Nunatsiaq News
FEATURES: Around the Arctic November 07, 2018 - 3:30 pm

Exile in childhood: one man’s memoir — Part 1

A homesick grandmother never comes home

SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
This map shows the long voyage that the C.D. Howe took in the summer and early fall of 1953, when the government vessel carried the first group of High Arctic exiles from Inukjuak to Cornwallis Island and Ellesmere Island. (ROYAL COMMISSION ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES)
This map shows the long voyage that the C.D. Howe took in the summer and early fall of 1953, when the government vessel carried the first group of High Arctic exiles from Inukjuak to Cornwallis Island and Ellesmere Island. (ROYAL COMMISSION ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES)
Through Nunavut Sivuniksavut’s Project Naming program, the woman playing the concertina in this archival photograph has been identified as Edith Patsauq, Markoosie Patsauq’s mother, who in 1953 was relocated with her family to Resolute Bay. It’s part of a series of government photos taken during Governor General Vincent Massey’s 1956 visit to Resolute Bay, part of a northern tour in March of that year. (LIBRARY AND PUBLIC ARCHIVES CANADA)
Through Nunavut Sivuniksavut’s Project Naming program, the woman playing the concertina in this archival photograph has been identified as Edith Patsauq, Markoosie Patsauq’s mother, who in 1953 was relocated with her family to Resolute Bay. It’s part of a series of government photos taken during Governor General Vincent Massey’s 1956 visit to Resolute Bay, part of a northern tour in March of that year. (LIBRARY AND PUBLIC ARCHIVES CANADA)

MARKOOSIE PATSAUQ

In 1953 and 1955, the federal government relocated more than 90 Inuit from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet to Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island and to Craig Harbour on Ellesmere Island. Between 1956 and 1962, the families at Craig Harbour moved about 40 miles west to to Grise Fiord.

Markoosie Patsauq of Inukjuak, now aged 77, along with his father, mother, sister and three brothers, was relocated to Resolute Bay in 1953.

In this four-part series submitted to Nunatsiaq News, Patsauq recalls the suffering that he and his fellow Inuit endured during the early years of the infamous High Arctic relocations.

It was on July 28, 1953, that our long and sometimes nightmarish period of exile in the High Arctic began, the day that we shall remember to our dying days.

On that day in Inukjuak, we shook hands with our relatives for the last time. I remember my aunt Minnie crying openly as she hugged her daughter and my mother. Many more women started loudly crying.

It was eerie to hear so many adults crying at the same time. Few encouraging words were spoken.

“We will return in two years.” “We will see each other again soon.” None of those spoken words ever became true.

In one short afternoon, our roots, planted deeply in our homeland, were pulled up and our family life was broken. The loss of homeland and leaving the rest of our families and relatives was the hardest part to bear.

The High Arctic in the 1950s was no place for the aged, the sick, the disabled, the hungry, the helpless and the lost. But in the winter of 1953-54, the first year of our exile in the High Arctic, we were in that precise situation.

As we sailed further north after spending 10 days in Churchill, the days were colder and more icebergs appeared in our path. We were all surprised that icebergs actually existed in the middle of summer.

Then, as we neared Pangnirtung, it was almost like winter, with large patches of ice pans covering the sea. The great mountains of southern Baffin Island appeared out of the fog and the whole sky seemed to open, before our eyes, with its mountains that were reaching halfway to heaven.

And as we travelled toward the High Arctic near the end of August, the lands north of Baffin Island were now already covered with snow. And cold Arctic winds brought cold days, as we neared our final destination of Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island.

A homesick grandmother

My grandmother, Nellie Amagoalik, was born in the year 1874. Despite her advanced years, when we were still home in Inukjuak, she was in good health and was at her daily labours from dawn to dusk, gathering twigs and tying them to her back and carrying them to the family tent.

She was forever mending boots or preparing meals for the whole family. It seems the only time she ever took time off from her many tasks was when blueberries were ripe for picking.

It was then time for women and children to gather these delicacies from the land and take them home for the enjoyment of the family.

My grandmother was part of everything that we did in our daily lives in our homeland. In the summer of 1953, however, she too was uprooted from our ancient homeland by the Government of Canada.

Ever since we arrived in the High Arctic in the fall of that year, after six weeks of travelling on the ship C. D. Howe, my grandmother’s spirits changed greatly.

She was no longer a pleasant, talkative person and loving grandmother. Her never-ending complaints about the poor choice of food and the land that had nothing to offer had a negative effect on the entire family.

In the High Arctic there are limited varieties and amounts of wildlife. The foods of our people, such as geese, snow geese, eider ducks, ptarmigan and other wild fowl and their eggs, fish of different types, as well as berries from the land, disappeared from our lives the day we landed in the High Arctic.

Like people everywhere, we too hunger for a variety of food and get our energy and health by eating what our body desires. If a person consumes only one certain food for a long period of time, soon his body will begin to reject the food and the person will lose his appetite.

It was especially hard on my grandmother who was continuously crying for fish and ptarmigan.

That first winter there were very few smiles on our faces, as the land seemed to die. We would have faced a serious famine without the white man’s garbage to supplement our poor diet. “When are we going home?” my grandmother would often ask.

But no one could answer her question. It turns out she was one of many in our family fated never to see their homeland again.

Unfortunately, my grandmother was not to recover from her illness and hunger.

Three years later she died, still asking questions about when we would return home. In February 1956, her long life ended thousands of miles away from her relatives and from her original homeland. My mother often used to say that the violent change in environment and a continuous hunger for fish and other foods found only in her homeland greatly contributed to my grandmother’s death.

My mother also said that from the day we landed on the beach of Cornwallis Island until her death, my grandmother seems not to have smiled at my mother even once.

Read Part 2 of Markoosie Patsauq’s memoir on nunatsiaq.com.

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(9) Comments:

#1. Posted by Talkman on November 08, 2018

I have heard different versions of this sad episode of Inuit history.

1) The people wanted to move because of bad conditions on the
    “Starvation coast” as Northern Quebec was being called.

2) The people were forced to move by the R.C.M.P. and the Canadian
    government, onto the ship.

3) Inuit people were becoming afraid of First Nation hunters and trappers
    who were intruding onto there land, so they petitioned the Canadian
    government to be relocated.

    I do not know what the true circumstances were, good it is coming
    out.

#2. Posted by Nunavimiuk on November 08, 2018

Its cruel , what the goverment did to these people

#3. Posted by Billy on November 08, 2018

@#1- don’t comment unless you know! this is an extremely tragic and sensitive and dark part of history and you will hurt people with misinformation and ignorant comments! It was a con job by government to fly human flag poles in the arctic to gain control over the land.

#4. Posted by Starvations on November 08, 2018

Notable starvations in Nunavik occurred at Puvirnituq and Aupaluk.  Aupaluk was one whole family and more than one family at Puvirnituq. 

There had also been notable starvations at Ponds Inlet. 

Hunting in the High Arctic was also serverely restricted by the escorting RCMP.  It was not a mercy mission but an occupation mandate.

#5. Posted by seared memories on November 08, 2018

CBC gave news coverage of the ship pulling back from the snow covered land and ice on that day, families were left.  Responding to waves of goodbye from the ship, the Inuk man stepped along the shore of jagged ice, waving for the boat to come back.  Not happy, not certain, not secure, and an anxious look on his face, the man no longer waving, remained standing.

#6. Posted by Talkman on November 08, 2018

Of course it was a cruel and unfortunate circumstance for the Inuit
people this happened to, I am not saying it was’nt.
  #3 I have submitted questions that I personnaly have heard from
people who were there, or were involved. There are two sides to
every story, that is why I asked my questions. Maybe you could answer
them if you think my questions were ignorant and misinformed ?
I still do not know what the true circumstances were.

#7. Posted by girlfreddy on November 08, 2018

@ Talk man - Please do your own research. Pressing people to answer your questions because you think you have some right to that is wrong in every way.

#8. Posted by Talkman on November 08, 2018

#7
I am asking fair questions in a democratic way!
What on earth are you afraid off?
We are in the good country of Canada.

#9. Posted by Concerned on November 10, 2018

Ah, yes. Canada. The great country that fked up its original inhabitants by raping them, murdering them, uprooting them, even up to today. Such a thing to be proud of. Nalligivaakka inuuqatikuluukka. Isumagivappasi.

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