Sunday, 26 July 2009

57 Years Of Silence: Arviat's Annie Ollie has heard enough. "They were so racist.."

57 Years Of Silence
Now-60-year-old documents shed light on the 'racist' aftermath of a plane
crash that killed 20 whites and Inuit


"... Annie Ollie has heard enough. Searching for years now for some basic truths about a plane crash in Northern Manitoba that took the life of her father's young, polio-stricken sister in 1949, the Arviat resident is struck silent by new facts revealed about the RCAF accident.

The plane crash was this province's greatest air disaster. The RCAF investigation into the cause of the crash was never made public, the truth carefully, purposely hidden for 60 years now.

This spring, spurred on by a call for help from Inuit families in the Eastern Arctic, I went looking for answers to a lot of outstanding questions about the tragedy. A month ago, the government files I requested from Library and Archives Canada arrived. I spent about eight hours combing through the faded copies of microfilmed documents.

The details of the investigation's findings are unsettling for Ollie and other residents in Nunavut who lost loved ones when the amphibious plane crashed in a severe storm Aug. 21 1949, near Norway House.

Only three years ago they found out their loved ones were buried in a mass, unmarked grave at the reserve, ending 57 years of mystery surrounding the crash there. Now, they've been given the answer -- or likely the closest thing to it -- to the mystery behind that decision, some explanation for why the bodies of the seven Inuit were treated differently than the 13 others, all white, all from Southern Canada, and taken with care and respect south to Winnipeg, then transported across the country to the hometowns for burial.

That decision to bury the Inuit -- bundled in canvas, placed into a single wooden coffin at the local cemetery -- appears to have been that of a single man, Dr. Joseph P. Moody, who was hired by the federal government to serve at Chesterfield Inlet. Moody handled, by himself, at least in the early days, a virulent polio epidemic that raced through the families and hamlets along the Hudson Bay coast in the winter of 1948 and into 1949.

An RCMP report and memos attached to it indicate that Dr. Moody issued the order not to bring the bodies of the seven Inuit, airlifted out for medical care at Winnipeg's King George Hospital, back to the Arctic.

It's a hard landing for the families who have been struggling to understand why the bodies weren't flown home.

"They were so racist," says Annie Ollie, of the mindset of non-aboriginals in authority in the mid-century administration of the Eastern Arctic, a land of nomadic Inuit only just starting to settle into centres with basic, government services.

"My people had to live that (racist attitude). I think it also affected how Dr. Moody made his decisions," says the soft-spoken Ollie...."

"...The tragedy, however, was compounded by a monumental betrayal out of the high offices of the Defence Department that hid from Canadians the truth behind, and the government's own culpability in, the crash.

In fact, the details were even withheld from the Manitoba attorney general, who deferred calling a routine inquest, assuring the public that the Air Force investigation would reveal all.

"Transcripts of evidence may be released to the Attorney General but the
findings and recommendations must not, repeat must not, be disclosed," wrote R.V. Mulligan from Air Force headquarters in Ottawa, on Sept. 10, 1949.

"It's so overwhelming," says Ollie.

Many elderly Inuit remember Dr. Moody, who served at a Chesterfield Inlet hospital run by Catholic missionary nurses.

One Rankin Inlet resident, who lost his mother and three other relatives
in the crash, is dumbfounded to learn, after all these years, that Moody is the reason the bodies did not come home.

Agnes Adams says her elderly uncle, Francois Kaput, is adamant that Moody never told his family their mother, Arnaluktituaq, her granddaughter,
son-in-law and niece would not come back to Chesterfield.

"They were never told the bodies were going to be buried down south," says Adams, whose sister Aniasie (Arnaluktituaq's granddaughter) perished in the crash. "They waited for the bodies (to be sent back) but they never came."

It is a cruel blow to her uncles, Kaput and Tony Amarok, who wondered for years where their mother's body lay...."

"...For the Inuit, the story unveiled by the faded documents and memos, copied to microfilm and filed away for antiquity, is particularly awful.

An RCMP report of the details on how the bodies were handled gives abundant detail about the white bodies and their personal effects, right down to the concern over finding a diamond engagement ring the physiotherapist's fiancé had sent to her at Chesterfield Inlet.

An RCMP memo indicates someone recognized the insensitivity of Dr. Moody's order to take the Inuit bodies to Norway House.

Underscoring a paragraph that relayed Moody's instructions, a handwritten note to the director of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Administration said: "Apparently Dr. Moody has advised the next of kin of the Eskimos killed in the crash. I think it would be interesting to have a report from< him regarding the reaction and his views."

The paper trail stopped there.

For Ollie, having searched for years for the story of the fate of her aunt, the story confirms what she's been told by elders of life with the white man in the days the North was being "settled."

Ollie has been to the mass grave at Norway House.

The story's not over yet. Ollie wants to reclaim the remains of her fathers' sister.

"That day will come that my aunt will be buried where she is from."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2009 A10..."

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