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
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.”
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.