Inuit High Arctic Relocations in Canada

In 1953 and 1955, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, acting as representatives of the Department of Resources and Development, moved approximately 92 Inuit from Inukjuak, formerly called Port Harrison, in Northern Quebec, and Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), in what is now Nunavut, to settle two locations on the High Arctic islands. It has been argued that the Government of Canada ordered the relocations to establish Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, and proposed to Inuit the move, promising improved living conditions. The Inuit were assured plentiful wildlife, but soon discovered that they had been misled, and endured hardships. The effects have lingered for generations. The Inuit High Arctic relocations are often referred to as a “dark chapter” in Canadian history, and an example of how the federal government forced changes that fundamentally affected (and continue to affect) Inuit lives.
In 1953 and 1955, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, acting as representatives of the Department of Resources and Development, moved approximately 92 Inuit from Inukjuak, formerly called Port Harrison, in Northern Quebec, and Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), in what is now Nunavut, to settle two locations on the High Arctic islands. It has been argued that the Government of Canada ordered the relocations to establish Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, and proposed to Inuit the move, promising improved living conditions. The Inuit were assured plentiful wildlife, but soon discovered that they had been misled, and endured hardships. The effects have lingered for generations. The Inuit High Arctic relocations are often referred to as a “dark chapter” in Canadian history, and an example of how the federal government forced changes that fundamentally affected (and continue to affect) Inuit lives.


The communities in Grise Fiord and Qausuittuq remain active today. Some of the relocated Inuit have gone on to become respected leaders. Among them is John Amagoalik, one of the founders of the territory of Nunavut, who was five years old when his family was relocated to Grise Ford and Qausuittuq. Mary Cousins, whose family moved from Mittimatalik to Craig Harbour to help the Inukjuak relocatees, was one of the individuals relocated. Cousins went on to become an editor of Inuktitut magazine and helped establish Inuit Tapirisaat of Canada (now known as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami ), the national Inuit organization. (See also Inuktitut and Indigenous Languages in Canada.)

Yet the impact of the relocations continues to weigh on Inuit people. Though many welcomed the federal government’s official apology in 2010, community leaders say the government must do more to ease living conditions for Inuit people in the High Arctic. Larry Audlaluk, who was three years old when his family was relocated from Inukjuak to Grise Fiord, has called on the government to reduce food prices, which are exorbitant due to the community’s remoteness and associated transportation costs. (See also Country Food in Canada.)

The High Arctic relocations are among several such attempts by government to move Indigenous peoples in Canada for various purposes, all of which have contributed to intergenerational trauma. In interviews, children of High Arctic relocated Inuit have said their parents and grandparents rarely wanted to discuss what had happened to them and tried to hide the pain. Family separations, whether due to the relocations or to tuberculosis treatments, also created a gap in cultural knowledge, as many children were unable to learn from their parents and elders. Today, many Inuit are working hard to bridge that knowledge gap.


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