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Fighting for Inuk rights

Ward to sue federal government

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 04/00) - David Charles Ward of Edmonton is preparing for the fight of his life: a lawsuit against the federal government.

Ward, born in Chesterfield Inlet, accuses Ottawa of discriminating against Inuit.

He's not afraid of the fight.

As a young child he was beaten by his stepfather, who married his mother and took her and two of her children away from their home in Chesterfield Inlet wanted them to deny their Inuit blood.

As he got a little older and kids in the schoolyard learned of his heritage, he was forced to turn his small hands into fists once again.

Eventually he tired of hiding out in fields with his dog, searching for some sense of who he was, and he turned his years of defending himself into a career as a professional boxer.

"To get out of this racial thing, I trained extremely hard. I was no longer a confused Inuk kid. I was a boxer. I was an athlete. That's all I was for a very long time," said Ward.

Many careers drew his attention over the next several years, but it wasn't until he was well into his 40s that he became a lawyer.

Off to court

Now 64, Ward, born under the name Kiviaq, lives in Edmonton, and believes the government denies Inuit the same rights they give to First Nations people under the Indian Act.

While it's not exactly a model piece of legislation, Ward said at least the Indian Act provides access to different benefits, including medical care, housing and education. He said similar benefits were denied Inuit who resided outside the land claims areas.

"There's an Indian Act. There is no Inuit Act. Give us an Inuit Act so we have the same rights and benefits the Indians have. It's as simple as that," said Ward. "The only way Inuit can do anything is if we're residents of Nunavut or the Inuvialuit (Settlement Area).

"I'm doing this so we know what tools we have to work with to improve ourselves and get into this modern society."

The lawyer's lawyer

Ward's lawyer, Dale Gibson said the government took responsibility for Inuit in 1939, but then later amended the Indian Act to exclude Inuit. He believes the federal government thought it would be easier to assimilate Inuit into southern culture than it would be to provide for them in the same manner as First Nations people.

While the settlement of the Nunavut land claim was an important step forward, it doesn't do anything for Inuit residing outside of Nunavut. The pair are fighting to have that changed.

"We're trying to get a simple declaration from the court that there is discriminatory treatment. Our hope is that if the court confirms that there is discriminatory treatment, it will be possible to put enough political pressure on the government to have things worked out," said Gibson.

In Iqaluit late last month drumming up support and conducting research, Gibson said he needed to file a report with the Court Challenges program by Dec. 11.

Established by the government to provide funding for legal cases involving equality under the Charter of Rights, the Court Challenges program has already given the pair $10,000 to build their case. If their next proposal is approved, they'll receive additional funding and be able to file a statement of claim by the spring.

It will likely take three to four years before any sort of ruling is made.