On behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, we would like to offer a full and sincere apology to Inuit for the relocation of families from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay during the 1950s.
We would like to express our deepest sorrow for the extreme hardship and suffering caused by the relocation. The families were separated from their home communities and extended families by more than a thousand kilometres. They were not provided with adequate shelter and supplies. They were not properly informed of how far away and how different from Inukjuak their new homes would be, and they were not aware that they would be separated into two communities once they arrived in the High Arctic. Moreover, the Government failed to act on its promise to return anyone that did not wish to stay in the High Arctic to their old homes.
Relocations of indigenous peoples and even of whole communities within Canada, has been a shockingly frequent event since Contact. In fact, much of the history since Contact has involved relocations of one kind or another. As the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples Report points out, the justification for these frequent relocations was often “this is for their own good”. Yet the RCAP goes on to explain that there are predictable results when relocation is carried out, including:
• severing Aboriginal people’s relationship to the land and environment and weakening cultural bonds;
•a loss of economic self-sufficiency, including in some cases increased dependence on government transfer payments;
• a decline in standards of health; and
• changes in social and political relations in the relocated population.
The results of more than 25 studies around the world indicate without exception that the relocation, without informed consent, of low-income rural populations with strong ties to their land and homes is a traumatic experience. For the majority of those who have been moved, the profound shock of compulsory relocation is much like the bereavement caused by the death of a parent, spouse or child.
Perhaps the blackest eye of all
You may not be familiar with Nunavik. I wasn’t until I moved to Quebec. I kept hearing it as Nunavut for some reason. I am mostly unfamiliar with the eastern Arctic, as I spent my time in the Beaufort Delta and the mixture there was Gwich’in (Dene) and Inuvialuit (Inuit). I am often told that the eastern Arctic differs considerably in many ways. Slowly, I am beginning to discover this for myself.
Nunavik is actually more southern than Inuvik, where I lived for a time. Not all Inuit then are accustomed to 20 minutes of dim sunlight a day during the deepest parts of winter, when the sun merely hovers above the horizon sullenly before sinking back into a long slumber. Nor are all Inuit accustomed to the disorentation caused by 24 hour sunlight in the middle of summer, when you wake up at 3:00 and have no way of knowing if that’s pm or am.
It is easy then to imagine the despair one would experience being suddenly dropped into such a different and hostile environment. Even the sanitised, official version of what this was like for the families who were relocated nearly a thousand kilometres north, reads like a horror novel.
At the same time, massive changes were happening throughout the Qikiqtani (Baffin) Region. Understanding the High Arctic relocation in this wider context is very eye-opening. The Qikiqtani Truth Commission held public hearings and gathered testimony and evidence over a period of three years, releasing a final report in October of 2010, and is an excellent place to get that context. (By the way, if you do wish to read that Report, Qallunaat means non-Inuit people.)
This Report is not just a historical tale, or a series of personal accounts, it is also a fascinating glimpse into the concerns and aspirations of Inuit peoples. The Qikiqtani Truth Commission offers numerous recommendations, and makes it clear that there is a desire for saimaqatigiingniq, described as a reconciliation between equals. Another excellent resource is the publication The Inuit Way produced by the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
There is much which must be reconciled. What the relocated families endured cannot be undone. I will leave these links here for you to explore rather than explicitly delving into the stories. Those experiences however, took place in a larger context of change, relocation and cultural upheaval.
If you are specifically interested in the High Arctic relocation, you can watch Zacharias Kunuk’s excellent documentary, titled “Exile” here on Isuma TV. It is offered to you freely. Another film, “Martha of the North” by Marquise LePage is available for online viewing through the NFB for only $4.95. (I absolutely love how accessible these kinds of resources are becoming, for serious.)