Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was grounded in Goose Bay, N.L, today en route to Iqaluit to deliver an apology to Inuit over historical treatment of tuberculosis — but the ceremony is expected to go ahead at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Representatives from the four Inuit regions of Canada, which stretch across the Arctic to Labrador, gathered in Iqaluit to hear Trudeau apologize for Canada’s treatment of Inuit with tuberculosis in the mid-20th century.
The apology ceremony is delayed until the prime minister arrives. Snow and wind in Iqaluit have already forced two scheduled flights from Ottawa to turn back.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, Inuit were separated from their family members and taken to southern Canada for tuberculosis treatment.
Their families were often not informed of their whereabouts — even after they died. Those who were treated often lived for years in sanatoriums, where the language, food and culture were unfamiliar.
“We’ve heard a lot about families that heard that their loved one passed away, or getting a telegram of their loved one passing away, but there was no details about where their loved one was buried, if there was a funeral service,” said Jeannie Arreak-Kullualik, the chief operating officer for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
The apology had been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit.
A community feast, which is planned at 4:45 p.m with the prime minister, is to go ahead as planned without him.
Arreak-Kullualik said Inuit have been gathering in Iqaluit all week. Former patients and immediate family members of people who died in southern Canada will be among the people on hand to hear the prime minister deliver the apology.
Arreak-Kullualik estimates there are between 700 and 800 people who never returned home, and whose gravesites remain unknown.
“During the apology, there will be an acknowledgement of former patients, about the mistreatment, about not keeping proper records. They will also launch the Nanilavut initiative.”
The Nanilavut initiative is a database that will make records available to Inuit to facilitate finding family members’ gravesites. Work on collecting the records has been ongoing for almost a decade.
Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett were in the Nunavut capital Wednesday.
Bennett had dinner with the families and survivors of the tuberculosis epidemic.
“In some ways, being able to have that support to find those missing pieces is very, very important to unlocking the healing,” Bennett told CBC News.
Afterward, the group watched the movie The Necessities of Life (Ce qu’il faut pour vivre) at the Astro Theatre.
The Quebec film tells the story of an Inuit hunter, played by Natar Ungalaaq, separated from his family and sent to a hospital in Quebec, where he doesn’t understand the language or culture.
Bennett said she met with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents Inuit from Baffin Island, on Wednesday to work with them on how the government can address the group’s request for a broader apology.
The association said in a report it is looking for an apology that covers the “modern-day colonial practices imposed on Inuit in the Qikiqtani region between 1950 and 1975.”
Those practices involve forcing Inuit to move to strengthen Canadian sovereignty claims in the Arctic and killing their sled dogs as a way of forcing an end to nomadic life.
Bennett was in Arviat, Nunavut, in January to apologize for the forced relocation of the Ahiarmiut Inuit.
“This is about addressing the really dark chapters in Canada’s history,” Bennett said.
She said she is also working with the Inuit organizations on how to address the current tuberculosis epidemic, which includes discussions on Nunavut’s crippling housing shortage.
Tuberculosis, an airborne disease, can be cured with treatment. But the disease is still a major concern for Inuit, who contract TB at a rate that the Public Health Agency of Canada says is more than 290 times higher than for non-Indigenous Canadians.
This story originally appeared on CBC