On January 27, the Honorable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada honored 99 year-old Inuk Elder Qapik Attagutsiak, along with other Nunavut Inuit, as Hometown Heroes.
Today, the untold story of how Inuit from Nunavut communities, including Qapik, played a vital role during the Second World War by voluntarily gathering animal bones and carcasses, which were then shipped to southern Canada to be made into munitions, aircraft glue and fertilizer, is being shared with Canadians. In total, millions of pounds of material were collected across Canada to aid the war effort. Qapik is the last known surviving person who collected bones in the Arctic for the war effort.
The commemorative ceremony was held at the Canadian Museum of History before an audience of several hundred guests, including local community members, dignitaries and students. The event featured a blessing by Elder Simon Brascoupé from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, traditional throat singing and drum dancing by Inuit students, military music, the unveiling of a story panel about the Inuit contributions to the Second World War, as well as the presentation of a large Inunnguat (an Inuksuk-like figure in the shape of a human) in honor of Qapik covered with drawings made by local school children.
The Government of Canada is committed to connecting Canadians to the significant people, places, and events that contributed to our country's rich and diverse heritage, including commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Second World War in 2020.
Qapik Attagutsiak joins a growing list of Canadians who have been recognized for their contributions during the First and/or Second World War. Launched in 2015, Parks Canada's Hometown Heroes is a community-based initiative that honors men and women who defended Canadian values, and contributed to the cause of freedom during the world wars. To date, more than 140 Canadians from across the country have been recognized.
"On behalf of the Government of Canada, I'm honored to recognize Inuk Elder Qapik Attagutsiak, along with Inuit of Nunavut communities, as Hometown Heroes for their significant contributions during the Second World War. The story of how Qapik and other Inuit participated in Canada's war effort has previously not been told. By sharing the exemplary stories of our Hometown Heroes with Canadians, we express gratitude for their service, and create a proud legacy that Canadians will remember and learn from for generations to come."
The Honorable Jonathan Wilkinson,
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and minister responsible for Parks Canada
"Qapik Attagutsiak is a respected and much loved Elder in Arctic Bay and throughout the Qikiqtaaluk. It's my privilege to know and admire her. Her contributions to our culture, and to bridging traditions and bringing together generations of Inuit are remarkable. On behalf of the Government of Nunavut, I am honored to be part of recognizing her life, and all Inuit who helped in the vital, community-level efforts to help our country during the Second World War."
The Honorable David Akeeagok,
Deputy Premier of Nunavut and Minister of Economic Development and Transportation
"I am proud to recognize Elder Qapik Attagutsiak's remarkable contributions, and those of her fellow Inuit, during the Second World War as an example of the long-standing history and the common ethos that connects the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the military community. Elder Attagutsiak's efforts and those of others like her stand as a humbling reminder that the success of our soldiers overseas was greatly strengthened by the work of everyday Canadians on the home front. This legacy of service will always be a valuable piece of our mutual heritage."
Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre,
Commander Canadian Army and Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples
- From sewing clothes, to stitching, to producing clear windows for igloos out of walrus intestines to becoming a midwife at the age of 18, Qapik Attagutsiak started learning important skills at a very young age.
- In July 2018, Parks Canada had the privilege of recording Qapik while she recounted memories of her life and how she and other members of Eastern Arctic communities experienced the Second World War. The details of her accounts were, up to that time, unknown, even to her own children.
- Today, as an Elder, she still contributes to her community. She actively teaches her skills and shares her knowledge to inspire younger generations in Arctic Bay to embrace their natural and cultural heritage.
- The Second World War was a transformative event in Canadian history. Between 1939 and 1945, more than one million Canadian men and women served in uniform, and millions more contributed on the home front.
- The Government of Canada is committed to developing a system of national heritage places that recognizes and honors the contributions of Indigenous peoples, their history and cultures, as well as the special relationships Indigenous peoples have with traditional lands and waters.
- The Government of Canada invites young people and their families to explore Parks Canada places, with free admission for newcomers and youth aged 17 and under. Learn more about our country's history – from lighthouses to battlefields, historic neighborhoods to Indigenous contributions to Canada, there is an amazing array of stories and places to discover.