Nunavut MLA seeks reparation from Ottawa for 50-year-old trauma

In 1968, officials asked local men to move 20 graves so housing could be built

The community of Hall Beach today has a population of about 900. Back in 1968, graves were moved to make way for housing construction in the fledgling settlement. The MLA for Hall Beach now wants the federal government to consider providing compensation “to the last remaining survivor of this traumatic episode.” (Photo courtesy of Tourism Nunavut)

By Jane George

Residents of Hall Beach continue to seek recognition and compensation from the federal government for a traumatic event that occurred more than 50 years ago, when several men used their dog teams to move 20 graves by qamutik for local officials who wanted to use the land for housing.

During the recent sitting of Nunavut’s legislature, Joelie Kaernerk, MLA for Amittuq, tabled correspondence between himself and Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, about the relocation of those graves.

In Kaernerk’s letter of last October he spoke about the efforts of people in his community to gain “recognition and compensation for the devastating events of 1968, when the federal government of the day caused the Hall Beach graveyard to be relocated.”

Joelie Kaernerk, MLA for Amittuq, stands up in the Nunavut legislature, where on June 3 he tabled letters about the 1968 relocation of graves in Hall Beach. (Photo by John Thompson)

Kaernerk asked Bennett to reopen the file and give “further consideration to providing compensation to the last remaining survivor of this traumatic episode for what they went through.”

The incident was documented in the Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s community files.

In April, Bennett told Kaernerk that federal officials would be in contact to “further discuss this matter.”

As a member of the truth commission’s working group, Bennett said she would continue “to find ways to support and implement the Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s recommendations while advancing reconciliation.”

In 1999, 2000 and 2001, Enoki Irqittuq, MLA for Amittuq in Nunavut’s first legislative assembly, had raised the relocation of the graves in the legislature several times, saying “some of the graves belonged to family members.”

The job of the men involved was difficult because “some of them had to wait until the ground was thawed enough and had to deal with things like corpses thawing out and flesh falling off and very putrid smells.”

“Some of the blood that melted off these corpses ended up on their mitts as well, not just their kamotiks, but also on their mitts. After they had transported the corpses, they couldn’t eat for days afterward because the smell of death was so strong, and the sights had been so horrible. They couldn’t eat,” Irqittuq said.

“The people who dug up the graves had a very hard time because they were digging up graves that were very old and some were recent adult graves and children’s graves. The old coffins, when they were dug up, had children that had been wrapped in newspapers or cardboard. They had disintegrated to the point where they fell apart when you dug them up. That was especially with the children’s graves.”

Irqittuq said when the settlement council asked these men to do this unpleasant task, they were told they would be given a “substantial” amount of money.

They never received payment, Irqittuq said.

They wished to receive $5,000 each, the mayor of Hall Beach told Nunatsiaq News in 2001.

In 2001, Nunavut’s then-health minister Ed Picco agreed to host a community feast and healing workshop as a way of dealing with the trauma around the relocation of graves in Hall Beach because “the federal government would have responsibility for remuneration.”

The issue then came up again in 2012.

That’s when Louis Tapardjuk, then the MLA for Amittuq, asked Keith Peterson, who was Nunavut’s health minister, if he’d ever heard back about the 2001 commitment to Nunavut’s Health Department from the federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development “to research this event”… and “contact you as soon as we have some substantial evidence for payment.”

Peterson said, after reviewing the correspondence, the Health Department would offer mental health support—but no compensation.

“What I’m prepared to do is offer the individuals and the community of Hall Beach counselling and support to these individuals affected and help them with their grieving and healing process,” Peterson said.

Ottawa maintained there was no clear evidence linking the federal government to the event, Peterson said in the legislature in 2012.

“So if the Government of Canada wasn’t involved, and the Government of Nunavut didn’t exist, I don’t know who would be responsible,” he said.

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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by knows on

    Our former mla Enoki was personal with it since he wanted to get money for it. He is Anglecan priest but why money for him.

  2. Posted by Here we go again on

    The grievance / compensation for everything industry is really ramping up these days. It’s a bit surreal.

    • Posted by No Kidding on

      I know – everything from the past that can possibly be construed as having some negative element to it now needs a payout. Once you start with the politically based handouts, those who didn’t get one get jealous, and need one too.
      What about all the wrongs inuit do to each other, both in the past and in the present? When do they start giving financial compensation to each other? Most of the bad things that have happened to inuit are self-inflicted and intentional, and the stuff that mainstream Canadians are blamed for are things like schooling and TB treatment, where the people of the day did the best they could.
      The thing is too, that inuit are so passive that if they don’t agree with something they are asked to do, they just smile and do it anyway due to their cultural avoidance of any conflict. People asking them to do things in times gone by wouldn’t have known about this, especially when the inuit just go along with everything and keep their resentments inside.

      • Posted by Joel on

        Total and utter bs. Not one stitch of truth or compassion

  3. Posted by pissed off on

    This rehashing of the past for compensation is becoming an industry of its own!!!

    I am sure some fast talking lawyer is ready to take on their cause“ For a small fee“
    i am absolutely sure that relocating a gravesite is not a pleasant task.
    However it is done all over the world in order to accomodate new usages for land.

    It has to be done with care and respect but when it has to be done , well, it has to be done!!

    How come Ottawa is always seen as the endless pit of money that people look to to re write the past?


    • Posted by Consistency on

      Hall Beach is not a booming metropolitan and in ’68 even less so, there is so much space and land why did they need to build in that spot? was it just another way of showing who is in charge. Unfortunately would not even be close to the worse thing that was don in the region at that time. And on top of that the article says they never received payment for their work. And $5,000 common Feds you will probably spend more then this to eventually fly up a bunch of people for a photo op saying your sorry for this then just paying those that are owed… so pay up.

  4. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    Typical case of have-not shall not have. It’s just a small community in a faraway land not deserving of any recognition nor compensation. Meekly requesting to get paid their dues. If it were in a bigger community the residents would raise a lot of ruckus. Knowing if they keep quiet, authorities will ignore them.
    These are humble folk that are not greedily trying to milk the Gov’t. of any money. They simply wanted to be paid what was due to them. Now there’s only one, doesn’t matter who it is but the person went through a very hard time.
    It seems no one will claim any responsibility until the last survivor dies. Then it will go away and the have-not community will go back to obscurity.

  5. Posted by Ms. Tupak on

    Tell Trudeau to go say “Sorry” What a waste of effort. Ask the Hamlet to get a lawyer. Or table all the names of people in graves , names of people who moved them and also which area and specific to which space in that area. Just saying a statement without proper documentation is a waste of time.

  6. Posted by King djoser on

    Im inuk and something happened years ago now we want money for it and want todays government who had NOTHING to do with it to say sorry for the government back then.

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