The Neville-Robitaille Report: Observations

Some observations were made on this tour in these areas:

Problems of Communication

The report quotes:

        “Some of us do not know what is a provincial government”
                        Lucassie
                        Ivujivik
                        March 1, 1970

"It is observed that anyone with even a superficial knowledge of Eskimo culture can scarcely fail to recognize the tremendous problems which Eskimos as a group face in their efforts to comprehend and respond to the challenges of the modern world", write the authors.

Genuine questions, such as this one above, were asked by the “Eskimos”, and the interpreters and their assistance were continuously challenged by the need to find simple, yet precise ways to make complex terminology simple.   Anyone who has taken a stab at interpreting knows what they experienced then, in trying to come up with new words and new terminology, was a real challenge.

This is true in the sense that a story exists today of the times Ungava and the Hudson dialect started to interact.  The story talks about 2 Hudson interpreters in a meeting, one asking the other what “Qiang-ngu-yuuk means? The other answers, "I don’t know, it could be a disease"!  Qiang-ngu-yuuk in Ungavamiut is an outboard motor; in Hudson Bay it is Au-lau-tik.

But we can honestly say the interpreters did a darn good job under the circumstances.

Understanding the Purpose of This Tour

The  members of this tour were seen primarily as "bearers" of information and thoughts from their government bosses in the south.

Although this trip was to consult the Eskimos and Indians on the proposed extension of services by Quebec introduced by representatives of both federal and provincial representatives, the Eskimos had their own subject matters for discussion that may have seemed trivial to the government officials. Such subjects included local co-op  “growing pains”, jobs, getting equal pay to the white man in salary and so on.

As a consequence, the team frequently found themselves listening to matters and concerns of purely local nature , as well as broader issues quite outside of the teams frame of reference.

Proposals for the Extension of Services by Quebec

"We won't settle anything unless we can decide what government we want to be governed by", said Joe Kumarluk, Poste-de-la-Baleine (Great Whale River) in February l970.

Of the many opinions expressed on this subject, the one above seemed to be most representative to the tour officials.  The Eskimos and Indians tended to focus on the principle of the involvement of Quebec.  Discussions were often for the purpose of clarifying for themselves and the team why or whether one government should be rejected and the other chosen.

Reasons for Maintaining Current Arrangements

“What we find wrong is that the two governments have agreed together on this without consulting the Eskimos”
                        Stanley Ananack
                        Port-Nouveau-Quebec
                        (George River)
                        March 1970

This conviction applied not only to the subject then under discussion but to events long past.  In all but one of the communities, the population expressed the view that down through history, governments have not consulted them in the decisions made on matters affecting their well-being.

The consensus reached between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec in 1964, was a more recent happening that the Eskimos and Indians cited as another form of decision making that did not include them as active participants where their lives were being affected and they had no say in its formulation.

Brief history lessons had to be given by Messrs. Neville and Robitaille in each community. The lessons were on the changing of hands of ownership of what is known today as Nunavik from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1620, to Government of Great Britain, and the reclamation of the same in 1869, then granting it to the Dominion of Canada, then the Boundaries Extension Act, Quebec, 1912.

One of the main reasons given for wishing to retain the federal government was because that government was the first to work among them.  They believed they knew its strengths and limitations.  At no time though, did the population reject the current systems of provincial social welfare benefits and allowances.  Indeed, in areas of government activity, such as development of co-operatives, the involvement of the Government of Quebec and the sizeable financial contribution were praised by the Eskimos and by the one Indian group.

The proposed change in educational services was met with great suspicion that even the faith of the “Eskimos” might be influenced to become Roman Catholic and it was expressed in no uncertain terms that “Eskimos” were of the Anglican faith. They believed that to be French-speaking is essentially to be Roman Catholic; and to be under Quebec and French speaking, perhaps meant becoming Roman Catholic, and in doing so be cut off from other Eskimos and from the rest of Canada.

Joint Administration

Most of those who expressed themselves on this matter did not want joint administration to extend to the education systems.  However proposals for integrating both governments in the fields of municipal services and welfare were discussed and received general support in most communities.

Quality of Services

The division of responsibilities between the two governments for the provision of services in Nouveau Quebec and the uncertainties over the question of when the Quebec Government would assume the major responsibility for the delivery of these services does not seem to have resulted in an improvement in general.  In fact, the opposite appears to be true.  Without question, the need for shelter is greatest, followed by health services, more jobs....

Having had the practice of gatherings regionally through their new found infrastructure (the co-oops), the communities began to discover its social conscience. Housing, education, health, their economy brought the Eskimos closer. They were beginning to discover that together they had political clout, political aspirations to govern themselves in these areas.  

Land and Self-Determination

In February of 1970, the essence of the work,  the present tripartite (Nunavik, Provincial, and Federal representatives) negotiations are now based upon were summed up by the late Alex Niviassie (this is the spelling they used in the report).

 “Now it is very important that these Eskimos should have this land for their own. The Eskimos are realizing more and more what they didn’t have before”.

The federal-provincial team did not receive a mandate to discuss the question of the rights of Eskimos and Indians to lands in Nouveau Quebec and it went to some pains to explain this.  In some communities, they placed possession and management of "the land" above all other considerations.

Land and the non-physical phenomenon self-determination are so interrelated in the minds of Eskimo and Indians one cannot be understood properly apart from the other. All who expressed views tended to regard as self-evident the question of who owns "the land".  Their position was clear and unequivocal.  They own "the land" because they had always occupied it.

The feelings on this matter were often linked to the issue of possession of the land and to the right to determine their own future.

  • April 10, 2006
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