People & Culture

Jeannie Ehaloak: An Inuit survivor of Residential Schools

Episode 67

The former Mayor of Cambridge Bay and Canadian politician speaks about her experience being taken away from her home at four years old and the impact of Residential Schools on the Inuit

  • Published Sep 19, 2023
  • Updated Oct 05
Jeannie Ehaloak is an Inuit Residential School Survivor, a former Mayor and MLA of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and currently the director of communications for Polar Knowledge Canada. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Can Geo)
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*Trigger Warning. This episode is about Residential Schools and includes descriptions of abuse. It may only be suitable for some listeners. If you require emotional support, there is a 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line, which you can reach at 1-866-925-4419. 

Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Can Geo
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Jeannie Ehaloak was just four years old when she was taken away from her parents on Victoria Island in what is now Nunavut and sent to a Residential School far away in Inuvik. The impact on her was profound and long-lasting. It is a period of her life she feels she has had to work hard to overcome, which in many ways she has: becoming Mayor of Cambridge Bay, a member of Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly and a cabinet minister — all of this, a victory over the attempts to erase her identity while in Residential School.

There is a lot of focus, and rightly so, on the impact of the Residential School system on First Nations people. The system was first set up to wipe out their cultures and languages by forcing First Nations children to attend government-funded, church-run boarding schools, which were sites of unspeakable systemic sexual, mental and physical abuses. Over 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to these institutions between the 1830’s and 1990’s. Thousands of them died there.

Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Can Geo
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The story of the Inuit in Residential Schools is less well known but very similar in its brutality. The Inuit in Canada’s Arctic weren’t forced to send their children to Residential Schools until the early 1950s, about the same time the Canadian government was forcing them off of the land and into permanent communities, ending millennia of traditional, nomadic life.

Despite the shorter timeline in the North, the impact of Residential schools on the Inuit was very damaging to children, families, and communities. This is Jeannie Ehaloaks’ story. 

Early in the podcast, Jeannie mentions the Dew Line, which was a series of radar stations set up by the U.S. and Canadian governments during the Cold War to protect against Russian missile attacks over the Arctic Circle. The stations were often in remote locations and maintained by Inuit employees and their families.

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