OTTAWA — National Inuit leader Natan Obed urged reporters to read the room Friday after they pressed the prime minister about the SNC-Lavalin affair on a solemn day in Iqaluit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled north to apologize for the government's role in the mistreatment of Inuit with tuberculosis in the 1940s-1960s. Thousands with the infectious disease were separated from their families to get treatment in the south.
Many died along the way or during lengthy hospital stays. Families were left in the dark about what happened to relatives and friends because of inadequate records.
The first few questions from local reporters asked about the apology, raising criticism that it's "not enough"; and if there's been an "erosion of trust" between Trudeau and Indigenous voters.
Questions moved to the SNC-Lavalin affair, which has been dominating the news cycle in Ottawa for the last month. The shift in focus, away from human rights abuses experienced by Inuit, prompted Obed to scold reporters and remind media of its role in reconciliation.
Full transcript of his comments below:
"I think something that the media should reflect on is that throughout all of this, there has always been more important stories. And the stories of human rights abuses to Inuit. Every time there is something that happens, such as an apology today, there are other stories in the world.
But the fact that media passed right by the people whose human rights abuses were not told by the media for decades to other stories of the day is still a reflection on the work that needs to happen in reconciliation. The Inuit who were apologized today matter. This story matters. It is a Canadian story.
And I recognize that there are other media stories that matter as well. But I do hope in the future there can be more respect given to the place and time and the people who deserve to have their story told. And the media have a strong role to play to tell it."
Obed is president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national non-profit organization that represents 53 communities in the north.
"Media and reconciliation" is a subsection in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. The TRC report urges Canadian journalism programs and media schools to "require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples."
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