Sep 25, 2005

Chapter 36

The Killiniq Inuit:
Village vanished, white wolf howls
by Bob Dawson

Magic Words

(An Inuit First Story)

In the very earliest time,
When both people and animals lived on earth,
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
And what people wanted to happen could happen
All you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this:
That’s the way it was.

No Sabre-Tooth Tigers even tried to hassle these people.

(From Chapter 32, ln Inuktitut above):
…And yet the viability of Port Burwell had been amply demonstrated in recent times. In 1966, in her book "The New People”, Edith Iglauer described how she was given a tour of Port Burwell by an official of the Department of Indian Affairs, Donald Snowden, who proudly showed off the village as an example of Inuit success. "It's a fascinating place," Snowden said, "maybe because it's so remote and beautiful. They are living practically out in the Atlantic Ocean. Theirs was the second co-op in the Arctic, after George River, and the first retail store… We always knew that potentially Burwell was one of the richest areas in the north and could support a much larger population… It was the whole-hearted attitude of the people that made the difference. They told us they rather die than leave…"

In 1971, the Institute of Social and Economic Research of Memorial University published a report by David Riches on Port Burwell's situation: "On Killiniq Island, the Inuit of Port Burwell enjoy flourishing seal, cod and char fisheries, eiderdown collection and handicraft industries based on local products. The consumer and producer co-op around which the community focuses (and to which all adults belong) paid off its loans long ago, and by 1970, was renowned for its financial success, almost unequalled among Arctic settlements."

“No able-bodied hunter received welfare before 1968.”

It is the timing that is troubling.
Promoted by government as a model Inuit community until 1975.

In 1974, there was an agreement in principle to create a treaty.
In November 1975, they signed the James Bay Agreement.
Which took effect January 1, 1977.
Thirteen months later, on February 8, 1978, the model village ceased to exist.
That’s a very fast downfall for one of the most successful communities in the Arctic. Way too fast. Way too many co-incidences.

Port Burwell’s Inuit relocatees still suffer, mayor says NWT’s 1978 closure of Killiniq created lasting problems


Amazing, after 35 years; Sophie Keelan is there in Nunatsiaq Online, in 2010, discussing housing for the Killiniq people, and some government guy pops up and repeats the same old official government line: “we gave them everything but they wanted to move out… it was a voluntary move… nothing to see here, move along, nothing happened, move along now, this did not happen, nothing to see here.” Because of that article in Nunatsiaq Online, I republished Chapter 32, a diatribe I wrote 30 years ago when I was an angry young man. Now I am a grouchy old man, and the government’s story about what happened to Port Burwell still pisses me off. The government agencies that bungled Port Burwell and dismantled the community, are hereby declared to be, retroactively, the winners of the Franklin Expedition Award for the year 1978.

The Franklin Expedition Award is granted to those who accomplish feats of stupendous stupidity or cultural blindness, that result in a colossal screw-up with long-term damage, for something that should have been easy and positive.

You know the situation is getting Franklinesque when everybody who looks at it says, “Just what the hell did they think they were doing?”

Hey, Canada, in 1978, on Killiniq Island, just what the hell did you think you were doing?


Early 1980’s, I was told by a political left-wing activist (long-hair 1960’s style) that Port Burwell, NWT, was a great example of where it’s at, man. It’s like, all a co-operative, man, run by the Eskimos, and everybody shares, like a commune, man, can you dig it? And those Eskimo dudes are far out, like gurus. That’s where it’s happening, man, is with all the native people. We got to get back to the Garden, we are star dust, we are golden.

Seems it takes 10 or 15 years for a fad in California to reach the Arctic. Well, I had never heard of Woodstock, I did not go to San Francisco with flowers in my hair, and I don’t believe in communes, but when I heard that Port Burwell opened a bakery, blacksmith shop and carpentry shop – in 1905 – so the whaling boats and fishing boats that came by would stop and shop: last bakery for 3,000 miles. And they started a co-op in the 1950’s with borrowed money and made a profit. Sounds like a good story, about successful native people, so I dialed 411.

“I would like to have the number of the co-op in Port Burwell, NorthWest Territories.”

Operator: (Long silence). “Do you mean Port Burwell, Ontario?”

“No, it's in the NorthWest Territories. Maybe they call it Killiniq or Killiniq Island.”

I'm sorry sir, I have no listing for Port Burwell or Killiniq Island in the NorthWest Territories.

Maybe you have it listed in Labrador? The island is on the border with Labrador.

No, sir, the only Port Burwell is in Ontario, and I find no record of any other Port Burwell, and no record of any place called Killiniq.

Damn. When Bell Canada says you do not exist, then you do not exist.


Remember, all of this was 30 to 35 years ago, and all of us were too late smart and too early old.

“Hello, Indian Affairs? I would like to talk to someone who could tell me about what happened to Port Burwell in the NorthWest Territories.”

I waited a long time; I got switched around to different people in different departments; they finally found someone who said to me: "Port Burwell? Oh they moved out".

"Everybody moved out? The entire village?"
“Yes, it was too remote so the people moved away.”
“Too remote from what?”
“Well, Killiniq is remote from everything. Very hard to get in and out of there, for teachers and civil servants and so on.”
“Too remote for your employees, is what you are saying? Hard to fly them back south for Christmas? If the Inuit put in a McDonald’s would that help your employees? Maybe a massage parlour?”
“No, it was serious; you have to land on the water or ice; it’s too rugged to build a runway. The people wanted out, not just the civil servants.”

“Where did the people go?”
“I don’t know, to some of the Ungava villages in Quebec, maybe some went to Frobisher. Wherever they had family or friends, I imagine.”
“You imagine? Do you have any documents about this, beyond what you are paid to imagine?”
"Well no, it had nothing to do with Indian Affairs. The Inuit of Port Burwell wanted to get out, and so the NorthWest Territories provided them with aircraft, just to help them. It was a humanitarian gesture."
“You say it had nothing to do with Indian Affairs? An Inuit village disappears from the map and it had nothing to do with Indian Affairs?"

"The people didn't want to live there anymore; they wanted to get out, and it is a free country. The territorial government just helped them to move."
“Yeah, down south we call that a Midnight Move. It’s always about hiding something in the dark. When somebody turns the lights on, everybody is seen to be naked in their own way.”

Indian Affairs had nothing to do with it, they say.

Well, then, there would be no file on it in the filing room, right?
I mean, if you have nothing to do with something, you are not going to have much of a file on it, are you?

In every major corporation and in every major bureaucracy there is always a library, or filing room, or archives. And there's always somebody running that system. So I called the archive room.

"My name is Bob Dawson and I am writing about some aspects of the work that the Department of Indian Affairs does, and I believe that you keep track of huge amounts of information. I was thinking about the Inuit who moved to Quebec a few years ago… Do you have anything on that? "

And she said, "Are you referring to the evacuation of the Inuit of Port Burwell on Killiniq Island, NorthWest Territories in February of 1978?"

I said “Ahhhhh, Yes, yes, that would be it.” (And I am saying to myself: WTF?)
And she said “Would you prefer the documents in French or English?”


Hello, civil servant in Yellowknife:
“They wanted to leave. Maybe one or two families wanted to stay. The families did not get along. They had social problems.”
“What kind of social problems?”
“Well, you know, the usual.”
“No, I don’t know. What is the usual? Is this wink, wink, nudge, nudge? What is the usual?”
“Well just look at the statistics for any Indian Reserve or Inuit village.. the crime rate, the alcohol, the illnesses, the violence, the suicides…”
“Well then if you had to evacuate Port Burwell for social problems, you have to evacuate all the Indian, Inuit and Metis communities as well, right? Probably part of downtown Vancouver should go, too – you know, the Gaslight part where all the junkies lie in the streets and parks… or evacuate some of the mining towns; did you ever get in a bar brawl in Sudbury? Hard-rock miners, strong and drunk …. It gets to be the usual, you know, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Did you know there is a serious investment advice group in the U.S.A. that judges the economic situation in every city and every country, based completely on the cost of hiring a prostitute? It has turned out to be an accurate index for comparing the economies of different areas and different time periods. What are the rates for hookers in Yellowknife these days?”
Damn, they hang up all the time. Is it something I said? I try so hard to be polite.

“The Port Burwell people were unwilling or unable to function as a community.”
“Especially after you closed the medical clinic, confiscated their fishing boat, and told them the electricity would be cut off, right?”
“This conversation is over. Good day, sir.” Click.
Damn. They keep hanging up on me.

Hmmm. Civil servants publicly denouncing the citizens’ lack of community skills. And in a tiny village, he is in fact naming names. Divide and conquer, the old British way. In the land God gave to the Hudson’s Bay Company. They would trade guns and ammunition to some, not to others. Further south, supply guns to an entire tribe… but not to the neighboring tribe. Divide and conquer.

Makivik document:
“…The community of Killiniq was one of the oldest and most successful Inuit communities, with the traditional lifestyle complemented by trading posts, religious missions, Royal Canadian mounted police and weather stations, a cooperative store and fish processing plant, to such a degree in fact as to be cited as being an example for other Inuit communities to follow.
In 1975, the community of Killiniq was well-established with a high degree of social cohesion, cultural development and economic stability.

I think over again my small adventures,
My fears,
Those small ones
that seemed so big,
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach;
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing,
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

(Inuit song poem, with drums, 19th century)

Before we go on, it is only fair that I make a full disclosure of hidden interests:

(1) This website is a newsletter for the Parkinson’s Disease Underground Internet Conspiracy, of which I was Founding President, a loose internet group of a few hundred people with Parkinson’s Disease, partly a joke, partly very very real. We have run campaigns of a sort, about the 48 Parkinson’s patients who volunteered for the Amgen GDNF experiment. They thought they were joining something; they thought they were going to be part of something new and important. The Parkinson’s volunteers knew the experiments were dangerous, but they thought that they were contributing to a fight against this incurable disease; and so they allowed scientists to drill holes in their skulls and put electric pumps in their abdomens and plastic tubes under the skin and deep into the brain, pumping experimental drugs into their brains … experiments on the living brains of living people… the project was suddenly stopped, without warning or explanation…. the Parkinson’s volunteers were treated like dogs.
And again, we got into a political fight with Merck pharmaceutical, who engineered a world-wide shortage of sinemet, a drug I have to take to be able to live. Same thing: sudden decision, no information, no explanation….
Treated like dogs.
And so we identify with what was done to the Killiniq people. They may not be pleased that the handicapped feel like they are in the same situation as the native people – invisible, pushed aside, seeing things with different eyes, assumed to be incompetent…
Parkinson’s patients sometimes withdraw from society and make themselves even more invisible to the general population, so our Parkinson’s Underground divided into small units and vowed to keep track of each other, and also to go out into the world and do at least one thing that is NOT about Parkinson’s Disease, to avoid becoming a “Club” where everything is about Parkinson’s. Just as native people who fight for their rights should also do something that has nothing to do with “Indian Affairs”. I am writing a few chapters that are NOT about Parkinson’s.

(2) I am not running for election, so I am not asking for your vote. If all of Canada agrees that what was done to the people of Killiniq was standard procedure, all acceptable, or all the fault of the Inuit – well fine, but I disagree. If that was a “humanitarian gesture” made by the Canadian taxpayer, I would sure hate to witness their anti-humanitarian gestures.

(3) This is for the children of the Inuit of Killiniq, and their children and their children’s children, even unto the 7th generation, when clicking around in cyberspace, they will find the slander against their parents’ and grand-parents’ community, but they will also find that some old white guy with incurable Parkinson’s Disease, came out and said that the government was full of shit and the Inuit of Killiniq are right. Burwell was a huge screw-up, but it was not the Inuit who screwed up. So it’s over, it’s done. But the story that the government had nothing to do with the move except provide airplanes is what in the old days would have been called a “damnable lie”. These days, people say “Bullshit.”

(4) I am not an expert on First Nations: or Second Nations; and I don’t know who came in third, and I always forget how to spell Kangiqsualujjuaq, the village where Mary Simon was born. And her brother, Johnny, just recently honored in the Aerospace Hall of Fame (along with astronauts who went to the moon) – he is the ultimate bush pilot; incredible feats of flying in impossible conditions.
Being part Scots-Irish,we came over during the potato famine in the 1840’s, much too late to be First Nations, when one-third of the population of Ireland died of starvation and another third left Ireland forever; (and the final third stayed in Ireland to make Guiness) probably today we are somewhere around Seventy-Third Nation. I had never met a native person until I was in my 20’s. I had seen Indians getting chased across a lot of movie screens; they were always the bad guys except for a few noble ones who stared at the horizon and said wise things and I liked the Inuit Ook-pik craze – it was the first time people lined up at stores at Christmas for a fad, like they do now for the latest I-pod; Indians and Eskimos were somewhere out there but I never actually saw one until suddenly I was living on an Indian Reserve. Sometimes it actually is good to get what you wished for.

In 1970, Ursula and I decided it would be a good idea for us to disappear, because of a misunderstanding between us and authorities in three European countries; it made us nervous, what with Interpol going around interviewing everyone we knew and the police coming to our apartment and looking at what books we were reading, so we drove north-east from Montreal on a Honda 50 scooter (50 cc.’s!) – top speed was 30 m.p.h. full throttle on level ground from Ontario to Quebec City; 7 m.p.h. uphill… crawling up the hills between Quebec City and Sept-Iles… talk about making a fast get-away - we drove for days and days, sleeping beside the highway in a pup-tent, we went about 1,300 km until the road ended at Moisie River – at that time there was no bridge across the river, and the road simply came to an end near the radar base. So there we were. At the end of the road. Sort of been there ever since. Different roads at times, but the road always seems to come to an end in the wilderness somewhere. “Bridge out ahead” or “Past this point there be monsters”, or “You are now entering the Twilight Zone”. And you look up, and there are vultures, circling, slowly circling. Damn.

Fortunately, there were Indians all over the place, and they saw we were adrift and they took us in and fixed us up and taught us a different way to live on the edge. Minor example: We got lost in the endless forest; very scarey when you realize you are totally lost. Lucky stars again: an Innu hunting party came by. We were ecstatic, “You saved us! We were lost!”
And they are going, “Lost? Lost? How can you be lost? You are in the forest. It’s where we live. Choose any direction, it’s trees in all directions.”

A 15-year old Innu kid; (not Inuit; this is the Innu who used to be called Montagnais Indians) the kid told me that I was going around the Reserve like a wolf on the prowl, “Maikan”, he called me – the wolf. Then he got into the habit of pointing out that I was white, every ten minutes. Is the white man comfortable? Would the white man like a cup of tea? Is the white man satisfied with his new situation among the savages? (Fernand at Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, it’s you I am talking about.) He was teasing, a brilliant and very free kid – he became good friends with Ursula and helped out after our first son was born there, (Sören, the artist) when we were the only white people on the Rez. White – Miam. Wolf – Maikan.

And so I joined the spirit of Miam Maikan. I became a white wolf. What else could a poor boy do?

We hail from an ancient dream
We heed a different call
We sing the song of things unseen
We sing for no reason at all
Underneath the white moon rising
Something is on the prowl
Something moving slowly behind you
And then you remember
we were born to howl.
(Stone Coyotes I thank you)

First Nations and Inuit and Metis are often invisible. People look at them but do not SEE them. Opening up a mutual awareness is accomplished more deeply and more rapidly by art than by politics. Inuit and First Nation and Metis artists are the ones doing the most to bridge the great divide, just by revelation.
This video is yet another brilliant creation of Florent Vollant, Innu of Mani-Utenam.

Notice that they are wearing furs. PETA alert!
The visual punch line at the end: that’s the skyline of Montreal they are looking at. Not what you expected. Think about it.

Once upon a time
on a summer’s eve,
there appeared
a big white wolf,
as free as the air

Everywhere on earth
I was a terror
from a proud race
They said of me I was murderous
I howl at the moon, in my solitude
I disappear into the fog
Away from the multitude

miam maikan

Eku miam maikan, etel te mian
Miam ntuapimitan, peikuteishian
Miam maikan tshe uapimitan, tshe nantuapimitan, tshishuapimitan
tshe nantuapimitan, peikuteishian
peikuteishian, miam maikan etepueian mak tse etueian,
Peshuapmetan etepueian, eneuian ekuesteman eku ma peshuametan

(They are singing partly in French, but mostly in the Innuaimun language, spoken by only 9,000 people in the world, one of Canada’s 50 native languages that you never knew existed. Handle with care.)

In the very earliest time,
When both people and animals lived on earth
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.

Now is the hour of the wolf, the hour before sunrise, the hour of deepest dreams, the hour when the guards fall asleep, the hour when the enemy attacks, the hour when silent spirits move in the shadows of darkness, the hour of the wolf, the hour of the most births and the hour of the most deaths, the hour when the forest yearns for a new day; brace your courage; be strong and true; the hour of the wolf is now upon us.

(Et merci encore une fois, les québécois, surtout les artistes et tous ceux qui voient avec le coeur. De toute beauté, ce que vous faites avec les autochtones, non pas envers eux, mais bien avec eux. Éric Lapointe, Chloé Saint-Marie –elle a appris leur langue, chez les Innu!, et combien d’autres, et l’innovation de Wapikoni Mobile, et même l’Office National du Film, que je croyais mort et enterré– exemple: les deux vidéo-clips de Kathia Rock. Knocked me off my chair.)

A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
And what people wanted to happen could happen

Next: Chapter 37
Inuit and Killiniq: it should be investigated by the Qallunaat Studies Institute.

No comments: