Not any more

Government apologizes to 19 Inuit families

In Canada on August 18, 2010 at 21:30

The Canadian government apologized Wednesday for "broken promises" made to Inuit families for uprooting groups from their homes in Inukjuak, in northern Quebec, and Pond Inlet, Nunavut to colder regions in the High Arctic in the 1950s.

Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan apologized on behalf of all Canadians for the "hardship, suffering and loss they experienced as a result of the relocation." He said it was a "dark chapter" of Canadian history the government "deeply regrets."

"We’re apologizing for promises that were made and not kept," Duncan said. "They were promised they were going to a more abundant place, they were promised they’d remain in one community, they were promised they could leave and return to their home communities. Those were significant promises.

"We sincerely hope this apology will help to heal the wounds."

Duncan said translators helped him speak to the Inuit in Inukjuak, who accepted the apology.

The federal government suggested the move would help the Inuit, who were having trouble surviving and hunting in northern Quebec, where they had thrived for hundreds of years.

In the 1950s, 19 Inuit families from Inukjuak were relocated by the federal government to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, in what is now Nunavut. Another three families were asked to move from Pond Inlet to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord because they were familiar with conditions in the region and could help the Inuit develop skills for traditional harvesting in that environment. A total of 87 people were forced to move. Of those 87, 34 are still alive.

The decision to move the Inuit is often described as a government attempt to assert Canada’s sovereignty in the uninhabited Arctic, but Duncan insisted there is "no way to determine" what motivated officials at the time.

He noted, however, the Inuit communities played a key role in Canada’s claiming of the region and persevered against hardships to form "vibrant communities."

The relocated families faced an entirely new environment they were not warned about when they were forced from their "lush tundra" to the Arctic desert 1,200 kilometres away. They had to adapt to constant darkness in the winter and a rough terrain and climate, the government conceded.

Temperatures were, on average, 20 C colder than in their home community. The Inuit were told they’d have caribou and other animals to hunt, but many struggled for food.

The families spent their first winter in the High Arctic in flimsy tents with limited food and supplies because of unorganized planning, the government admitted, and many people didn’t survive the cold weather.

Officials had promised the families they could move back to Inukjuak if they were not happy with their new homes, but the promise was not kept.

The Inukjuak apology is the first in a series of events taking place this year in the North to commemorate the sacrifices made by those relocated to the High Arctic, a news release stated.

Next month, Duncan will unveil stone monuments created by Inuit sculptors in the communities affected by the forced relocation.

In 1996, Ottawa set up a special $10-million fund for the families of the relocated Inuit.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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