Special Const. Johnny Karetak leaves 'lasting legacy' in Arviat, his beloved community
People in Arviat have more respect for RCMP 'because of Johnny,' says community's mayor
Priscilla Hwang · CBC News · Posted: Jun 24, 2017 6:00 AM CT | Last Updated: June 24, 2017
Nellie Kusugak says her home in Arviat, Nunavut, was like a "safe shelter" growing up.
"In the morning sometimes, you'd wake up with someone else in the house," said Kusugak, now the commissioner of Nunavut.
"Or during the night, you'd be woken up to move to another bed [to] go sleep with your sister because someone needed your bed."
That was thanks to the generosity of her late father, Johnny Karetak, who passed away earlier this month.
"He always watched out for the very vulnerable," said Kusugak.
She calls him a "true gentleman," "unconditional lover," and a man "full of integrity."
There'd be chaos and my father would just walk in, and everything would stop.- Nellie Kusugak
Karetak passed away on "an absolutely beautiful, beautiful" Saturday — June 13, 2017.
He was 87 years old.
Karetak leaves behind his wife, Rhoda Akpaliapik Karetak, eight children, 37 grandchildren, 67 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.
Adoption and acceptance
Karetak was born in St. John's, N.L., on May 12, 1930.
His biological father, now buried in Inukjuak, Que., was a worker for the Hudson's Bay Company; he got sick and passed away en route to the North.
"His biological father did not want to have such a hardship with three little children," said Kusugak. "He thought it was best that his wife give up my father to my grandmother Nellie."
So at three months old, Karetak was adopted by a family friend in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut.
At the age of three, his family moved to Arviat — and has lived there ever since.
"He's always appreciated and thanked the people of Arviat for accepting him and making him a part of this community," said Kusugak.
"People ask me if he was a real Inuk or not. I just always said, 'Of course he is!'
"His biological father is half Inuk ...There's some Inuk in him somewhere," said Kusugak, chuckling.
'Lasting legacy' through RCMP
Karetak was perhaps best known around the community for his service as a special constable.
The part-time officers played an integral role for RCMP across the North: guiding patrols, acting as interpreters, hunting for food, and helping out at the detachment.
Both Karetak's father and his older brother were special constables too.
At the age of 16, Karetak began helping them with their work. He officially became a special constable in 1957, serving with the RCMP for 25 years.
"I was told before that there'd be chaos and my father would just walk in, and everything would stop. He had that kind of a presence," said Kusugak.
"He had great respect for even the people that he was picking up to arrest," she said. "There was great respect for him."
"I think because of Johnny, it's been said that people here still to this day, have perhaps more of a respect for the RCMP than is common throughout the North," said Arviat's Mayor Bob Leonard, who calls Karetak a friend.
"The lasting legacy really is the respect we have for each other in this community, the way people get along so well," said Leonard.
"I think he was a big contributor to that kind of attitude."
Throughout all the years of serving his community and his big family, Kusugak says it seemed like her father never got tired.
"He just worked all the time and he never, ever napped," she recalled. "I never heard him complain … [So] one of the things I seldom ever say is 'I'm tired.'"
One of Kusugak's favourite memories of her father is watching him surrounded by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"He absolutely loved it," said Kusugak.
She said it will be especially hard for her mother, Rhoda Karetak.
"My father served her coffee every single morning until he couldn't do it anymore. Whether my mother drank it or not was besides the point," said Kusugak.
She said she's grateful for all those who took time to be with her father in his last days, and those who reached out to the family.
"Words aren't enough to express our gratitude," she said.