Carleton University needs to talk about renaming of building linked to Inuit relocation, student says

·3 min read
Carleton University student Aliqa Illauq wrote to the descendants of Gordon Robertson to let them know why renaming Robertson Hall was important. The Ottawa school is in the process of giving new names to three halls, part of its commitment to Indigenous reconciliation and its stand against anti-Black racism.  (Submitted by Aliqa Illauq - image credit)
Carleton University student Aliqa Illauq wrote to the descendants of Gordon Robertson to let them know why renaming Robertson Hall was important. The Ottawa school is in the process of giving new names to three halls, part of its commitment to Indigenous reconciliation and its stand against anti-Black racism. (Submitted by Aliqa Illauq - image credit)

Carleton University is renaming three campus buildings as part of its commitment to Indigenous reconciliation and the fight against anti-Black racism, but at least one student also wants the school to raise awareness about why the move is important.

The three set to be renamed by the next academic year are:

  • University Centre.

  • Residence Commons.

  • Robertson Hall.

Robertson Hall, one of three campus buildings set for a name change, was named after a former university chancellor who played a role in the controversial High Arctic relocation program in the 1950s.
Robertson Hall, one of three campus buildings set for a name change, was named after a former university chancellor who played a role in the controversial High Arctic relocation program in the 1950s.(Raphael Tremblay/CBC)

Robertson Hall, in particular, caught the attention of a group of students because of its namesake — Gordon Robertson — and his role in the High Arctic relocation program in the 1950s.

At the time, Robertson was the clerk for the Privy Council and commissioner of the Northwest Territories before becoming Carleton University's chancellor between 1980 and 1990.

"It wasn't specifically Gordon Robertson, but it was the Canadian government as a whole," said Aliqa Illauq, a Carleton University student from the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut.

"[The relocation] has affected every single family, every single Inuit family," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Dozens of Inuit relocated

The relocation program resulted in 87 Inuit being moved 1,200 kilometres from their home in Inukjuak, a northern Quebec community, to Grise Fiord and Resolute, in what is now Nunavut.

Three other families were also moved north from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, all part of the Canadian government's plan to assert sovereignty in the Arctic during the Cold War.

Illauq said there has been a negative ripple effect on the descendants of the families who were forced to relocate.

"Even today we see it, and even with the housing crisis and the suicide rate, the food insecurity, everything. So it has greatly affected all Inuit."

It's really important to talk about what happened, and how it happened and why it happened. So, the name change is great, but it doesn't have a lot of weight if you're not going to talk about why the building name had to change.

- Aliqa Illauq, Carleton University student

She's also concerned the university isn't explaining why the building is being renamed, and that Inuit haven't been asked to share their stories about the relocation.

"It's really important to talk about what happened, and how it happened and why it happened. So, the name change is great, but it doesn't have a lot of weight if you're not going to talk about why the building name had to change."

Telling the family

In a statement to CBC, the university said the buildings are being renamed as part of the New Names for New Times initiative, and "to demonstrate the university's commitment to Indigenous reconciliation" and its stand against anti-Black racism.

The building renamings are happening in collaboration with the Algonquin Nation, Black community and Inuit.

It's uncertain when the new names will be announced.

Illauq said she wrote to the Robertson family, to let them know why renaming the building is important, and they supported the initiative.

"They were willing to connect with my story and with Inuit, and they were able to accept what had happened," she said.

"Which is a beautiful thing if you think about it."