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An Inuit family in front of a tupiq (a tent made of animal skins and used in the warmer months) at Pond Inlet in 1906.Library and Archives Canada
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A mother with her child in the Ungava Peninsula. 1912.Library and Archives Canada
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A hunting party catches a beluga whale, which can provide food for an entire community for a long stretch of time.Library and Archives Canada
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A little girl named Ihumatak plays the drum in a tent. 1949.Library and Archives Canada
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An Inuit man plays a traditional drum.
This drum would be banned during the High Arctic Relocation Program because of its association with traditional Inuit beliefs.Library and Archives Canada
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A man builds an igloo. 1924.
These homes gave the Inuit people warmth during the winter. Even when temperatures outside dropped below -40°F, the temperature inside an igloo could still be as warm as 59°F.Library and Archives Canada
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A boy puts caribou-skin shoes on his dog's feet.Library and Archives Canada
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Inuit children on a dog sled near Chesterfield Inlet in the early 1920s.
Sled dogs were key to the traditional Inuit way of life. In the 1950s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would slaughter sled dogs en masse, making it impossible for the Inuit people to subsist on hunting. This forced the Inuit to switch to a lifestyle of relying on store-bought food and welfare.Library and Archives Canada
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A woman holding an ulu while eating food.
The ulu is a multi-purpose knife traditionally used by Inuit women for everything from skinning animals to cutting their children's hair.Library and Archives Canada
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Inuit boys wear top hats outside of an Anglican church.
Even before the High Arctic Relocation Program, colonialism had already influenced the Inuit way of life.Library and Archives Canada
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A grandmother named Iqqi gives a traditional Inuit kiss to a young girl named Mary Hickes. 1950.Library and Archives Canada
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An Inuit man spearfishing.Library and Archives Canada
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An unidentified Inuit man ice fishing. 1949.Library and Archives Canada
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A man in a kayak at Port Burwell. 1929.
Kayaks were often used as hunting boats, and a whale bone typically made up the frame.Library and Archives Canada
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An Inuit hunter with a seal. 1925.
Seal was a staple food for the Inuit, especially during the winter. These animals were also useful in providing materials for clothing, as well as oil for lamps.Library and Archives Canada
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A man stands by an inuksuk. 1953.
Traditionally, an inuksuk would be put up to help people navigate. They served as landmarks in the often endless ice, rocks, and snow in the Arctic tundra.Library and Archives Canada
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Women carry bundles of moss on their backs.Library and Archives Canada
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A man poses with caribou carcasses after a successful hunt. Coppermine. 1949.Library and Archives Canada
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Tents at Pond Inlet.
For the first year after relocation, many families were left in tents without enough supplies to survive. Library and Archives Canada
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In Cape Hope, a man sits outside a tent playing a guitar.Library and Archives Canada
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These men living in shacks were employed at an American air base.
The photographer attached a note to this image, stating that one of the Inuit men was impressed by the cleanliness of his shack.Library and Archives Canada
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Children in Frobisher Bay sit among freight boxes full of Western food.Library and Archives Canada
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An Inuit family relocated from Dundas Harbour to Craig Harbour registers their new address with the postmaster.Library and Archives Canada
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A man poses with his identification number on a placard. Pond Inlet. 1945.
All Inuit people were required to be registered with — and to wear — an Eskimo Identification Number (E number). The government used these numbers, rather than names, to identify the Inuit.Library and Archives Canada
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A young girl holds up a bag of sugar. Iqaluit. 1960.Library and Archives Canada
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A young boy with an E Number around his neck.Library and Archives Canada
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People stand outside a Hudson's Bay Company Trading Post. 1949.Library and Archives Canada
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A man buys food from the Hudson's Bay Trading Post.
One of the goals of the High Arctic Relocation Program was to get the Inuit people to stop living off the land and to start working jobs and buying food in stores.Library and Archives Canada
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People sit next to a freight shipment in front of the Hudson's Bay Company warehouse. Circa 1946-1947.Library and Archives Canada
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A woman and her child in Baker Lake read a poster describing the Family Allowance.
Family Allowances were provided by the Canadian government to help Inuit families feed their children. To receive the allowance, however, families were required to either live on a reservation or a settled community.Library and Archives Canada
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A mother with baby formula, which she received through her Family Allowance. 1959.
Some feel that the Family Allowance mainly served to introduce Western food into the Inuit diet, pushing them away from their traditional hunting lifestyle.Library and Archives Canada
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A family eats a meal on Southampton Island. 1948.Library and Archives Canada
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An old woman sits on a mattress inside of her tent.Library and Archives Canada
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A man and woman smoke in their tent. Circa 1920s.Library and Archives Canada
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People watch a square dance during the Governor General's visit to Frobisher Bay.
With traditional Inuit drumming banned in many places, Western dances took hold.Library and Archives Canada
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A dentist examines a mother. Her baby sits in the hood of her amuti, a traditional Inuit parka with a baby pouch on the back.Library and Archives Canada
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Inuit women and children attend Mass at a Roman Catholic Mission.Library and Archives Canada
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Naya Pelagie becomes the first Inuit nun.Library and Archives Canada
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Children in Arviat sit through a school lesson.
Many communities did not have the resources to build their own schools. Instead, children were separated from their parents and sent south to receive education.Library and Archives Canada
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A boy in Frobisher Bay writes in his work book.
Children were required to speak English in school, and they were taught European lessons and values. When they returned home, many felt disconnected from their parents and their culture.Library and Archives Canada
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An older Inuit man named Jackie Akpuk studying at school in Manitoba.Library and Archives Canada
41 Historic Photos Of The Inuit People Taken Before Canada Stamped Out Their Way Of Life
Before contact with the Western world, the Inuit were a nomadic people. They lived as hunters, setting up temporary homes before moving on to the next hunting grounds. Inuit culture meant traveling on dog sleds and kayaks and making tools from stones and animal bones.
Thanks to their skills in hunting, building igloos, and designing warm coats, the Inuit thrived in places that many people would describe as uninhabitable — the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. There, they created a unique and resilient culture that lasted for centuries.
But in Canada, the white population that eventually began to encroach upon the Inuit people didn't understand their lifestyle. The settlers wanted to make the Inuit more "modern" — and they also wanted to exert more control over the Arctic region that these Indigenous people called home.
So, in the 1950s, the Canadian government forcibly relocated the Inuit, forcing them off their lands, slaughtering their sled dogs, and pushing their children into "assimilation" schools — from which some never came back. The Inuit tribes and their way of life were never the same again.
Explore some rarely-seen photos of the Inuit people just before — and just after — their forced relocation in the gallery above.
Inside The Relocation Of The Inuit People
Wikimedia CommonsA group of Inuit children, photographed by Captain George E. Mack. Circa 1925.
Up until the mid-20th century, the Inuit people in Canada flourished in the northernmost parts of the country. Made up of a variety of tribes, the Inuit enjoyed a unique culture separate from the other two recognized groups of Indigenous people in Canada — the First Nations and the Métis.
By that point, white Canadians had already made efforts to assimilate the Indigenous people who lived in the southern parts of the country. It was only a matter of time before they targeted the north as well.
Canada's push to "modernize" the Inuit people — and exert more control over the Arctic region of the country — came to a head in 1950, as the Soviet Union began to contest Canada's sovereignty over its northern territory.
To prove that the territory belonged to them and to do what they thought would improve Inuit life, the Canadian government forcibly relocated the Inuit tribes as part of the High Arctic Relocation Program.
The government ripped the Inuit from their nomadic lifestyles and settled them into communities, where they had to stop hunting and start buying food in grocery stores. Terrified of the Inuit's sled dogs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers often slaughtered their animals.
Like other Indigenous groups in Canada, the Inuit were forced to put their children in "residential schools" to assimilate into Canadian culture. Government officials would pull kids away from their parents and homes and take them to these schools, where they were forced to learn English and adapt to the school's strict rules, otherwise, they'd be viciously beaten.
As one Inuit survivor named Piita Irniq put it: "I was forcibly removed, taken, kidnapped by a Roman Catholic priest and a government man in August of 1958 so that I could be taken, like all of my generation of Inuit, to go to a residential school. We were taken away from our parents."
Many children who attended these schools ended up feeling disconnected from their people and culture by the time they came home. But even more tragically, some of these children never came home at all.
In the span of just two months in 2021, over 1,300 unmarked graves were found at the sites of four former residential schools across Canada. And since there were once more than 130 of those schools in the country, it's feared that more tragic discoveries may be unearthed in the future.
The Lives Of The Inuit People In Canada Today
Wikimedia CommonsInuit elders pictured in 2002, enjoying a traditional delicacy called Maktaaq — bowhead whale blubber.
The relocation program changed Inuit culture forever. It also brought massive spikes in depression, drug abuse, and suicides. And though today many Inuit are fighting to give strength to the culture that the Canadian government tried to destroy, the impact of the 1950s will never be forgotten.
Survivors like Piita Irniq have helped keep these stories alive in recent years. "I was born in an igloo and lived in an igloo for the first 11 years of my life," said Irniq, who is now 75 years old, in an interview with Inside Edition. "I think a lot about Inuit moving from igloo to internet in less than 60 years."
Today, more than 65,000 Inuit people reside in 51 communities in the northern parts of Canada. While many of them, including Irniq, think that it's important to publicly discuss their past and the truth about relocation, they are also asking for accountability in the present — and the future.
They want non-Indigenous people who live in Canada to educate themselves about what really happened to the Inuit people in the past — and to put more effort into mending their often strained relationship with the Inuit tribes and the rest of the Indigenous people who live in the country.
As for the surviving residential school staff members who were accused of abuse, the Inuit people are hoping that they will face justice. One former priest named Eric Dejaeger, who was accused of several heinous crimes against Inuit children, has already had action taken against him.
In 2014, Dejaeger was found guilty of abusing 12 Inuit boys, 10 Inuit girls, and one dog — which he abused in front of children. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. But while his conviction was a ray of hope to some Inuit, Dejaeger was far from the only one accused of horrific crimes, and the Inuit people are fighting for others like him to face the court as well.
But aside from seeking accountability and justice, the Inuit also want the chance to celebrate their culture — and keep it alive despite the trauma of the past. While they no longer live in igloos or travel on dog sleds, they can still learn the languages that have been preserved, wear traditional clothes, enjoy historic delicacies, and help protect the culture that remains today.