were members from the Waterloo community who routinely attend the series. Ittinuar impressed the room with his humility and humour. One member of the audience complimented him, saying he was as “a very courageous man.” He responded, “Well I don’t know about that … I faced a polar bear with a knife one time.”

 

Before the screening, Ittinuar warned the audience that he might have to leave because of the emotional impact the film has on him.

 

“It’s a bit difficult to watch because later in life all of us had downfalls … but for a Friday night if that’s what you want to do,” he said jokingly.

 

Ittinuar left the room twice during the screening, the second time waiting until the film finished to come back.

 

 

A first-year student in the audience asked Ittinuar, “There are many people who are ignorant to this situation … I found it shocking … how do you think this can be known, be a part of history?”

 

“Probably the best way is to rewrite our history books in schools. I’m often asked now to go to a school board … because they want to take things like this film and also advice on rewriting history in the truer sense than before,” said Ittinuar in response.

 

The Free Film Series will continue on Jan. 30 with a screening of Mohawk Girls.

 

 

One Comment

  1. Thanks for your article, Mynt!

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