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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic December 19, 2014 - 5:40 pm

Taissumani, Dec. 19

The Belcher Island Murders – Part 3

KENN HARPER

The judicial party arrived in the Belcher Islands on Aug. 18. Judge Plaxton was from the Ontario Supreme Court but was also a Stipendiary Magistrate for the Northwest Territories.

R. A. Olmsted, from the federal Department of Justice, was the prosecutor. J. P. Madden, a lawyer from Ottawa served as defence counsel. Two reporters, one from the Canadian Press and one from the Toronto Star, accompanied the party.

The trial began the following day. The jury consisted of six white men: a mining executive, a prospector, the engineer of the HBC vessel Fort Charles, the HBC post manager and, amazingly, both newspaper reporters.

The trial proceeded smoothly for six of the accused. But when it was time for Mina’s trial, she refused to leave her tent, and “struggled and screamed and sobbed violently. She had to be carried into Court strapped to a stretcher.”

In his address to the jury, the judge noted what he called the Inuit’s “easy susceptibility to religious frenzy and hysteria particularly when they were left alone without religious guidance or Police supervision, but pointed out that nevertheless the Criminal laws of Canada were just as applicable to these people as they are to their white brethren…”

The jury deliberated for a number of hours before bringing in their verdicts. Alec Apawkok was acquitted. The young lady Akeenik was found not guilty on account of temporary insanity.

Peter Sala, Ouyerack, Quarack and Adlaykok were all found guilty of manslaughter, with strong recommendations for mercy in the case of Adlaykok and Quarack, the latter because “he was one of the best hunters on the Islands and had the best fed and best clothed family on the Islands, and was ordinarily a quiet man who usually lived and hunted somewhat apart from the other natives and would probably have remained aloof from the religious hysteria had he not been sought out and influenced by the others.”

In Mina’s case, the defence counsel entered no plea, and the jury brought in a verdict that that she was insane.

Peter Sala and Ouyarack were sentenced to two years imprisonment, and Adlaykok to one year, all with hard labour at the RCMP post at Chesterfield Inlet.

It was too late in the season for them to be transported to Chesterfield, so they were sent back to Moose Factory where they spent the winter, as did Akeenik and Mina. Quarack was given a two-year suspended sentence and ordered to hunt for, feed and protect the family of Peter Sala while Sala was imprisoned.

Charlie Ouyarack died at Moose Factory in May of 1942. In the summer of that same year the four remaining prisoners were granted early release on the condition that none return to the Belcher Islands. They were transferred by plane from Moose Factory to Great Whale River.

The two females were to be transferred to the care of the Rev. Neilsen, from whom they would receive religious instruction. He, however, had no room to accommodate them and they were left more or less to fend for themselves.

Peter Sala, his family and his sister Mina moved to the Nastapoka Islands north of Richmond Gulf. Mina’s husband, Moses, drowned in the Belcher Islands in the fall of 1943 before he was able to join her.

Adlaykok lived in a camp 20 miles north of Great Whale River. Akeenik lived in the same camp. Quarack remained on the Belcher Islands.

In a brief report in 1944, the RCMP noted that the former prisoners have “been living normal lives and the chief instigators, both while serving imprisonment and since being released and returned to their natural environment have conducted themselves in a normal manner and are now following their normal mode of living.” 

Peter Sala eventually returned to the Belcher Islands and died there in 1990.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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