Web doc sheds light on Inuit relocation in Arctic Canada

The relocation of Inuit from northern Quebec to Canada’s High Arctic in the 1950s is one of the darkest episodes in the history of Canada’s North.

Sadly, few Canadians are even aware of the story.

But a new documentary website has been launched this month to try to change that.

Called, Iqqaumavara (“I remember” in Inuttitut), the project is a co-production from the National Film Board of Canada and Makivik Corporation, the Inuit land-claims organization in the Canadian province of Quebec.

To find out more, Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn spoke to filmmaker Marquise Lepage:

Wretched conditions

In all, the Canadian government relocated 19 Inuit families from northern Quebec. The families were told the move would provide them with better hunting and living conditions.

Three Inuit families from the High Arctic community of Pond Inlet where recruited on the way with the idea that they would teach the Quebec Inuit how to adapt and hunt in the remote Arctic environment.

But once the families arrived in what is now Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay in the eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, conditions were difficult and they endured sickness and hunger. Though the government had told the Inuit they could return to Quebec if they were not happy, this was not honoured at the time.

‘Like a death planet’

“It was a long way in the ship,” says Alacee Nungaq of the trip to Resolute Bay in one of Iqqaumavara’s  feature interviews. “A very long, long time in the ship. Then we arrived to that awful place. We were so fightened. There was nothing. Nothing but nothing. It was already pretty cold. We got water from the ice. I couldn’t comprehend how we would ever eat. There was nothing. No food resrouce. Nothing.”

Markoosie Patsauq was 12 years-old when he and his family were relocated from Inukjuak, Quebec.

“It was like a death planet,” says Markoosie Patsauq on arriving in Resolute in 1953 in another of Iqqaumavara’s  feature profiles

Map indicating where Inuit were relocated to in the 1950s. (Government of Canada)
Map indicating where Inuit were relocated to in the 1950s. (Government of Canada)

Years later, the families contest the real reason for their relocation was to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

Marquise Lepage, a filmmaker, and Martha Flaherty, whose family was one of the relocated, got the idea for the Iqqaumavara after working together on the 2008 documentary Martha of the North, which told her story of the relocation.

The  Iqqaumavara website includes 40 feature interviews, short films, photos and archival documents.

The government of Canada issued a formal apology to Inuit for the relocation in 2010.

Watch the trailer for Iqqaumavara:

Related links from around the Arctic:

Canada: Inuit leaders blast EU seal ban as appeal underway in Geneva, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland’s Arctic languages under threat as Sami move south, Yle News

Sweden: Indigenous Saami reindeer herders driven away from mining conference, Radio Sweden

United States:  Salmon run’s survival trumps religious rights of Alaska Native fishermen: judge, Alaska Dispatch

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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