The politicians gathered everyone in the church so that there would be no controversy over the relocation event, if they had met in the town hall there would have been a lot of people speaking up. After the meeting, the government people just simply left – the Inuit had no say. They had to move to a place full of strangers, unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar language, unfamiliar ways of life.Read Paul Mitchell's Hebron Relocation - 1959
Hebron is a formal Inuit community in Northern Labrador. In fact, it was the northernmost settlement in all of Labrador, 200km north of Nain which is the current northernmost community. Hebron was established in 1831, and ever since that date the Inuit who lived there enjoyed a very strong traditional life, everybody spoke the Inuit language, everybody hunted, everybody went to church. However, in 1959, something happened that was very devastating to those people of Hebron. Clara Ford was one of many people that took place in this event. They were all relocated to the larger communities. I interviewed Clara and the whole time, I could see it in her eyes how it affected her. To have someone come along and say to you that you have to leave your home, and have absolutely no say whatsoever about it, that’s completely unfair. These people lost their language, and over time their traditional ways of life had been swallowed by technology. Many cried for hours, for days. They always talked about home Clara would say. They always thought about home. I chose this topic to write a story about because the relocation of the Inuit from Hebron marked a change in their lives forever, a tragedy some might even call it. Taken from home, no say whatsoever. Clara can still remember the tears cried by the elders of Hebron. “They was sad people, them older ones” she would say repeatedly throughout the interview. The Hebron relocation is my choice of topic, and that explains my inspiration.
In April of nineteen fifty nine, Hebron’s Inuit population was met by four politicians who came from St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. To many, it was unknown why they came all the way to Hebron from the island of Newfoundland. They told the Inuit there was going to be a church meeting that day, so all the elders and other adults went to the church. However, the teenagers who could speak good English were not permitted to attend since they were “too young”. Clara Ford attempted to enter, but she was stopped and told to leave (she was aged 18). This church meeting was not about something that these Inuit could smile about.
When everyone had gathered in the church on that Easter Monday, the four politicians announced that there would be a relocation taking place. “Everyone from Hebron will be moving to the larger communities south of here” was the statement that got around after the meeting. It was a strategy of the politicians to gather everybody in the church. There was also a town hall in Hebron, but here’s why they didn’t get everyone to go there for the meeting. At the church, you weren’t allowed to say anything against an idea, weren’t a loud to argue with anything or anyone. The politicians gathered everyone in the church so that there would be no controversy over the relocation event, if they had met in the town hall there would have been a lot of people speaking up. After the meeting, the government people just simply left – the Inuit had no say. They had to move to a place full of strangers, unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar language, unfamiliar ways of life.
They all had a choice in terms of which community they would move to – Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik or Happy Valley Goose Bay. They had all split up, some went to Nain, some to Makkovik, some to Hopedale, and only a few to Goose Bay. Although some of these communities already had Inuit living there, the people of Hebron did not know why they were forced to move. The politicians had stated that it was because the boats had to travel too far with supplies such as foods, furniture, etc. They said to the Hebron Inuit, “If you all stay here, you’s is goin’ starve and no one will be able to take care of you’s” Clara says, who was one of the Inuit in Hebron at the time. Treatment wasn’t very good towards the Inuit people at the time.
Clara and her Mother moved to Makkovik, which was the second southernmost community on the list of choices to move to. They came to Makkovik in Clara’s brother’s motor boat, and upon first arrival had a very hard time adapting to English life. Clara had to be an interpreter for many of the Elders who didn’t speak English at all. She felt very sorry for them, she seen them cry over and over, days and days after the relocation announcement. She had to go to the post office with them, to the store, and sometimes she had to ask local men where the best places to go hunting was so that the Elders could somewhat continue their original way of life. Prior to the time that Clara asked the local men for good hunting locations, the Inuit men were called lazy, and thought of as inefficient since they didn’t do anything like going off, hunting and trapping. Although they were still able to hunt and eat wild game such as seals, fish and partridges, they missed their Hebron home very much. They would cry and cry, “They was sad people, them older ones” Clara recalls. The relocation didn’t only steal the language of the Inuit since they now lived in an English environment, but some of them fell to poverty due to the fact that they were not used to this type of civilization. There was a man, from the Semigak family, who had to live in a tent even during the cold winters. Some of them moved up to Nain and Hopedale after a while, since there were much more Inuit living there, and they found it much easier living there than in Makkovik. There was still no place like home however.
When Clara and her Mother were on the way to Makkovik, Clara was told by her mother that they would have a house for them to live in upon arrival, so Clara was beginning to feel a small bit of comfort for once. However, in contrast to what they had been promised- no house was waiting for them in Makkovik. They had to be billeted for one year until all the houses were built, and that was when they began to meet everybody. They always had nice billets who had treated them equally, but there were always a few people in town who thought very low of the Inuit. Clara was able to shrug that off and accept her new home.
After about two years living in Makkovik, the Elders were able to hunt and find new places to hunt without assistance, Clara and her mother knew everybody in Makkovik, and things were just going smoothly. One day, after Clara had already gotten married and had a child, they were given the choice to move back to Hebron. Clara’s mother told her “Not goin’ to move back no more”, since they had already settled down. So they stayed here in Makkovik, enjoying a whole new life. They still thought about home though, how could they not?
In 1999, Clara went to Hebron for a trip – it was a gathering type of thing where all the Inuit who had been relocated got to go back home with all their old friends for one week. It was a really good trip, and very good to be home in Hebron with everyone. Clara wouldn’t move back now however, and her main reasoning is her family she has and the house she has in Makkovik. It just wouldn’t be the same. Even now, another good trip home would be nice for Clara. She still remembers the tears they all cried since they had to move away from their Home. “No time a’tall, no choice” she recalls. No time to move, no choice or say. It was a shocking, unfair event that happened to the Inuit of Labrador. Clara enjoys her life in the present day, but she is still hurt by being forced to leave her home.
And that’s the story of the Hebron Relocation, along with eyewitness accounts from Clara Ford, who is an Inuit elder living in Makkovik, NL. She misses home very much, and will never forget how the government took her lifestyle from her and her elders, her family, her fellow Inuit.
“They was sad people, them older ones” – Clara Ford.