From February 27 to March 3, 2017, the Université du Québec à Montréal was the host of the second International Week of the Arctic and Antarctic Observatory of Southern and Northern Societies and Cultures, an initiative of the Universidad del Salvador, the Université du Québec à Montréal, the University of Iceland, the Universidad Nacional de Tierra del Fuego and the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional — Rio Grande (Argentina).
The official opening of the week’s activities was the launch of Carol Brice-Bennett’s book Dispossessed: The eviction of Inuit from Hebron, Labrador. The book is based on Carol’s 1994 report to the North Program, Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, about the closure of the Moravian mission of Hebron and the forced relocation of all Inuit families to other communities along the Labrador Coast. A new chapter was appended to the report to summarize the actions that have been taken in the past twenty-two years.
I had the pleasure of attending the book launch, and the great privilege of bringing the evening’s distinguished guest: Sophie Jararuse Keelan, a survivor of the relocation. Her family was relocated from Hebron to Makkovik when she was 11 years old.
Here are a few photos of the event attended by thirty or so researchers and artists from various countries such as Argentina, Siberia, France or Finland.
As Daniel explained: “In 1959, men, women, and children were forced to leave their community on the coast of Labrador without their consent. Today, nothing can repair this injustice, but we all have the obligation to know about these events and the affected outcome on the people of Hebron, and to make sure that such a situation never repeats itself.”
Daniel was followed by the book’s author Carol Brice-Bennett: “I’m glad this particular study was published because it was such a crucial event for Inuit in Northern Labrador. As Daniel said, it should never have happened and never happen again. And it’s part of the identify of Labrador Inuit. There have been relocations elsewhere and it’s an experience that many people can relate to. It makes me think of one person I interviewed. They were not among the Hebron Inuit. It was someone from Makkovik who had to move to Happy Valley Goose Bay to work, and suddenly, they understood what it meant to leave their home and start again. It’s an experience that in our world today is quite common. I think that maybe the book will give a perspective on some of the difficulties of adapting to another place. There’s one person here who can really speak from experience. I’ll let Sophie talk.”
As the representative of all Hebron relocatees, Sophie’s testimonial touched many in the room: “It was a difficult experience, an overwhelming experience. I’m so honoured and privileged to speak at this special event. Our people are Inuit and were relocated against their will by the government of Newfoundland. It’s a very sad experience. When I get to think of it now, I still see in front of me the day we left my homeland. We left our identity as Inuit, as families, as close friends. We had to survive and get adapted again to the new environment, to the new land. We had to learn again the surroundings of hunting areas. (…) I lost families in Hebron. My sister, older brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends are buried in Hebron. I am privileged to go back every year since 2009 to relive it and bring back my own identity as an Inuk person. I wanted the people of around the world to know that we are all human beings. (…) It doesn’t matter what you look like, what colour is your skin. You are human beings. This is what I treasure in my heart. I thank you very much for listening to me. Nakurmiik.”
Thanks to an agreement with the Nunatsiavut Government, 500 copies will be distributed to the relocatees and their families.
Published by Les Presses de l’Université du Québec, Dispossessed hits the shelves of bookstores today, March 15. The paper copy can be ordered directly through the publisher, through Amazon.ca, or through your favourite bookstore.
The digital version can also be downloaded, for free, from Archipel, the Université du Québec à Montréal’s open access library of digital publications. Just click on the button Télécharger (41MB) appearing beside the picture of the book cover.
Thank you! Nakummek!