Colonial Policies Impacting Inuit Communities in Canada

By Brianna Stevenson

Like all Indigenous communities in Canada, the Inuit have had unique colonial experiences with federal policies and have been impacted in complex and challenging ways through this relationship. Unfortunately, the Canadian government still has a tendency to enact initiatives intended more to develop the political or economic prosperity of the Canadian public rather than to develop the autonomy of these affected communities. Two colonial initiatives that I feel best reflect this complex and rather abusive relationship between Canada and the Inuit communities of the North are reflected in the Nunavut Inuit Relocations, also known as the High Arctic Relocations, and the future Plan Nord project. The future Plan Nord economic initiative is a strategy put forth by the Québec government to “promote mining, energy, tourism and social and cultural development” (Government of Québec, 2014) tying in the provincial government and Cree, Inuit, and Innu communities of Northern Quebec. This new initiative looks problematic at best, and at worst could be equally as damaging as previous policies.

Resolute Bay circa 1955. Cargo ships from south arrived the year after the first relocation to bring supplies for housing. The first year, everyone slept in tents all winter. The CD Howe ship can be seen in the background. Courtesy of Elizabeth Allakariallak Roberts
Resolute Bay circa 1955. Cargo ships from south arrived the year after the first relocation to bring supplies for housing. The first year, everyone slept in tents all winter. The CD Howe ship can be seen in the background.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Allakariallak Roberts

In 1950, ninety-two Inuit had been forcibly moved from their home in Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec (Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 2010) to the harshest climate and ecological conditions Canada can offer. The families were relocated to Ellesmere Island, this was part of an attempt to establish Canadian sovereignty during the Cold War (Watson, 2009; Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 2010). This displacement of families and dogs killed many community members and traumatized generations to follow (Tassinari, 2010; Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, 2014). The government not only initiated this and allowed for the starving Inuit to suffer but also did not acknowledge any wrong-doing officially until just five years ago (cbcnews.ca, 2010; Government of Canada, 2010). At this point however the new position of the Canadian government is that there was wrong-doing, we have apologized and now we are building new bridges between the Canadian nation and the Inuit nation.

original place where Inuit were dropped in Resolute Bay. The first year they lived in tents and snow houses such as these. Courtesy of Madeleine Allakariallak / Naming Project
original place where Inuit were dropped in Resolute Bay. The first year they lived in tents and snow houses such as these.
Courtesy of Madeleine Allakariallak / Naming Project

The federal government has demonstrated this new nation-building by discussing their new economic policies as being equally beneficial for Inuit communities, the Plan Nord follows this mantra (Government of Québec, 2014; Bonesteel, 2006). It is being presented as a huge economic opportunity for the North, and therefore Inuit communities that are in desperate need of resources and support (Dubois, 2012; Prosser, 2011). The reality in terms of economic autonomy is that any support or development would likely feel welcome to Inuit communities dealing with poverty. So the question is, will the Plan Nord aid the healing and development of these Inuit communities? Or will it hinder this development or worse, inflict more damage and hurt following the trend of the past decades?

The relationship many Inuit peoples have with large resource extraction and other environmentally impactful projects if often primarily one of concern. Inuit community members have been discussing the health impacts these projects have on them and their families when implemented in close proximity to their communities (Show Me On The Map: People Can Stand Up, 2012). Not only do these projects damage the natural environment the Inuit depend on in terms of wildlife but also on a micro level, a cancer causing level, that endures for much longer (Show Me On The Map: People Can Stand Up, 2012).

If the governments of Canada truly intend to rebuild and remedy the relationship they have with Inuit communities after such devastating colonial policies in the last fifty years, the Plan Nord is problematic. The benefits and autonomy of Inuit communities may not be as well supported with the Plan Nord as the provincial government implies.

References

Bonesteel, S. (2006). Canada’s Relationship with Inuit: A History of Policy and Program
Development, Economic Development and the Inuit Economy: Historical Discussion.
Government of Canada: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

cbcnews.ca. (2010, August 18). Inuit Get Federal Apology for Forced Relocation.

Dubois, F. (2012). Plan Nord: The North Challenges Charest Government. Miningwatch.ca.

Government of Québec. (2014). Plan Nord: Vision.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. (2014, September). Social Determinants of Inuit Health in Canada.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (2010). Arctic Exile Monument Project, Recent Photos.

Prosser, J. (2011). The Effects of Poverty in Canada’s North.

Show Me On The Map: People Can Stand Up, Mining in Nunavut/Uranium Mining in Canadian
Arctic [Motion Picture] isuma.tv.

Tassinari, P. (2010). Broken Promises – The High Arctic Relocation [Motion Picture]. Nunavut:
Nutaaq Media.

Watson P. (2009). Inuit Were Moved 2,000 km in Cold War Maneuvering.

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