Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik June 21, 2017 - 4:00 pm

Nunavik’s youngest community turns 30

"I was very committed to building this community, and I’m very satisfied with it"

SARAH ROGERS
Umiujaq celebrated its 30th anniversary as a community earlier this year. With a population of 450, the village has attracted more visitors in recent years, thanks to the creation of the surrounding Tursujuq national park. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Umiujaq celebrated its 30th anniversary as a community earlier this year. With a population of 450, the village has attracted more visitors in recent years, thanks to the creation of the surrounding Tursujuq national park. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Noah Inukpuk stands on a sandy stretch of land along Hudson Bay, now the site of Umiujaq’s Kiluutaq school. Inukpuk served as relocation coordinator for Inuit who moved from Kuujjuaraapik to establish Umiujaq in the mid-1980s. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. INUKPUK)
Noah Inukpuk stands on a sandy stretch of land along Hudson Bay, now the site of Umiujaq’s Kiluutaq school. Inukpuk served as relocation coordinator for Inuit who moved from Kuujjuaraapik to establish Umiujaq in the mid-1980s. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. INUKPUK)
Umiujaq mayor Jack Niviaxie stands in the centre of the community, with one of its oldest buildings in the background—the community’s first co-op store, which now serves as the local youth centre. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Umiujaq mayor Jack Niviaxie stands in the centre of the community, with one of its oldest buildings in the background—the community’s first co-op store, which now serves as the local youth centre. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
A Bell Canada charter plane lands along a grassy strip in the village of Umiujaq in the mid-1980s, before the community had an airport. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. INUKPUK)
A Bell Canada charter plane lands along a grassy strip in the village of Umiujaq in the mid-1980s, before the community had an airport. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. INUKPUK)

UMIUJAQ—You can see a young man standing on a grassy crop of sandy beach. In the distance, a few trailers dot the landscape, connected by a single power line.

In 1985, that’s how Noah Inukpuk looked wearing a trucker-style baseball cap, a bomber jacket and jeans, with a slight smile on his face.

Inukpuk was standing then in what is now the centre of Umiujaq, the Nunavik community of 450 along the Hudson Bay coast.

More than 30 years later, the view of that spot is vastly different; it’s where you can find the community’s Kiluutaq School, a focal point in the centre of town, which is surrounded by the co-op store, homes and the community’s Hydro-Québec plant.

Umiujaq, Nunavik’s youngest community, was established in 1986—a year after someone took that photo of Inukpuk.

In the early 1970s, Inuit from Kuujjuaraapik, 160 kilometres south down the Hudson Bay coast, began to take note of the Quebec government’s nearby hydro-electric plans at La Grande and along the Great Whale River. They worried about the potential impact that the huge project would have on local harvesting.

In 1982, the community opted to create a new community where they could maintain their traditional lifestyle, and negotiated a clause into the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to support that move.

For some, it was a chance to go back to the region they grew up in.

Some local Inuit were originally based in the Richmond Gulf area until the local Hudson Bay post moved father down the coast to the Great Whale River in the 1930s, where Kuujjuaraapik was established.

“This was the original community for people who lived here,” Inukpuk said of the Richmond Gulf. “People who were living here wanted to go back. Other people voted [to move] because of family connections.”

Though Inukpuk was born on the Belcher Islands and later relocated to Kuujjuaraapik, his wife’s family had originally lived along the Richmond Gulf. As a family, they decided to return to their roots.

In 1985, Inukpuk, his wife Alice and their six children packed up and moved to the new community which was just a rough collection of old buildings, trailers, a few power lines and oil drums.

There were 19 other people there at the time.

The trailer his family lived in had power, but no water, Inukpuk said. There was no grocery store, no health centre and no school for his children to attend.

“When we first arrived, I spent the first night… the next morning, I told my wife ‘We can’t live this way,’” recalled Inukpuk, now 69.

“There was nothing.”

But Inukpuk had an important role to play in settling this new community. He was its relocation coordinator and served as a liaison with the Quebec government and the various agencies that were helping with the move.

In the months that followed, Inukpuk found himself acting as the postman for the small community, coordinating flights and tending to patients while on the phone with nursing staff in Kuujjuaraapik.

When Umiujaq incorporated as a Northern Village, Inukpuk ran for mayor and was elected to serve in that role until 1995.

Basic infrastructure took about a year to build. Inukpuk and his wife still live in the same duplex they first moved into in 1986, with a view overlooking the bay.

That year, Umiujaq had a population of 89, a school and a nursing station. Its name, Umiujaq, means “which resembles a boat,” because the village is set at the foot of a hill that looks like an overturned umiaq, a traditional walrus-skinned boat.

Umiujaq’s current mayor, Jack Niviaxie, can recall relocating from Kuujjuaraapik that year, when he was just 16.

His family was worried; hunters had to travel further and further to access wildlife.

“They believed that as soon as the dam was built, it would affect everything,” Niviaxie said. “You can see the current is stronger now, even here.”

Niviaxie said his teenage years were difficult: He was angry with his family for uprooting him from the community he grew up in.

“I used to go to my father and tell him: I want to go back,” he said. “There was nothing to do. People didn’t even have hunting equipment.”

Niviaxie never returned to school. He later started working for the municipality.

It took a good 10 years before Umiujaq felt like home. Niviaxie said the birth of his children in the 1990s finally allowed him to feel settled.

“They felt like it was their home, so it became mine too,” he said.

Inukpuk remembers the upheaval during the 1980s; as relocation coordinator, he considered it his role to help families get settled in their new homes.

“For us who were leading the move, most people were happy to move here,” he said. “If they weren’t, I tried to find out what the problem was.”

Over the community’s 30 years, many families have come and gone. In the 2016 census, Umiujaq was the only community to see a population decline from 2011, albeit by just two residents.

Inukpuk spent much of his time as mayor trying to secure other infrastructure and services for the community. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the community got police service.

For the first few years, Umiujaq had no airport either; small aircraft landed on a grassy strip that ran through what is now the main village.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted at first,” Inukpuk said. “But we knew it would come.”

The community’s infrastructure deficit persists today; Umiujaq still doesn’t have a community centre. And there aren’t many jobs for local residents, he said.

Niviaxie said infrastructure remains the Northern Village’s top priority today; he’s currently looking for funding to replace the town’s sewage lagoon and build a recreation centre. He still looks enviously at Kuujjuaraapik’s indoor swimming pool.

But Umiujaq has grown into a friendly, welcoming community, Niviaxie said—one he is proud to serve and call home.

More visitors are getting to see Umiujaq too, as the base for the surrounding Tursujuq national park, which spans a whopping 26,000 square kilometres encompassing the scenic Hudson cuestas and Lake Tasiujaq’s brackish waters.

The community’s 30th anniversary fell in 2016, but the celebration was delayed until January, when residents gathered at the school gym for a feast and ceremony to honour the community’s founders and past leaders, such as Inukpuk.

“When I look back at what I’ve done, I wasn’t successful all the time,” Inukpuk said. “But I was very committed to building this community, and I’m very satisfied with it.”

“This community has been here 30 years and now it’s recognized like any other community in Nunavik.”

Relocatees to Umiujaq first lived in these kinds of trailers, and traditional tents like the one at left. This is the site of where the new co-op hotel is now located along Umiujaq’s waterfront. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. INUKPUK)
Relocatees to Umiujaq first lived in these kinds of trailers, and traditional tents like the one at left. This is the site of where the new co-op hotel is now located along Umiujaq’s waterfront. (PHOTO COURTESY OF N. INUKPUK)
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