Past Project

Arctic Exile Monument Project


In the early 1920s, Canada established a RCMP post at Craig Harbour, 55 kilometres west of Grise Fiord. By 1950, concerned about Arctic sovereignty in the face of the Cold War, Canadian officials wished to find a way to settle permanent residents in the east Arctic archipelago. Knowing that Inuit on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec were having an increasingly difficult time surviving as subsistence hunters, the Canada Government’s solution was simple: uproot three families from just outside of Inukjuak and deposit them on Ellesmere Island, a place one historian has called “the harshest terrain that humans have ever continuously inhabited”.[1] The government promised that the region had abundant game and offered a return ticket in one year’s time if the Inuit were unhappy.

One author writes:

The Inuit soon learned that marine mammals were scarce, as were caribou, fox and fresh water. Their clothing wasn’t warm enough, and their sleds and harnesses were all wrong for the rocky terrain. The rough waters made hunting by kayak impossible and the dry wind made their dogs’ lungs bleed. Sufficient snow for snow houses arrived late, leaving the settlers in flimsy canvas tents until late winter. There wasn’t enough fuel for fires. The air was almost 30 degrees colder than back home, and the near constant wind made it feel more than 50 degrees worse…Ellesmere supported a small musk-ox population, but the police detachment, 40 miles from the Inuit encampment, forbade killing them. The starving Inuit ate bird feathers, made broth from boot liners.[2]

The government did not return to pick up these families in one year’s time and yet, some say miraculously, they survived. This particular relocation remains one of the most controversial. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called the relocation “one of the worst human rights violations in the history of Canada.” While leaders eventually made financial reparations of 10 million Canadian dollars to the survivors and their families, they have yet to issue an apology.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. wishes to commission and erect two monuments ­­- one in Grise Fiord and one in Resolute Bay – to commemorate the sacrifices made by Inuit who were relocated to these communities.  We plan to unveil these monuments in the late summer 2010 which we hope will bring national and international attention to this moment in Inuit history. At a time when “Canadian sovereignty” is on the minds of politicians, the media, and opportunistic businesses who look forward to an ice-free Northwest Passage, there is no better time to issue this reminder: this land belongs to Canada not because of the lines drawn on a map, but because of the Inuit who sacrificed everything to live here.

[1] McGrath, Melanie, The Long Exile: A True Story of Deception and Survival amongst the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, London: Fourth Estate, pg. 302.

[2] Royte, Elizabeth, “Trail of Tears”, New York Times Book Review; Apr 8; Research Library, pg. 10.