The Inuit of Quebec will receive $3 million in compensation from the provincial government for the harm caused to their way of life by the slaughter of up to 1,000 sled dogs, or qimmiit, in the 1950s and 1960s, according to an agreement signed on August 8.
Jean Charest, premier of Quebec, signed the agreement personally with the Makivik Corp., a non-profit Inuit organization, to acknowledge that killing the Inuit’s primary means of transportation stripped them of their ability to hunt, trap and fish, and thus had lasting, detrimental effects on their way of life.
The report and resulting agreement settles any lingering doubts over what happened during the 1950s and 1960s, when the sled dogs of 14 Nunavik communities—in some cases a village’s entire population of dogs—were eliminated by Canadian authorities, ostensibly for health and safety reasons. Over the years first one party, then another, denied that it happened, then denied responsibility. But Makivik pressed on, and in 2007 a retired Quebecois Superior Court Judge Jean-Jacques Croteau was commissioned by the province to investigate and put the issue to rest. His 141-page, 2010 report formed the basis for this agreement.
Croteau gathered his information from conducting 179 personal interviews in the 14 communities and in Montreal, and by sifting through hundreds of pages of documents.
“I questioned dog-owners, their children, and witnesses who had had first-hand knowledge of the events recounted by the members of the last generation of nomads in Nunavik,” his report states.
He concluded that at least 1,000 dogs were gassed, poisoned or shot in Nunavik by representatives of the federal and provincial governments during those two decades and recommended that the Inuit receive compensation and an apology, with the money awarded to non-profit Inuit organizations so as to promote Inuit art, culture and language, as well as to organize dog sled races. At around the same time, a separate inquiry by the Qikiqtani Truth Commission found that “the killings went on far too long to be the result of a secret plan or conspiracy.”
For the signing Charest was joined by Quebec native affairs minister Geoff Kelley, Makivik Corp. president Pita Aatami and Kativik Regional Government chair Maggie Emudluk at a press conference in Kangiqsualujjuaq, according to media reports.
Charest emphasized the need for trust between the Inuit and the Canadian government, especially in light of challenges that the two face as the developmental Plan Nord advances.
“In the spirit of mutual respect, the Gouvernement du Québec recognizes that Inuit society suffered from the effects of the sled dog slaughter. We hope that the agreement signed today shows Québec’s willingness to work hand in hand with the Inuit, for the benefit of all Quebecers,” he said in a statement.
Plaques were presented to Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corp., and to the 14 Inuit villages that were affected by the slaughter.
“We have reached a satisfactory solution,” Aatami said in the joint statement. “Today’s agreement is very important for us. It shows the government’s sincerity toward its relationship with the Inuit. We can now face the future with greater serenity.”