Relocation to the High Arctic: From Port Harrison to Grise Fiord in the 1950s

By Rebekah Selman

In the 1950s, 19 Inuit families were relocated from Port Harrison to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. Many of these families were separated from each other. The Inuit were given promises that were not fulfilled. The Canadian Government had promised a surplus of game for hunting, as well as supplies and shelter when they arrived (George, 2010; Kuschk, 2010; Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 2010). It is said to have been reported in the Montreal Gazette in 1954 that new houses were built in the High Arctic (Marcus, 1995).

relocationIn Port Harrison, there was a shortage of food, including animals available to hunt. It is argued that this fact has not changed in the past 30-40 years (Iqqaumavara, n.d.). The Inuit living in Port Harrison were promised “game, resources, and new equipment” (Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 2010, para. 2). They were also told that they could return to Northern Quebec after two years or sooner if they pleased. This was untrue. Many of the people stayed much longer than the two years, and were unable to leave when they had asked. It is argued that the Inuit people went willingly to the high Arctic and that some people were sad that they could not get on the boat to Grise Fiord (Iqqaumavara, 2011). The RCMP accounts said that the families were “volunteers” (Marcus, 1995, pp. 75). However, this is because they believed that it would be a better place to live where they would have a better life and have food to eat.

One of the families that were relocated from Port Harrison to Grise Fiord was Joseph Flaherty, his wife Rynee Flaherty, and their children. They were exiled to Grise Fiord in 1955. They were the only family to go to Grise Fiord in that year. Like many others, they were promised food and shelter when they arrived (Iqqaumavara, 2011). In 2011, Rynee Flaherty and her daughters, Elisapee, Martha and Mary were interviewed about their experience (Iqqaumavara, 2011). This family was told that they would be sent to “paradise” for only two years. When they arrived they had no food and lived in a tent. The tents were not in good condition and building an igloo, like what they had done in Port Harrison, was not an option because there was not enough snow on the ground (Marcus, 1995). The oldest daughter, Martha had to help her mother with the younger children and help her father hunt. It was very cold and dark in Grise Fiord, which made hunting difficult.

Watch the interviews here

In the High Arctic, the children were put into schools which taught the European way of learning rather than their traditional ways (Iqqaumavara, 2011; Pitsiulak, 2015). This is not always a good thing because the children were not able to learn their own culture.

The Canadian Government made it seem as though they were helping the Inuit by relocating them, but really they were only helping themselves. The Government wanted to establish settlement in the High Arctic to have the territory settled. They wanted to find a solution to the “Eskimo problem” (Marcus, 1995, pp. 71). The Canadian Government did not want to give the Inuit any “handouts” like welfare, “family allowance and old age pensions” (Iqqaumavara, n.d., para. 14).

In 2010, the Government of Canada apologized to the Inuit who were relocated to the High Arctic. They admitted that their promises were not met. Ten million dollars in compensation was given to those who were relocated and their families (George, 2010; Government of Canada, 2010; Kuschk, 2010; Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 2010). Some Inuit elders felt relief because of the apology while others, like Rynee Flaherty had mixed feelings about it.

However, the compensation was said to have been mismanaged. Mary Flaherty said that the apology did not mean much to her. The money that was split between the families was not enough to buy the things that they needed. She believes that they should have asked what those who were affected by the relocation wanted the money to go towards, for example, housing (Iqqaumavara, 2011).

References

George, J. (2010, August 18). Canada Says Sorry to High Arctic Exiles. Nunatsiaq online.

Government of Canada: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2010,
September 15). Apology for the Inuit High Arctic Relocation.

Kuschk. (2010, August 20). Grise Fiord & Resolute: The Legacy of High Arctic Relocation.

Marcus, A, R. (1995). Relocating Eden: The Image and Politics of Inuit Exile in the Canadian
Arctic. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College: University Press of New England.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (2010). Arctic Exile Monument Project.

Pitsiulak, S. (2015). The Impact of Relocation on My Family and My Identity as an Inuk
Educational Leader. In F. Walton & D. O’Leary (Eds.). Sivumut: Towards the Future
Together: Inuit Women Educational Leaders in Nunavut and Nunavik (pp. 43-56).
Toronto, ON: Women’s Press: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

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