Nunavumi Angnait Katujiqatigigit

Nunavut Inuit Women’s Association

ᓄᓇᕗᒻᒥ ᐊᕐᓇᐃᑦ ᑲᑐᔾᔨᖃᑎᒌᖏᑦ

NIWA President Madeleine Redfern presents before the Senate Committee on Human Rights – Forced and Coerced Sterilization of Persons in Canada

NIWA President Madeleine Redfern’s testimony transcript from her presentation on Monday, May 9th, 2022 before the Senate Committee on Human Rights re: Forced and Coerced Sterilization of Persons in Canada

See the transcript below.


Amautiit: Nunavut Inuit Women’s Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing self-determination for Nunavut Arnait [Inuit women] in all areas of life.

Amautiit focuses its advocacy efforts to improve conditions for Arnait and their families in Nunavut in thoughtful research and analysis. The organization builds alliances and partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals outside of Nunavut, as one of its strategies to support and advocate for the rights and needs of Arnait and their families. Amautiit receives financial support from the Government of Canada through NWAC as Territorial Member Association. 

Forced Sterilization

Father Robert Lechat, Roman Catholic priest who worked and lived in Canada’s north including northern Quebec communities of Kangiqsujuaq, Umiujaq, Kuujuuaq, and Igloolik-Sanirajak (Hall Beach) NWT and what would become Nunavut from 1972 to 1995.  In 1970s, Lechat advocated to stop the practice of illegal sterilization of Inuit women when they went south to other provinces for medical care.  An inquiry conducted by the Federal Government in 1976 found that from 1966 7o 1976, 100s of Indigenous women from 52 northern communities were sterilized.  Father Lechat recently passed on this past March, 2022 at the age of 102. 

Dr. Karen Stote, a professor at Wilfred Laurier University has conducted research on reproductive justice, genocide and eugenics in Canada.  Her research specific to Nunavut indicates high sterilization rates in Nunavut (former NWT) and that between 1966-1976 that 70 Inuit women were sterilized:  26% of women in Igloolik, almost 50% Naujaat (Repulse Bay) and 31% of women in Gjoa Haven and 25% of women in Chesterfield Inlet and Kugaaruk. 

Other data from the Minister of National Health and Welfare indicates as many as 470 Inuit and Aboriginal women were sterilized in 1972 alone.  In addition, some men were given vasectomies without knowledge or consent. 

Qikiqtani Truth Commission

I was Executive Director of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which was set up as an Inuit funded and Inuit led inquiry that looked into Government policies, decisions and affect of those on Inuit in the Eastern Arctic from 1950 to 1975.  A period of dramatic transition for Inuit who lived nomadic lives on the land to moving into permanent settlements but also a period of transition for Canada – as the country introduced universal programs in health, social welfare, old age pension, child tax benefits, disabilities and education. 

The Canadian government was the primary agent of the changes that swept throughout the north based on the notion that they had a duty as a progressive country to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples because their lives were considered primitive and living in abject poverty and barely survival mode.  The purpose was to make life in the north, like that in the south –and Inuit more like southern Canadians. 

While most officials convinced themselves that they were acting in the best interests of Inuit, their plans were frequently mismanaged or underfunded, and were designed and implemented without consulting Inuit or even really caring about the short-term to long-term effects.  All too often their careers, the needs of southern Canadians, and the goal of government efficiency came first. Another major factor or contributor to not doing things properly – was to save the government money, at least by spending the least amount of money on Indigenous peoples. 

It is important to understand that there existed and exists today – an unbalanced and unhealthy power dynamic between Inuit and Government.  Almost every aspect of Inuit life from 1950s was dictated or decided by government officials – everything from where Inuit lived, who got housing, who got training, who got jobs, sending children to school including away from their families/community, whether they got health care, including diagnosis and/or type of treatment. 

QTC: Forced Sterilization

One reason it is hard to know exactly how many Inuit women were sterilized is that sterilization often happened when women were sent south for other medical reasons including those presenting or suffering from TB.  In most cases, administrators, health professionals and social workers simply decided and dictated what would happen to Inuit – unfortunately something that many Inuit still happens today. 

Language and cultural barriers between government administrators, health professionals and social workers and Inuit posed huge issues and problems including ensuring that Inuit patients and family members knew what the government was doing including sending people south for treatment, where, length of trip, what kind of treatment, purpose, value, risks, options, and consent.

Barry Gunn, a former regional administrator in Iqaluit, claimed women “agreed” to sterilization procedures by signing forms to that effect but due to language barriers, almost certainly most did not realize what they were agreeing to. 

Medical personnel have explained or argued that the policy was not rooted in malice and that women were not forced. 

Yet, J.R. Lotz of NANR wrote “despite the demand by the government for people to go north and develop the area, the same government manages to give the impression that there are too many Eskimos and Indians.  And that high infant mortality in the north, squalid living conditions, reduced health services-initiated birth control services – however no amount of propaganda would change women’s minds or behaviour to help keep the population down.  There was government preoccupation about how to keep native people from reproducing.” 

1970s to Today

It is exceedingly hard to know exactly how many Inuit women were sterilized, especially since many were not asked or did not understand that sterilization procedure was being suggested, proposed or done. 

Often the paternalistic attitude has not stopped or gone away especially by some in the health profession.  We know better or best mindset exists.  Usually, this stems from a notion that Inuit are still too uneducated/under educated, living in overcrowded housing, living in poverty, and that the humane thing to do is to lessen the burden, hardship and challenges by adding another child or more children into the same family and household or even community. 


A related issue and problem, as it stems from the individual woman’s ability to have autonomy over her body is anything to do with reproductive rights that includes the right to abortion.  Some Inuit women have complained that the health professionals from nurses to doctors repeatedly ask “are you sure you want an abortion?”.  This almost certainly stems from a Canadian health and legal perspective that requires consent not to be given just once but verified repeatedly right up until the time of the procedure.  Notion is that a woman may wish to change her mind or that undue pressure or unawareness of the consequences has made the profession more concerned about true consent and the right to withdraw consent. 

Several Inuit women have said that this fails to understand that when an Inuk woman has made her decision, she has made her decision and does not want to revisit it including the associated feelings and context that has led to her this decision.  She does not want to feel belittled and disrespected – as if she is either uncertain or has made the wrong decision or a decision not liked or supported by the health professionals. 

Requested Sterilization

Equally problematic is when an Inuk woman wants to be sterilized but is not permitted to make that decision.  Several women have said that they wished to be sterilized, usually after having a number of children and have decided that they do not want anymore but do not want to be on other forms of birth control.  This too goes against an individual woman’s choice over her autonomy. 


Until Nunavut have sufficient number of Inuit health professionals including nurses and doctors, there will continue to be challenges related to language and culture.  If the patient speaks English, even not proficiently, there is an inclination not to use interpreters. 

There are not enough medical interpreters for the Nunavut health system in the territory or in the southern hospitals or health clinics.  As a result, family members who are with the patient are often expected to interpret despite that medical terminology is unique and the need to get interpretation correct is extremely important.  The former Nunavut Language Commissioner Sandra Inutiq, who issued report in October 2015[1] called “If you cannot community with your patient, your patient is not safe” – “being able to speak in one’s mother tongue when it concerns health is not asking a favour of health care professionals or organizations.  On the contrary, it is basic issue of accessibility, safety, quality and equality of services.” 

There is a desperate requirement to educate, train and hire as many Inuit in the health profession. 

Unfortunately, there is not enough commitment to allocating resources and time, to ensure some solid cultural orientation. 

Inuit health care client liaison and heath care advocates may also be able to play a role in helping bridge the cultural gap that currently exists between Inuit and their predominantly non-Inuit health care providers. 

It is extremely important to recognize that colonialism is real, not just in the distant past but continues today.  Paternalism is real and continues to perpetuate the power imbalance between governmental officials, health professionals and Inuit.  Effectively removing the right and restricting the freedom, choices and responsibilities of the Inuit and by forcing them to be subjected to or subordinate to others who think they know better or best – even though it is the patient or in this case Inuit women who have to bear the consequences. 

Nunavut Inuit women and families have the right to determine their own medical treatments which includes understanding the options: pros and cons, the different treatments, the risks, the effects, and the consequences. 

These are basic tenets in a democratic state where individuals have freedom of choice irrespective of their race, colour, ancestry, creed, place of origin, ethnicity, gender, age, marital status, family status, disability or economic status.  When anyone including government or government officials decide to undermine, coerce, threaten, manipulate or violate anyone’s right including over any aspect of their reproductive system – this is not only against the law – it is usually done because of attitudes of racism and sexism. 

Decisions and actions that are racist and sexist – are based on a sense of superiority over someone else deemed inferior – and by those definitions are never in the best interest of the affected person or persons. 

And yet- racism and sexism continue to exist within Nunavut health care system because we have yet to face our history including in health care and face the power dynamics and cultural disconnections between those who are to provide health services to our people in our communities. 

It’s an uncomfortable topic and as such, we have largely avoided the important and necessary discussion on how to bring about systemic change.  We must stop presuming these actions and attitudes are a thing of the past.  A lot of Indigenous women continue to be marginalized, disrespected, violated and harmed – in the name and practice of Canadian “health care”.