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Christopher Cheung (left) discusses his provocative new book about race and representation in Canadian media in this exclusive BCBookLook interview.” FULL STORY


Northern dislocations

With co-author Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Frank James Tester delves into Canada's history of relocating Inuit communities to lands they did not know.

February 15th, 2024

Vancouver based writer and filmmaker Frank James Tester has worked extensively with Inuit.

In excerpts from their book, we learn about the way things used to be in Canada’s Arctic and the chaos that ensued, leading up to an apology from the federal government.

Life in Canada’s Arctic is hard. But it was made harder for Inuit by the federal government’s actions in the 20th century to relocate them from where they had lived for generations, to places they had never seen. The outcomes were disastrous and reverberate to this day. Inuit Relocations: Colonial Policies and Practices, Inuit Resilience and Resistance (James Lorimer $34.95) co-written by Vancouver filmmaker and writer, Frank James Tester and Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, an Inuk with a MA from UBC and a PhD from Carleton University, uncover these devastating periods in Inuit history. The book is part of the Righting Canada’s Wrongs series, which uses first-persons accounts, short texts, abstracts from documents and visuals such as photographs and artwork to tell of what happened. The following are BCBookLook’s selected excerpts. —Ed.

Artist Kenojuak Ashevak, who later became famous for her drawings, in her tent at Kinngait lighting a qulliq (a soapstone lamp).


Following the Second World War, Inuit in the Canadian Arctic experienced many changes in their lives. In a few short years, Inuit went from living in small extended family camps with tents in the summer and igloos in the winter, hunting and gathering for food, and trapping for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), to living in settlements with wood frame houses, and often working for wages. Within about twenty years, Inuit went from the oldest form of social organization on the planet—a hunting and gathering culture—to dealing with industrial society.

The Way Things Used to Be

For thousands of years, Inuit lived on the land, mainly in family-based camps. In winter and spring, they hunted seals, walrus and whales along the Arctic coast. They travelled inland in the summer and fall to hunt caribou. Some Inuit spent all their time inland, fishing and hunting caribou. Inuit were creative and resourceful, incredibly skilled hunters, seamstresses and artists. They were wise and respectful users of their lands, waters and resources.

Pingungnuq: Winds of Change

After the Second World War, the colonial government in Ottawa began to exercise more control over Inuit lives. Change happened more quickly, and circumstances forced Inuit to move off the land where they had always lived, and relocate to settlements.

It is easy to think about these relocations as simply moving from one place to another. But Inuit are hunters and gatherers. Their relationship with the places they live and the animals they depend on is very different from most Canadians. When Inuit had to relocate, this was much more than just moving to a different location and a permanent house. Relocation to settlements had a big impact on how people were made to feel about themselves, their relationships and their culture.

When Inuit moved to settlements, they were now living in communities managed by Qablunaat (white people) from the South. Qablunaat had different values and ideas about how Inuit should live. The relationship to land and animals was not as important for them. Being close to relatives was not valued as highly. Even food and clothing changed.

Vaccinating a young Inuk in the mid-1950s

We sometimes got sick from the houses. Young and old got respiratory diseases. They do not get enough fresh air. I was born before there was a government. When I was a girl, we lived in tents and igloos. We lived in the cold, but now we live in modern houses . . . All of a sudden when we moved into houses we became like white people. And then we would throw away the much warmer clothing we had. Those of us who grew up in tents were very capable people. When we moved into houses, we became helpless. That is how I think.”—Cecilia Angutialuk, Naujaat

Left in Resolute Bay

In 1952, RCMP in Inukjuak (Port Harrison) approached a number of Inuit families and encouraged them to move to the High Arctic where they were told they could live a self sustaining, traditional lifestyle and that there was plenty of wildlife there to support them. Saying no to Qablunaat authority figures at the time was not something Inuit felt comfortable about or were inclined to do. It was not explained how far they were going to be moved and what different climate, snow and daylight conditions they would face.

When the long journey was over, Inuit families were in for a shock. Instead of being kept together, as promised, they were separated into two groups. One group was landed at Craig Harbour on Ellesmere Island and the other was dropped at Qausuittuq (Resolute Bay) on Cornwallis Island, about 380 kilometres away. There were no shelters provided, so families spent the first few winters in their tents in freezing cold weather. No boats were available for hunting and fishing. In the High Arctic, Inuit had to learn different ways of hunting. They also had to figure out where species, including caribou, walrus and seals, could be found and hunted. Inadequate food and supplies were provided. Relocated Inuit suffered from cold and hunger.

The Government Apologizes

It took nearly forty years of work by individuals and Inuit institutions to achieve compensation and a government apology for Inuit who were relocated from Inukjuak (Port Harrison) to the High Arctic. This effort started in the late 1970s … Finally, on August 18, 2010, John Duncan, Minister of Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development officially apologized in Inukjuak (Port Harrison) for the relocation of Inuit to the High Arctic in the 1950s.


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