Cree in the James Bay region of Quebec are hoping a long-forgotten story of an Inuit settlement in their midst will bring eco-tourists to the region.

The Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) has produced a documentary with filmmaker Louise Abbott, called Nunaaluk: A Forgotten Story.

In the late 1920's, a small group of Inuit settled in Nunaaluk, a community on the Cape Hope Islands in James Bay.  

In 1960, the federal government told the community they had to leave Nunaaluk and move north to Great Whale River. Stewart says it was part of the government's policy to "centralize" aboriginal people into permanent communities.

Abandoned in the 1960's, one of the only two people believed to still remember living on the islands is Minnie Aodla Freeman.

Freeman was born on the Cape Hope Islands in 1937 and grew up immersed in the traditional Inuit culture. She is now living in Edmonton and is featured in the documentary. "You know where you were born. Where you grow up ...where you're footprints are...you don't forget it. It's down there. Cape Hope will always be there, " she said

The islands are part of Nunavut, but are geographically closer to Eeyou Istchee.   

The Inuit likely moved there long ago because they wanted to get closer to the Old Factory trading post near Wemindji. The move made it the most southerly Inuit community in Canada.

"It's a story that has not been told and that should be told, it should be seen by many," said Dorothy Stewart, product development officer with COTA. "It's a history that we can not forget. It also shows...the coast is so beautiful."

Nunaaluk landscape

In the late 1920's, a small group of Inuit settled in Nunaaluk, a community on the Twin and Cape Hope Islands in James Bay. (Niels Jensen)

The area was rich in marine life, such as beluga whales, allowing the community to continue their typical hunting.

They hope that Nunaaluk: A Forgotten Story will be part of a much larger eco-tourism development endeavor called the Coastal Route Project. A large focal point of the plan revolves around cultural tourism, aimed at emphasizing the special character of local people. 

Stewart says the documentary also talks of the cultural exchange between the Inuit of Nunaaluk and their closest neighbours, the Cree of James Bay.

"It needs to be seen, what the coast was like, what attracted to them and also the sharing (with) the of the many of the Cree people that frequented the islands and  knew of their presence. So we need to see this and many people need to see this story."

Nunaaluk landscape

The area was rich in marine life, such as beluga whales, allowing the community to continue their typical hunting. (Louise Abbott)

According to Stewart, the Inuit presence in James Bay is largely associated with the name of one man, George Weetaltuk. He was a respected Inuit leader and a Hudson's Bay Company pilot, boat builder and artist. Weetaltuk moved himself and his extended family to the island in the early 1930's.

"[The documentary] also shows where their comfort was, the Weetaltuk family and all those generations that lived on those islands and where their livelihood  was...it was so abundant with wildlife and you can see that," said Stewart.

It was on this island that Weetaltuk built the renowned Cape Hope Island canoes, which are still being made by his relatives today in Great Whale, Quebec.

Nunaaluk: A Forgotten Story is currently touring the communities of James Bay.