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Forced relocation of Canadian Inuit village memorialized 56 years later

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The resettlement of a former Inuit village was marked Wednesday in a ceremony recognizing a dark chapter in the history of the Atlantic Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Residents of Nutak in northern Labrador were moved out in 1956, three years before another forced relocation in nearby Hebron.

A memorial was formally unveiled at the site of the former community. The memorial includes the names of former residents, as well as the text of a formal apology.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government formally apologized to Labrador's Inuit in January 2005 over the resettlement of Nutak and Hebron.Former residents wept openly as then-premier Danny Williams apologized on behalf of the government for pushing through a relocation program that was done with no consultation of the residents, and which caused hardship and disruption in the residents' way of life. "History has not always been kind to our aboriginal peoples, and today with the signing of this agreement we have an opportunity to right that wrong," Williams said at the time.

The ceremony Wednesday involved representatives of the Nunatsiavut government, which administers the land transferred to Inuit ownership in the 2005 land claims agreement, as well as officials with the provincial and federal governments.

A similar monument was unveiled in Hebron in 2009. In a February speech, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the actions of the 1950s have left a bitter legacy that the government continues to work to correct.

"Tragically, the people of those communities were not consulted when the decisions were made," Dunderdale told the Northern Lights business conference in Ottawa. "It is indicative of the fundamental shift that has occurred in our lifetime that we now realize that the notion of aboriginal people of the north being subjected to decisions in which they have no say is simply unacceptable."

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.