Carleton University to host symposium on Inuit relocations

Feb. 25 event to feature throat singers and panel discussion

Simeonie Amarualik in 2010 with the monument he carved to commemorate the arrival of the High Arctic exiles at Resolute Bay in 1953. It stands just a few metres away from the spot where he and his family were dropped off. (Government of Canada Photo)

By Lisa Gregoire
Special to Nunatsiaq News

It’s great that provincial governments are finally teaching school children about the history of residential schools, but it’s not enough, says Martha Flaherty. Canadian students need to learn about Inuit history, including the High Arctic relocations in the 1950s.

Flaherty is the former president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a current Pauktuutit board member and an Ottawa-based interpreter-translator. She was speaking in advance of a keynote address she will deliver at a Feb. 25 virtual symposium hosted by Carleton University’s Ojigkwanong Centre for Indigenous Initiatives.

“Put this relocation story into the curriculum in schools. It has to be done. It’s hidden,” Flaherty said.

“Ottawa is embarrassed about it. But the younger people need to know the truth about how ugly we were treated.”

The free symposium, entitled “The Inuit Relocations: Intergenerational Impacts and Inuit Resilience,” will feature panel discussions, cultural performances and deep reflections on a dark chapter in federal-Indigenous relations largely unknown to Canadians.

Flaherty was among 92 Inuit — some from Pond Inlet but mostly from Inukjuak like herself — who were relocated by the federal government in the 1950s to establish communities in Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. While some government officials have claimed this was done to preserve their subsistence lifestyle, Inuit say they were moved to establish Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic during the Cold War — planted like human flagpoles with little help or support.

The High Arctic Exiles, as they became known, suffered through severe cold, months of darkness, starvation and other profound traumas as they endured the harsh, foreign landscape.

There are only a handful of the original exiles left — politician John Amagoalik and memoirist Larry Audlaluk among them – and Flaherty says it’s time this story be fully written into Canadian history books.

A new documentary might help the cause. Filmmakers in Ireland, the United States and Canada are currently partnering to produce a new film on the relocations. Flaherty has agreed to be involved.

“Apparently I’m anchoring it,” she said. “They’ve already done the writing part.”

The symposium will feature performances by Ottawa-based throat-singing duo Tarniriik and throat-boxing phenom Nelson Tagoona. There will also be a panel discussion on resilience and reclamation with knowledge keeper Heidi Langille; Katherine Minich, from Carleton’s School of Public Policy and Administration; and Peesee Pitsiulak, dean of education, Inuit and University Studies at Nunavut Arctic College.

The afternoon main event will focus on moving from past traumas to future leadership.

Environmental, cultural and human rights advocate Sheila Watt-Cloutier will share her opinions on how the economy, the environment, human rights and sustainability are all interconnected and how Inuit can play a role in this new world order. Inuit don’t want to be pitied as victims, she said. They want to be respected as experts and leaders.

“If you look to the people who still rely on their environment to be mobile, to transport themselves in a natural environment to get their food, to rely on weather patterns and conditions for safety and security — if you look to us as having answers to some of these issues, it will be a better world.”

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Descendant on

    I wonder if there will be any of the High Arctic Exile relocatees participating aside from Martha. It’s great that Martha is participating, but she is one voice. There are others who may wish to speak as well about their experiences. Either way, I’m glad this is happening. The article fails to mention when the symposium is taking place, and how to view it.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      so true. i would like to hear from someone else to ‘anchor’ it and she can have a part but it is better to have another voice this time.

  2. Posted by iWonder on

    I agree this should be part of our national consciousness, and so it needs to be embedded in curriculum across the country.

    On a side note, I’m curious what Sheila Watt-Cloutier means by this:

    “If you look to the people who still rely on their environment to be mobile, to transport themselves in a natural environment to get their food, to rely on weather patterns and conditions for safety and security — if you look to us as having answers to some of these issues, it will be a better world.”

    What forms of transport, for example, would you offer as an alternative to modern methods of transport? I agree we need a practical revolution in energy and transportation use in our world. Is Sheila hinting at a reversion to ancient technologies, or am I missing the point? Maybe someone could outline the northern or Inuit based alternatives referred to?

    • Posted by I wonder too on

      I know many that relocated, most are gone now. I knew some of them well. Yes, I’m not understanding Shelias statement either. I recently took part in a caribou hunt, hundreds of miles from the community because the animals were that far away, thank goodness for the snow machine skidoo. If by dog team back tomorrow n the day, as nice as it would have been, I’m appreciative of now too. I’m in a warm house, that don’t melt in warm weather. I had pilots with knowledge of the winds to take me to my destination. Yup, I’m confused too shelia.

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      Most often there is seems to be little burden to make real world sense of a comment like this, because it’s greater purpose is to enhance collective self esteem. Our public thinkers are not used to being challenged, only praised. This doesn’t make them better thinkers, only careless ones.

  3. Posted by EMILY dederick on


  4. Posted by Joe in Resolute on

    Maybe I can help.
    I am from Resolute, this morning I looked at the northwest Passage, the sea ice isn’t quite frozen. That limits us from going to other islands for fish, caribou.. The wind keeps shifting, blowing the ice this way and that way making it not very safe to go to the next islands. Most of us cannot afford plane rides to go caribou hunting so we have to take the snowmobile. I hope that makes sense.

    • Posted by iWonder on

      Thanks Joe, your point makes perfect sense in the context of local conditions. The confusion comes from the implication that this has some kind of global scale applicability though. So my question is, how, or in what way?

  5. Posted by Related to Flahertys & Amarualiks on

    CANADA IS the second largest country because of INUIT FROM INUKJUAK; relocated by federal government 1952-53 from Inukjuak to Resolute Bay & Grise Fiord.

    And I am related to Flahertys & Amarulik’s families. Yet we never seen with our own eyes the land where they were landed and I wish to see the high arctic where my relatives lives now.

    Yet federal government is not paying attention to INUKJUAK people.

    • Posted by Inuk on

      I agree with you, it’s because of these Inuit from Inukjuak Canada now has this area, this area is the traditional hunting grounds of the Inughuit from Qaanaaq area, they knew this area very well, they lost their hunting ground because of sovereignty for southern Canada. Inuit should have the ability to move around in their home land.

  6. Posted by Leb. S. on

    Since registration has reached capacity for this event will the symposium be accessible online for viewing?

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