Inuit Mourn Loss of Two Remarkable Northerners: Bishop John Sperry and Professor Robert Williamson
Ottawa, Ontario – February 14, 2012 – National Inuit Leader Mary Simon President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami observed the passing of two remarkable Northerners today. Arctic scholar Robert Williamson died Sunday at the age of 80. Retired Anglican Bishop John R. Sperry died Saturday at the age of 87. Both men received the Order of Canada.
“Inuit have lost two men who gave their adult lives to help Inuit advance in a multitude of ways,” said Mary Simon. “They were both skilled in the Inuit language. Bishop Sperry mastered Inuinnaqtun, while Professor Williamson spoke Inuktitut. The Bishop gave Inuit the Bible translated into our language, while Bob Williamson founded Inuktitut Magazine, which ITK still publishes today.”Both men immigrated to Canada from England, went North, and devoted their entire adult careers to helping Inuit. They worked in the Arctic during a time when today’s comforts did not exist. Getting to the Arctic took days of rugged air travel, and travel to visit Inuit, during the winter was by dog team.
Bishop Sperry attended to Inuit in family camps before Inuit settled into communities. Before organized health care arrived in the Arctic a Bishop’s duties included providing dental and medical care. He settled in Kugluktuk and will be remembered by Inuit with great fondness.
Professor Williamson worked for ITK when it was the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, as well as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), and the CBC Northern Service. He was professor of Anthropology at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of Northern Studies from 1964-1999.
“I recall Professor Williamson’s testimony at the special hearings on the High Arctic Exiles held by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1992,” said Mary Simon. “In the space of a few minutes he was able to communicate the true scope of the fundamental injustice inflicted on Inuit who were relocated to the High Arctic in the 1950s. His words spoke volumes. 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.”
Director of Communications
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami