Re­mem­ber­ing the 1959 re­lo­ca­tion of He­bron, Labrador

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Ossie Miche­lin

BBERTHA KAIRTOK-HOLEITER can still re­mem­ber how she felt in 1959 when her mother told her that their time in He­bron was over. They and the other 58 fam­i­lies that made their home in the Inuit com­mu­nity on Labrador’s north­ern coast were be­ing re­lo­cated, her mother said. Bertha would be al­lowed to bring three of her toys. “All of a sud­den I’m be­ing told that we’re go­ing to a dif­fer­ent town,” says Kairtok-holeiter, 67. “I thought that meant just go­ing away for the win­ter, like we al­ways did, but then peo­ple said we’d never come back here. That had a re­ally big im­pact on me as a child.” The trad­ing post and Mo­ra­vian mis­sion was the north­ern­most Inuit com­mu­nity in Labrador, act­ing as a hub to the fam­i­lies dis­persed across the re­gion. Chang­ing home­steads with each sea­son to be closer to re­sources such as fish, furs, birds and berries, fam­i­lies would spend the cold­est months of the year in He­bron from Christ­mas un­til about Easter. To the com­mu­nity’s sur­prise, on Easter Mon­day 1959, the mis­sion­ar­ies an­nounced that the mis­sion would close after the sum­mer and the res­i­dents of He­bron would be re­lo­cated to the com­mu­ni­ties of Nain, Hope­dale and Makkovik. While the rea­son for the re­lo­ca­tion was never given to res­i­dents, the church ar­gued cramped liv­ing con­di­tions and lack of fire­wood made the mis­sion un­sus­tain­able. “They told us fam­i­lies wouldn't be sep­a­rated,” Kairtok-holeiter says. “But once we got down to the docks to leave, we were told that our fam­ily would go one way and my sis­ter and her hus­band’s fam­ily would go an­other. This hap­pened to many peo­ple.” Bertha and her fam­ily were re­lo­cated to Nain, 200 kilo­me­tres south, where they watched as their fam­ily and friends passed by on the way to the other com­mu­ni­ties. After main­tain­ing gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily fish­ing and trap­ping lines, it was a shock for He­bron res­i­dents to be sent to un­fa­mil­iar places where prime hunt­ing, trap­ping and fish­ing ar­eas had been long claimed by lo­cals. Ad­e­quate hous­ing wasn’t pro­vided, and many Inuit spent their first year in their new com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing in tents be­fore mov­ing to small shacks. The ef­fects of the re­lo­ca­tion are still be­ing felt to­day, with many of the de­scen­dants of for­mer He­bron res­i­dents strug­gling with in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma, poverty and chronic hous­ing short­ages. “Some peo­ple just couldn’t get used to life some­where else be­cause they were so happy up in He­bron,” says Kair­tokHoleiter. “There was a lot of hurt.” To­day, He­bron is a Na­tional His­toric Site, and many Inuit re­turn there each year to fish, hunt and con­nect with the land. “After be­ing away for gen­er­a­tions,” Kairtok-holeiter says, “it’s heal­ing for fam­i­lies to fi­nally be able to see where their ances­tors came from.”

Watch an in­ter­view with Bertha Kair­tokHoleiter at can­­bron.

Bertha Kairtok-holeiter ( ABOVE), a for­mer res­i­dent of He­bron ( LEFT), an Inuit com­mu­nity on the northen coast of Labrador that was re­lo­cated in 1959.

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