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Photo Frobisher Bay washing skins 1955 couleur

Working with the Federal Government

Abraham Okpik
There was a social worker who came to see me…. He told me that they wanted somebody from Aklavik to attend the Eskimo Affairs Committee meeting in Ottawa. Someone in the office, who had known me before, mentioned that maybe I would be a good candidate to attend the meeting. So quietly I wrote back, and I said, “Okay, I’ll go to the one meeting,” and that they would have to give me instructions as to how and when it was going to happen. …I stayed there for a few days, and finally he said, “Abe, why don’t you work for us? We have decided that maybe you should work for us.”
In May of 1959, the Diefenbaker government and Alvin Hamilton, who was then minister of Northern Affairs, brought a group of Inuit together in Ottawa to consult with them about their community’s concerns and needs. They met with journalists, administrators, anthropologists and authors such as Farley Mowat; they met the Prime Minister and the Governor General, as well as representatives from other government departments.

Along the way, Abe started to work for the government and had to learn the “syllabics” writing system which was in use in the Eastern Arctic. He translated books to be sent up to the “old folk in the Western Arctic,” some of the first publications in the Inuit language. He met and worked with linguists and translators, learning about the different languages from around the world.

Abe was asked to go back up North, to work as the director of the Rehabilitation Centre in Apex. This structure housed people who had been hospitalized, sick for long periods of time away from home, and needed support when they were recuperating. The Centre became a community hall, a place for coming together, for celebrating.