Inuit get $63,000 apiece for forced exile

Labrador Inuit who were forced to relocate from their communities in the 1950s finally have compensation of $63,000 apiece.

Labrador Inuit who were forced to leave their homes in the 1950s are finally receiving compensation.

A cheque for $63,000 is being sent to each person who was required to move and is still alive.

Dozens of families in the coastal communities of Nutak and Hebron were resettled against their wishes between 1956 and 1959 to make it easier for the government to provide schools and health services.

While many now live in Nain, the largest Inuit community on the northern Labrador coast, others are scattered across Canada and in the United States.

The Inuit, once called Eskimos by some, are not to be confused with Labrador's Innu people, once called Naskapi and Montagnais Indians.

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams apologized for their forced exile when a land claims deal with the Labrador Inuit was formally signed earlier this year.

A royal commission in 1974 called the resettlement – which separated families and friends and has been linked to many social problems – an injustice and hardship for those who were moved. 

Fred Lyall, who was 19 when he was resettled, recalls it as a difficult time for the community.

"It really affected their life in a negative sort of a way; they left their hunting grounds, their trapping grounds, their fishing grounds," said Lyall, who now lives in Mount Pearl, near St. John's.

"Although they were welcomed in other communities, they didn't feel welcomed. They didn't feel at home."

Andrew Piercy, who was forced to move from Hebron more than 45 years ago, says he was proud to have received enough money to buy furniture and a new computer for his daughter.

"I didn't think I was going to see it. I thought I was going to die before we got it," says Piercy, who now lives in an apartment in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"I am glad that I am around to see it come through."

Boyd Manuel, who manages the Northern Store in Nain, which sells everything from a pin to an anchor, says business has been booming since compensation cheques arrived.

"[In the] last couple of days, we put through somewhere around 16 Ski-Doos. We pretty well sold in two days what normally we'd sell in a year."

The cheques are being distributed by the newly created self-government of Nunatsiavut, born in a land-claim settlement that brought $130 million in federal and provincial compensation money.