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Relocation of graves in Hall Beach has left 'scars,' MLA says

Four Hall Beach men were given the grim task of digging up and moving human remains in 1968.

“Still today it's kind of emotional,” says Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk. “We still have scars.” photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk holds the federal government accountable for giving the orders to relocate an estimated 20 graves to make way for housing. Kaernerk, like Hall Beach's MLAs before him, is demanding compensation for the incident. What the settlement would entail hasn't yet been determined – it could involve cash and/or a ceremony, he suggested. He said the claim would largely be left up to the sole surviving widow as the four men who dug the graves – Isaac Nangmalik, Moses Allianak, Simeonie Kaernerk and Moses Ulluapak – and all of their other spouses have since perished.

One of the gravediggers, Simeonie Kaernerk, was Joelie Kaernerk's father. While talking about the details of the grisly historic circumstances, the Amittuq MLA occasionally paused and his voice became tinged with emotion.

“We still have scars,” he said. “My late mom would always clean my dad's clothing. They had to strip their clothing outside the house because they had too much blood and the smell of a carcass... they had to wash outside before they'd go in the house. Just imagine.”

Some of the bodies were those of babies wrapped in blankets, said Kaernerk. They were moved approximately 50 metres to a new cemetery.

“Still today it's kind of emotional. I mean, they 're long gone but it still resurfaces,” he said, adding that the men never received any compensation in their lifetimes.

Kaernerk wrote a letter to Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, in October. He pointed out that the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which also researched the RCMP slaughter of Inuit working dogs, has documented the relocation of Hall Beach graves.

Bennett's office responded in April.

As a member of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission's Saimaqatiingniq Working Group, we will be working together with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and other stakeholders to continue finding ways to support and implement the Qikiqtani Truth Commission's recommendations while advancing reconciliation,” Bennett's brief letter states in part, and promises further contact in the future.

Kaernerk submitted the correspondence in Nunavut's legislative assembly in June. He hasn't heard anything further since.

A federal election looms in October and a change of government could bring a setback, if any progress has been made.

“Hopefully she'll respond soon,” Kaernerk said of Bennett. “With this fall election happening, I'm kind of concerned, but I'm still going to work on that issue.”

The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations has not respond to Nunavut News' questions on this matter.