Hon. Dennis Patterson – Senator for Nunavut
Two dear friends of the north and the Inuit passed away this past weekend. They were both in their 80s and both had long histories in the North.
Retired Bishop John Sperry and Bob Williamson gave their lives to help Inuit in a multitude of ways. As Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said, in a tribute to both men this past week:
“They were both skilled in the Inuit language. Bishop Sperry mastered Inuinnaqtun while Professor Williamson spoke Inuktitut. The Bishop gave Inuit the Bilble translated into our language, while Bob Williamson founded Inuktitut magazine, which ITK still publishes today.”
Bishop Sperry served in the Royal Navy on destroyers and escorts in the second war, was Bishop of the Arctic from 1973 to 1990. He served in Coppermine, now Kugluktuk, where his many services to Inuit included pulling teeth. Bishop Sperry wrote “Igloo Dwellers Were My Church”, a memoir of his over 60 years in the north.
Professor Williamson taught at the University of Saskatchewan, where he helped create the Institute of Northern Studies and the Arctic Research and Training Centre and he also worked for the federal department of Northern Affairs, where he established their Eskimology section. He first lived in Pangnirtung, then Rankin Inlet.
Dr. Williamson, an anthroplologist, teacher and advocate, vigorously represented the Keewatin for two terms between 1966 and 1970 as an elected member of the Northwest Territories territorial council. He was fondly known to the Inuit as Quniguapik or Bobbyaluk. A lake in Rankin Inlet bears his name.
Tributes have been pouring in for both these beloved men. Canon Mike Gardener said, of Bishop Sperry: “He had an amazing knowledge of life in the North and was always available with his uplifting advice, humour and prayer. He truly loved and knew the people of the north.”
Both men who I was privileged to know were honoured with the Order of Canada.
As Mary Simon said: “Both men will be greatly missed, but their contributions will live on, and Inuit, who still live by oral culture, will pass on stories about Jack and Bob for years to come.”