Resettlement is nothing new to this province and in particular, Labrador. We have seen it all before, and the past has a way of repeating itself, “True”?
For many small communities, their history and very creation was built on the Fishing industry. They were originally seasonal/summer fishing stations but eventually grew into more recognized structured communities, that provided not only employment opportunities but also sustenance living.
William’s Harbour, a small island on the south-east coast of Labrador was originally settled sometime in 1840s as one of those unique seasonal fishing places. Clearly chosen for such reasons as; access to healthy fishing grounds, sheltered harbour and the abundance of sea birds and berries (all positive aspects of the location). Samuel Kibenok (an Inuk) now spelled Kippenhook was one of the original pioneers of the community. It was more formerly recognized in 1970s. Once a thriving home to a population of hundreds, with its own school, health clinic and post office, William’s Harbour was by all standards a flourishing community.
Similarly, on the north coast of Labrador, the community of Hebron, on occasion boasted an Inuit population of almost 1200 people. Definitely, a very thriving place. Earlier established by the Moravian church in 1831, as the Moravians sought to evangelize the Inuit people of Northern Labrador. They first came to Labrador in 1771 by starting a mission in Nain. But, things were difficult in northern Labrador, as epidemics of smallpox, influenza and whooping cough ran periodically through the community, creating much hardship for the people. In 1918, a flu epidemic literally wiped out over thirty percent of the people.
Generally speaking, revenue obtained from various resources harnessed by the government is used to provide basic necessities of life. This includes roads, hospitals, good drinking water, electricity, education and other services that may improve the standard of living for it’s citizens. So, one could say that - “government is responsible for the health and welfare of the people”-despite where they may live. But this creates an understandable challenge for government politicians and administrators.
In 1954, the government of the day (Department of Welfare) introduced a new program that was meant to encourage residents of small out port coastal communities to move to larger growth areas. They would pay each house hold $ 150.00, to move, which was increased to $ 600.00 by the end of the fiscal year, a significant amount at the time for struggling fisher people.
For small communities, the continuous decline in population and the increasing age in demographics, that require more advanced and access to essential services-especially health care- the government’s ability to provide those amenities is increasing at a rate that can be considered by most as unstainable. For example, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador reported in October of 2017, the province’s public marine transportation system costs $ 76 million dollars annually. It is often deliberated by leaders as a drain to the economy? Requiring spending millions of government funds on just a few people. Thus, governments are still helping and wanting to see less small in-accessible communities and more combined centers where the distribution of services is more affordable.
Community Relocation Policy is still alive and well in our province-since 2010-government assisted relocation is still very much practiced. Governments don’t want to be seen as promoting and initiating the relocation (dismantling) of towns. The big difference is now, requests must be community driven and come from those living there themselves. However, I will argue, that when government continues to cut back essential services in remote communities, the people sometimes have no other option but to move. Is this forced relocation/resettlement or out-migration by default?
I often wonder about this question and the cost of the distribution of government services from a pure cost perspective, but then I wake up, give my head a shake! “People have a right to live where they choose”!
Once all the administration details are worked out, crucial services, including electricity (the power was completely shut off November 10,2017 in the community of William’s Harbour), are terminated when a community has an official vote and achieves a level of 90 % or greater. In 2013, the provincial level of compensation, now sits at approximately $ 100,000.00 to $ 270,000.00 per household.
The ugly side and aftermath of all this is-extended families move to different areas and are now separated, seasoned hunters find themselves in unfamiliar environment where they don’t know where to hunt and fish and don’t want to upset the local people and the social framework of the new community can be altered.
Al Pitman sang/wrote the song titled “The Government Game” said it best; It’s surely a sad sight, their moving around; but there is no going back now, there is nothing to gain; now that they played the government game”!
Thanks for reading my column and if you have ideas and or comments please fell free to e-mail directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers from Central Labrador
Stan Oliver lives and works in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.