Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 06, 2018 - 8:00 am

Belated apology, settlement on the way for relocated Ahiarmiut Inuit

"I am confident that the wrongs done to my people will finally be addressed by the federal government"

This photo by Geert van Steenhoven shows Ennadai Lake in 1955, with the tents of some of the Ahiarmiut who called the area home. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ITK)
This photo by Geert van Steenhoven shows Ennadai Lake in 1955, with the tents of some of the Ahiarmiut who called the area home. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ITK)
Women and children at Ennadai Lake, 1955. The three women (left to right) are Mary Anowtalik, Elizabeth Nutaraluk, and Ookanak. The child on the right could be Tom Owlajoot. (PHOTO BY GEERT VAN STEENHOVEN)
Women and children at Ennadai Lake, 1955. The three women (left to right) are Mary Anowtalik, Elizabeth Nutaraluk, and Ookanak. The child on the right could be Tom Owlajoot. (PHOTO BY GEERT VAN STEENHOVEN)

(Updated at 10:50 a.m.)

The descendants of the inland Ahiarmiut Inuit, whose original homeland now lies within Nunavut’s Kivalliq region, may soon receive compensation and an apology from Ottawa for the relocations they endured in the 1940s and 1950s.

Through its special claims process, the federal government has finally given a settlement mandate to a team from the Ahiarmiut Relocation Society, five years after its claim was filed.

The parties are now in a position to attempt to settle the long-outstanding claims, the group’s lawyer, Steve Cooper, announced Monday in a news release.

They’re hoping to settle the claim later this year, Cooper told Nunatsiaq News.

This will include an honourable settlement of the claims, involving compensation, commemoration and an apology that the group hopes will come from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself.

“There were many times when I thought of giving up, but the ancestors pushed me on,” said David Serkoak in the news release. In 1998, he created the Ennadai Lake Society—now the Ahiarmiut Relocation Society—to represent the interests and claims of the Ahiarmiut group.

“I know we have work to do, but I am confident that the wrongs done to my people will finally be addressed by the federal government. I only regret that so many of them will not be around to see the conclusion of this struggle.”

In 2007, the group retained Cooper—currently of Cooper Regel, a member of Masuch Law—to provide ongoing legal advice and start a claim against Ottawa.

The claim sought recognition of the harms caused by the multiple relocations, as well as compensation and an apology. The litigation was diverted to a special claims process established by the federal government to deal with historical wrongs involving Indigenous Canadians.

“I have watched and participated in many significant claims by Indigenous people against governments across Canada come and go. I share the Ahiarmiut’s frustration with the fact that their relatively modest and obvious claims were not being resolved,” Cooper said.

“I am happy that it’s finally the Ahiarmiut’s turn and we are hopeful for a timely and just resolution of this historic claim. It’s long overdue.”

Canadian government officials justified the Ahiarmiut’s relocations by saying they feared the Inuit were growing too dependent on the staff at the Ennadai Lake weather station. They also said they believed the new locations would offer better hunting opportunities. They were terribly mistaken about this, given the hardships and starvations that followed.

In 1958, Canada’s Department of Indian and Northern Affairs touted the relocations in a news release titled, “Eskimos fly to new hunting grounds,” which compared the Ahiarmiut to other relocated Inuit, who would become known as the High Arctic exiles.

“This is not the first time that Eskimo hunters and their families have volunteered to leave their home because game was scarce,” the release stated. “For the same reason, Eskimos from the east coast of Hudson Bay were moved to Cornwallis and Ellesmere islands in 1953. If the success of these earlier settlers is any guide, the Ennadai Eskimos can hope to find relative prosperity in their new surroundings.”

Ahiarmiut have disputed that the relocations were voluntary, saying they had little choice in the matter.

The Ahiarmiut endured multiple relocations, from Ennadai Lake to Nueltin Lake, from Ennadai Lake to Henik Lake, and from Henik Lake to Arviat about 400 kilometres east of Ennadai Lake.

The relocations to Nueltin Lake and Henik Lake both proved complete failures, says a paper called “Relocating the Ahiarmiut from Ennadai Lake to Arviat (1950-1958),” by Frédéric Laugrand, Jarich Oosten and Serkoak, presented at the Inuit studies conference in 2006.

The Ahiarmiut maintained that Ennadai Lake was an excellent hunting area and failed to understand why they were relocated, the authors noted.

Elder Job Muqyunnik called the first relocation “the saddest time of my life.”

“It was around May in 1949. Qallunaat came to the weather station there at Ennadai Lake,” he said in 2005. “They had a large vehicle up there. This bulldozer came to our tent.

“The driver told us to leave our tent so we went out. He went back to his vehicle and drove over our tent, back and forth. He broke everything we had. He drove over them and destroyed everything. That was the hardest time of my life because we didn’t have anything to survive with anymore.”

These dreadful memories are also discussed in books, including Tammarniit (Mistakes): Inuit relocation in the Eastern Arctic 1939-63 by Frank Tester, as well as Farley Mowat’s fictionalized tales People of the Deer and the Desperate People, which drew widespread attention to the plight of the Ahiarmiut.

Their story also received sensationalized treatment in a 1956 Life magazine cover story, and has been documented in films.

Elisapee Karetak was the youngest of the Ahiarmiut who were relocated, and her story is one of the best-known. It’s told in a 2001 film by Ole Gjerstad, which you can watch online here.

Karetak was only an infant carried on the back of her mother, Kikkik, who during the winter of 1958 killed her husband’s murderer, and was then forced to abandon two of her children as she trekked across the Barrens to seek help at Padlei for her starving family.

The Ahiarmiut continued to be bumped around: from Arviat, then known as Eskimo Point, they were moved by ship first to Whale Cove and a few months later to Rankin Inlet, with many settling finally in Arviat.

“As child you’re either cold or hungry. As a parent you know you’re cold and hungry, but you also know that everyone is depending on you, and they felt entirely powerless,” Cooper told Nunatsiaq News in 2013.

Of the roughly 20 surviving members of the Ahiarmiut group, only one remaining elder in Arviat, Mary Anowtalik, can now remember being relocated.

In August 2013, she went back to visit the weather station with her son Paul E. Anowtalik. That’s where Ahiarmiut now hope to see a memorial eventually set up.

  Relocating the Ahiarmiut from Ennadai Lake to Arviat (1950-1958) by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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(19) Comments:

#1. Posted by Shelton Nipisar on June 06, 2018

I just wish that my late biological grandparents and my relatives were here to witness this

#2. Posted by Aliva Tulugak on June 06, 2018

This saga even touched the Puvirnitumiut when the families of Tamusi Qumak Novalinga and Daniel Suluksu Qumaluk were sent to Rankin Inlet to help the relocates adjust to living off the sea. I hope they have a closure on this.

#3. Posted by Half the story on June 06, 2018

So what is the other side of the story?  Why were these folks relocated?  It wouldn’t have been random. 

Activists are feeding us only their chosen narratives on these issues, and it has become taboo to ask for the full story, and newspapers have lost their curiosity and desire to seek and inform the public of the real and full truth.

#4. Posted by Full story on June 06, 2018

I don’t know the area that well, but I get the full story reading this, I think some don’t like how it sounds and start asking for another version.

Happy for these folks, hopefully it gives some closure for them and help move on.

#5. Posted by Inuk on June 06, 2018

If I recall correctly, the government claimed the caribou population had a steep decline however the migration took a different route so they thought the Inuit were over-killing the caribou and the caribou management method was to relocate Inuit from the areas.

#6. Posted by Ole Gjerstad on June 06, 2018

Half the story and everyone else, our film Kikkik, which is linked in the article, will give you some pretty good answers. The Ottawa authors of the relocation, Gordon Robertson and R.A. J. Phillips, try to explain it.  The story is simply a classic illustration of Canadian “well-meaning” colonialism with fatal consequences for Inuit and other Indigenous people.

#7. Posted by The half of the story that matters on June 06, 2018

@ # 3

Even if it wasn’t random, it matters more what the people endured from the forced relocation. But if you want the whole story, read the link provided in the article. It gives a very good explanation of the events that happened, including letters between Federal ministers/deputy ministers

#8. Posted by uvaga on June 06, 2018

I heard they were starving some even dying.

#9. Posted by uvaga on June 06, 2018

oh and 1 old lady from Arviat unikarq that a man ate another man too hungry.

#10. Posted by Colonialism on June 07, 2018

Oh how we made so very many mistakes dealing with the Inuit!  We sure did.
How in the hel* could a bunch of civil servants decide where a good hunting area was? 
How could they be so cruel as to run over everything they owned with heavy equipment while alledgedly “helping them”?
I know some fellow white people will do their usual defense and take issue with this heartless behaviour; they always do, but God Almighty, they will have a tough time with this one, for sure.

#11. Posted by When We Practice To Deceive on June 07, 2018

The clueless servants of the people who did this were all over the North.
Many stories exist from Elders about having their tents, shacks and sod houses mowed down so they could not live in them anymore.
Where else in this country could that happen?
Sanctimonious civil servants who thought they knew better.
What ever happened to human rights or were Inuit not included?
This is what WE did when we tread so roughly up here in a culture we used for our own purposes.

#12. Posted by uvaga on June 07, 2018

my great grandpa who was white got kicked out and just left alone in the cold, no food, no clothing, no supplies, he had many inuk kids, survive by his wife and kids, he was taught to be an agakkuk, he was in wager bay, wonder if they can say sorry to him and give him money?

#13. Posted by Toonik's Grandpa on June 07, 2018

#12. Do something about it, if you care.

#14. Posted by White Guilt on June 07, 2018

What is it about most white people that go on here to all but deny what went on up here, before they personally arrived?
It WAS this bad.  We cannot ignore what was done to Inuit people.
Their dogs were slaughtered so they could not leave where they were senselessly moved to.  Sound good?
Once we do acknowledge these wrongs, we will all get along much better. 
You cannot live in seemingly blissful ignorance, putting a whole group of people down for how they are, before educating yourself on what happened to them.

#15. Posted by uvaga on June 08, 2018

learn to pray and forgive, let luck come your way, anger builds more, listen to the good news, white, red, brown people are all treated same, some are good, bad, some are spoiled, some are treated bad, let the Lord judge, we people are not to judge.

#16. Posted by Randy on June 09, 2018

💔💔 soo touching me!!😢 My great gradma Elizabeth would’ve soo proud of us!❤️

#17. Posted by Do tell ? ( Rankin Inlet ) on June 10, 2018

# 14,
So some white people tell lies? So do a lot of Inuit
  If a white person did write about the sexual abuse of small Inuit
children, and terrible treatment by their own families, other Inuit and
priests would call them liars.
  I think you are the liar.
Many Inuit people starved their own dogs so they could stay in town
and get free grub, or we’re getting a skidoo.
Two sides to every story.

#18. Posted by Old Eskimo (Brampton, Ontario ) on June 11, 2018

I remember this, we were starving and had no possessions.
Thank god the white man saved me and my mother, some Inuit people
stole our stuff, and if we did not meet those white policemen we would
have died.
  I went South with my mother a few years later.

#19. Posted by All the people ( west Nunavut ) on June 11, 2018

So people are being compensated for moving into settlements from
the land ?
When will I receive my share?
I have been asking this since 1999, when Nunavut was formed.
Nothing so far.

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