Boreas: MOVE

Inuit Institutions, Resistance, and State-sponsored Relocation in Northern Labrador (1956 to 1959)

Hebron, Labrador (Paul Pigott photo)

Peter Evans

MOVED Affiliated Researcher

PhD Candidate, Scott Polar Research Institute

Cambridge, UK

This research project is a longue duree historical analysis of Inuit resistance to colonial authority, which attempts to unravel the origins of our present-day notions of domination and submission in aboriginal / state relations. Although the focus of the work is on the period of high modernism in community planning and native administration that ousted Inuit from historically dispersed settlements and villages into a handful of larger, more southerly communities in the 1950s, the work draws together histories and themes going back to the earliest days of permanent European settlement in order to demonstrate the continuity in Inuit resistance and political representation from era to era. Research consisted of extensive archival work in multiple settings and fieldwork in Northern Labrador.


The 1950s was a period of technological and administrative transformation across the Arctic. Everywhere, the state approached the North as a blank canvas on which to project its dreams of a more orderly, rational, and well-serviced network of settlements. In northernmost Labrador, governments permanently altered the region's human ecology by coercing the residents of two Inuit communities, Nutak (in 1956) and Hebron (in 1959), to remove to more southerly stations. The closures of Nutak and Hebron were among the largest relocations in the Canadian Arctic, directly uprooting nearly 500 Inuit, but impacting many, many more.


My reading of Inuit-European-Settler relations in Labrador places several kinds of resistance at the centre of historical aboriginal-colonial relations. Historically, Inuit evidenced active resistance to outside meddling, passive resistance through non-cooperation and withdrawal from engagement with external agencies, and cultural resistance, through which they created a hybrid Inuit-Moravian community mode by incorporating aspects of Christianity and European culture into the Inuit political system. This resistive agency thrived both in the structure of land-based geographical and kinship groups, and throughout the period of Moravian tenure in Northern Labrador, in spite of the Mission’s heavy hand in its dealings with Inuit. The greatest blow to the capacity of Northern Inuit to resist and shape their own history came through the frustration of their political traditions, breaking of kinship bonds, and economic disenfranchisement that the relocations of the late 1950s inflicted. The nature of high-modern planning is examined to shed light on the challenges to Inuit resistance.


Project Support:


Canadian Museum of Civilization (William E. Taylor Prize); Cambridge Commonwealth Trust & Smuts Fund; Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund (Mary LeMessure Scholar for History); BB Roberts Fund, Scott Polar Research Institute; Arctic Institute of North America; Institute for Social and Economic Research, Memorial University; MOVED project.


Forthcoming & Recent Conference Papers & Publications


* “Abandoned by the State: Relocations from Nutak and Hebron 1956-1959,” (chapter) in Settlement, Subsistence, and Change among the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Natcher, Felt, Proctor eds. University of Manitoba Press, in prep (anticipated 2011).

“Mobilization and Migration: Indigenous Resistance to Resettlement Schemes in Northern Labrador.” Cultures of Movement: Mobile Subjects, Communities, and Technologies in the Americas, April 8-10, Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, April 2010.

“Aunt Kate’s Map: How the Moravians Rendered the Labrador Inuit Legible to the Modern State.” American Society for Environmental History Annual Conference. Portland, Oregon, USA, March 2010.

“Resignation and Resistance: Social Effects of Relocation Upon an Aboriginal Community.” BOREAS: Moved By the State final conference, Arctic Centre, Rovaniemi, Finland. November 2009.

“The Construction of Isolation as a Leading Discourse in Northern History.” NiCHE North, June, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, June 2009. Proceedings Forthcoming.

“Relocation, Resistance, and Reconciliation: The Making of a State Apology.” International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences tri-annual conference, Nuuk, Greenland, August 2008.

“Your Loyal and Obedient Servant: The Newfoundland Rangers and the Labrador Inuit, 1935 – 1950.” Canadian Historical Association Annual Conference, Vancouver, June 2008. Webcast:

Hebron, Labrador (Paul Pigott photo)