Ahiarmiut accept long-awaited settlement deal with Ottawa
“There is no money that could ever be sufficient compensation for the things that we suffered and lost”
The descendants of the inland Ahiarmiut Inuit, whose original homeland now lies within Nunavut’s Kivalliq region, have accepted an out-of-court settlement that offers them about $5 million in compensation for the relocations they endured in the 1940s and 1950s.
The negotiations were “respectful, collegial and sensitive,” Steven Cooper, lawyer for the Ahiarmiut Relocation Society, said today in a release.
“It has been a decade since we commenced the claim in the Nunavut Court of Justice. We are all happy that the matter is now nearing an end. The Government of Canada has finally admitted that errors were made and acknowledged that harm was caused to people simply trying to live their lives as their predecessors had for generations,” Cooper said.
The settlement was achieved through a special claims process established by the federal government to deal with historical wrongs against Indigenous Canadians.
The claim included a call for compensation, commemoration, and an apology that the group would like to receive from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Forgiveness must be a two-way street,” said Cooper in the release.
“It is my understanding that the Ahiarmiut are willing to forgive Canada for their transgressions. It is time now for an apology from Canada. Given the advanced age and deteriorating health of our remaining elder, the apology, to mean anything, must come quickly,” he said.
Cooper told Nunatsiaq News that discussions about the apology to the society remain ongoing.
The settlement is about $5 million, Cooper confirmed.
A week ago, a meeting took place in Arviat to explain the proposed settlement, seek comment and answer questions from society members.
Those in attendance, more than 100 in total, cheered the result. The settlement was then approved by the society’s board of directors, said the release.
The settlement money will be distributed to the original surviving (as of August 2007) individuals who were relocated and their children.
Money has also been set aside for commemoration and education projects directed to research and information.
The goal: “to correct widespread misunderstanding of the events between 1949 and 1960 and to reflect the pride maintained by the group and their survival against many odds.”
David Serkoak, who in 1998 created the Ennadai Lake Society—now the Ahiarmiut Relocation Society—to represent the interests and claims of the Ahiarmiut group, said “there is no money that could ever be sufficient compensation for the things that we suffered and lost as a result of government decisions of the past, nor the subsequent attempt to justify them. ”
“Nevertheless, this has been a 20-year battle for me and I appreciate that this government was finally willing to come to the table and talk to us. We forgive but we will not forget.
“We intend to use the commemoration and education funds to ensure that no one else does either. The country needs to know about and learn from past mistakes. As a retired teacher and principal, I understand the power of education,” Serkoak said.
In the 1940s and 1950s 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 starvation 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.
Ahiarmiut 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 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 the release notes, the relocations caused great hardship and the deaths of members of the group became a cause célèbre for writers and researchers ranging from Farley Mowat to Life magazine.
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.
Anowtalik said in the release that she is thankful for all of the work done by Serkoak and for the work done by the other negotiation committee members, Elisapee Karetak and Tommy Owlijoot.
But the entire process is bittersweet for Anowtalik, the release said, as she was forced to recall horrific memories of starvation, death and deprivation.
“Nevertheless, she appreciates the opportunity given her to speak for those who have passed, as well as those in the present who descend from the original relocatees.”
The agreement will be finalized and implemented shortly, the release about the settlement said.