Remembering the 1959 relocation of Hebron, Labrador
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 cangeo.ca/nd18/hebron.
Bertha Kairtok-holeiter ( ABOVE), a former resident of Hebron ( LEFT), an Inuit community on the northen coast of Labrador that was relocated in 1959.