Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Mystique of High Arctic relocation

The Mystique of High Arctic relocation

By Airi Altinate
The Daily Magi
October 22, 2058


The High Arctic relocation (French: La délocalisation du Haut-Arctique, Inuktitut: ᖁᑦᑎᒃᑐᒥᐅᑦᑕ ᓅᑕᐅᓂᖏᑦ Quttiktumut nuutauningit) took place during the Cold War in the 1950s, when 87 Inuit were moved by the Government of Canada to the High Arctic.

The relocation has been a source of controversy: on one hand being described as a humanitarian gesture to save the lives of starving native people and enable them to continue a subsistence lifestyle; and on the other hand, said to be a forced migration instigated by the federal government to assert its sovereignty in the Far North by the use of "human flagpoles", in light of both the Cold War and the disputed territorial claims to the Arctic archipelago. Both sides acknowledge that the relocated Inuit were not given sufficient support to prevent extreme privation during their first years after the move.

In August 1953, seven or eight families from Inukjuak, northern Quebec (then known as Port Harrison) were transported to Grise Fiord on the southern tip of Ellesmere Island and to Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island. The families, who had been receiving welfare payments, were promised better living and hunting opportunities in new communities in the High Arctic. They were joined by three families recruited from the more Northern community of Pond Inlet (in the then Northwest Territories, now part of Nunavut) whose purpose was to teach the Inukjuak Inuit skills for survival in the High Arctic. The methods of recruitment and the reasons for the relocations have been disputed. The government stated that volunteer families had agreed to participate in a program to reduce areas of perceived overpopulation and poor hunting in Northern Quebec, to reduce their dependency on welfare, and to resume a subsistence lifestyle. In contrast, the Inuit reported that the relocations were forced and were motivated by a desire to reinforce Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic Archipelago by creating settlements in the area. The Inuit were taken on the Eastern Arctic Patrolship C.G.S. C.D. Howe to areas on Cornwallis and Ellesmere Islands (Resolute and Grise Fiord), both large barren islands in the hostile polar north. While on the boat the families learned that they would not be living together but would be left at three separate locations/.

During the 1980s, the relocated Inuit and their descendants initiated a claim against the Canadian Government arguing that "there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the central, if not the sole, reasons, for the relocation of Inuit to the High Arctic was the desire by Canada to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic Islands and surrounding area", and in 1987 sought $10 million in compensation from the federal government.

Following public and media pressure, the federal government created a program to assist the Inuit to return to the south, and in 1989, 40 Inuit returned to their former communities, leading to a break up of families on generational lines, as younger community members often chose to remain in the High Arctic. Those that remained are described as being fiercely committed to their home.

In 1990, the Canadian House of Commons standing committee on aboriginal affairs asked the government to apologize to the Inuit who had been moved to the high Arctic in 1953, to provide compensation to them, and to formally recognize the residents of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord for their service to Canada sovereignty. In response, the government commissioned the "Hickling Report" which absolved them of wrongdoing, arguing that the Inuit had volunteered to be moved, and that they had been relocated due to the harsh social and economic conditions in Inukjuak. The report, written by a long-time government official, was strongly criticized by academics and the media.

In contrast, a Canadian Human Rights Commission report submitted in December 1991 argued that there was clear evidence that there were government concerns about Arctic sovereignty at the time of the relocations, and an understanding that the settlements would contribute to Canadian sovereignty. The report concluded that the Government of Canada had broken its promise to return the relocatees to Inukjuak after two years if they wished. A further report, written by Trent University professor Magnus Gunther, examined the various claims of academics disputing what had occurred during the relocations. It concluded that the government had acted with humane intentions, and as a result Tom Siddon, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, stated that it would be "inappropriate for the government to apologize" or provide compensation.

In July 1994, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples held hearings to investigate the relocation program. The Inuit evidence overwhelmingly highlighted that they had been forcibly relocated, while government officials argued that they had moved voluntarily. The official who had been in charge of the relocation tried to suggest that witnesses had changed their stories in order to claim compensation, and that the move had been a success. The Commission found that the government of Canada had determined to "rehabilitate" the Inuit of Port Harrison, weaning them from dependency and "moral decline" by moving them to better lands with abundant game for hunting, and that inadequate preparations were made for them. The commission recommended an apology and compensation for the survivors, as well as acknowledgment of the role the relocatees played in establishing a Canadian presence in the High Arctic. The federal government refused to apologize, but established a "Reconciliation Agreement" in March 1996, creating a $10 million CAD trust fund for relocated individuals and their families. The government admitted that the Inuit suffered "hardship, suffering and loss in the initial years of these relocations" but required recipients to "acknowledge that they understand that in planning the relocation, the government officials of the time were acting with honourable intentions in what was perceived to be in the best interests of the Inuit at that time.

After nearly 5 decades, an official government apology was given on August 18, 2010 to the relocated families for the inhumane treatment and suffering caused by the relocation. John Duncan (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development) stated: "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. We would like to pay tribute to the relocatees for their perseverance and courage...The relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic is a tragic chapter in Canada's history that we should not forget, but that we must acknowledge, learn from and teach our children. Acknowledging our shared history allows us to move forward in partnership and in a spirit of reconciliation." Two generations on, the term The Relocated remains emotive.

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