English Canadians wouldn’t know who to idolize if Moses himself came with a list.
Canadians adore people like drunken genocidal maniac John MacDonald, corrupt shill Wilfred Laurier, and the deranged William Lyon Mackenzie King. They love these figures so much that they appear on Canadian money and gave their names to seemingly every elementary school in English Canada. But when someone who actually did achieve something tremendous appears, English Canada sees no reason to celebrate or indeed to even know who the fuck that person was.
Abraham Okpik is a personal hero of mine. Born in a time when tuberculosis ran rampant among the Inuvialuit, he was instrumental in returning surnames and dignity to his people. He did this by personally visiting every community in the modern Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Northern Quebec. Covering thousands of miles of hostile terrain, Abe wrote down and justified the last names of those who had their names replaced with disc numbers. His devotion and dedication restored to the Arctic peoples an essential part of their lives – the return of honorifics and structure to a people ignored and ravaged by Canada.
But being a badass once wasn’t enough for Abe, who came with members of the Berger Commission on the feasibility of pipeline construction in the North. His translation skills, as well as his knowledge of the Arctic, effectively saved the North from economic exploitation and nigh-certain ecological damage for decades. After Frobisher Bay was renamed to Iqaluit, Abe was there to volunteer and help run the fledgling town. Even Canada had to admit that the man was a hero to his people, awarding him the Order of Canada and then immediately ignoring the point of all of his work by returning to revisionist bullshit.
Such is the tragedy of Abe Okpik – a man who earned the name “the Name-giver” – whose work in the broader Canadian zeitgeist went completely ignored. Southern Canadians rarely know the story of Nunavut and its creator, John Amagoalik; they obviously learn little about the man who preceded him. The darkness that Abe helped to dispel and the hypocrisy at the core of Canada’s being that he helped to ease are returned in a way when figures like John MacDonald (responsible for the forced starvation of the Cree) are given pride of place while people like Abraham Okpik are not.
English Canada’s desperate revisionism and make-believe about the horrors of its founding are obviously more important than the efforts of people who espouse and effect the values that Canadians claim to have.