Native Village
Youth and Education news
September 2010 Volume 1

An apology for the Inuit five decades in the making
Condensed by Native Village

Quebec: The sobbing didn’t begin until they read the names of the dead.

The group of Inuit residents had gathered in a small Inukjuak gymnasium to listen to John Duncan, Canada's Indian Affairs Minister.  In the 1930s - 50s, Inuit families were uprooted from their traditional homes, then shipped to remote reaches of the Arctic. Duncan was here to offer a formal apology.

“The government of Canada deeply regrets the mistakes and broken promises of this dark chapter of our history and apologizes for the High Arctic relocation having taken place,” he told them.

Residents from two relocation communities, Griese Fiord and Resolute Bay, politely applauded his apology, but then began crying when Phoebe Atagootaaluk Aculiak stood up and recited the names of those who had died in the relocation.

For hundreds of years, Inuit have lived in and around the small community of Inukjuak – the site of the 1922 film,  Nanook of the North.  It was from here that the RCMP persuaded Inuit families to board ships for a long journey north to new lives in Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord.

The Inuit faced terrible hardships after the move. Ottawa did not provide housing, leaving them to endure frigid winters in Igloos and tents made of muskox hide.  And while their homelands had been  stocked with caribou and other game, the Inuit struggled to find food in the new locations. Many did not survive the punishing winters.

The government then broke their promise to allow the Inuit to return to their homelands

“They were practically prisoners in their own community,” recalls John Amagoalik, who was 5 years old when his family was shipped to Resolute Bay in 1953.  “It was just the most desolate place on earth,”

Canada had claimed the moves had humane intentions and were done with the consent of the Inuit, who hoped to improve their economic conditions. 

Others say the Inuit were moved so the government could claim the Arctic Islands as their own.

The truth about the relocation policy came to light in the early 1990s during hearings by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. They found documents from the 1930s that prove mineral claims in the High Arctic were part of the relocation discussion.

They also found a federal press release issued at the time:

In addition to placing the Eskimos in new regions where game is more abundant and work more regular, there is the angle of occupation of the country. To forestall any such future claims, the Dominion is occupying the Arctic island to within nearly 700 miles of the North Pole.”

The royal commission ultimately recommended that Ottawa apologize and compensate Inuit affected by relocation.

“All of the relocatees communicate a deep sense of hurt and loss as a result of the relocation,” the commission’s report stated.

Mr. Duncan said that Ottawa has “no way to determine” the true reasons for the relocation. He also stressed that the Inuit communities today play a key role in Canada’s claims of sovereignty in the Far North.

Inuit leader Mary Simon agreed, but said Canada needs to do more than military exercises in the Arctic to assert sovereignty.

“They shouldn’t only worry about armies, they should also worry about communities,” she said, listing the need for better education and health-care services.

Mr. Duncan plans to visit Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord this month to unveil monuments in honour of the relocated Inuit.

Forced relocations in the North

1934 Cape Dorset, Baffin Island Dundas Harbour, Devon Island 29 people
1949 Central Keewatin - Ennadai Lake, NU Nueltin Lake, NU Unknown
1951-52 Western Arctic region Banks Island 15 families
1951-52 Inukjuak (Port Harrison), Que. King George Islands
Sleeper Islands
Unknown, but 59 people were later moved to Henrik Lake, NU
1953 Kuujjuaq (Fort Chimo), Que. Churchill, Man. Unknown, some families
1953 Inukjuak (Port Harrison), Que. Pond Inlet, Baffin Island Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq), Cornwallis Island 54 people in 10 families (32 to Grise Fiord, 22 to Resolute Bay)
1955 Inukjuak (Port Harrison), Que. Pond Inlet, Baffin Island Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq), Cornwallis Island 38 people (6 families)
1956 Nutak, Nfld. Nain, Nfld. North West River, Nfld. 200 people (38 families)
1957 Nueltin Lake, NU Henrik Lake, NU 59 people (those moved in 1951-52 are moved again)
1959 Hebron, Nfld. Nain, Nfld Makkovik, Nfld. North West River, Nfld. 300 people (58 families)
1959 Itivia, NU Whale Cove, NU Whale Cove, NU A few families

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