The Ihalmiut ᐃᓴᓪᒥᐅᑦ [ihalmiˈut] ("People from Beyond") or Ahiarmiut ("the Out-of-the-Way Dwellers") are a group of inland Inuit who lived along the banks of the Kazan River, Ennadai Lake Little Dubawnt Lake (renamed Kamilikuak), and north of Thlewiaza ("Big River") in northern Canada's Keewatin Region of the Northwest Territories, now the Kivalliq Region ("Barren Lands") of present-day Nunavut. Ihalmiut were Caribou Inuit, inland-dwelling people in the Barren Lands region whose subsistence centered on hunting barren-ground caribou. Ihalmiut survival through dark Arctic winters on a diet centered on dried caribou meat, and when it was gone, hunting for ptarmigan (Nunavut's official bird), until the spring return of caribou.
The Ihalmiut's first encounter with Caucasians, called Qaplunaat (ᖃᑉᓗᓈᑦ [qapluˈnaːt]) in the Inuktitut language, occurred during the Barren Lands expeditions of 1893 and 1894 by the Geological Survey of Canada, led by Joseph Tyrrell.
Hudson's Bay Company
By 1934, Ihalmiut numbered 80, with 11 considered as heads of families. Their contact with Europeans was limited, but included Hudson's Bay Company's post managers, at the company's Windy Post, located in 1936 on a portion of Windy River called Simmons Lake, and later moved to Nueltin Lake. Ihalmiut traded their outer parkas, deerskin boots, and fur pelts at the post for guns, ammunition, and tea. Chipewyan and Metis traded here, too.
The Ihalmiut were largely ignored until author/explorer Farley Mowat visited and lived among them in the 1940s. At the time, they were located between Lake Yathkyed and Lake Ennadai, in the area of the Padlermiut.
Mowat wrote several books about his experiences and the subsequent fate of the Ihalmiut people including People of the Deer and The Desperate People. Based on the oral histories of the people, he estimated that the Ihalmiut had numbered 7,000 in 1886, down to 40 by 1947-48, and by 1950, only 30 remained. Their destruction was due to changes in their hunting dynamics (from hunting for food to hunting for furs), introduction of flour and sugar into their diet (through fur trader contact), disease (probably diphtheria), the failure of their primary food source (barren-ground caribou), and sickened sled dogs (possibly rabies). Mowat lived with the Ihalmiut for a year and studied their culture and lifestyles. Mowat determined that the large numbers of the caribou were being killed by white men and that was wiping out the caribou population that the Ihalmiut were dependent on.
In the late mid-20th century, the starving Ihalmiut began a series of federal government sponsored relocations.
- 1949, Ihalmiut were relocated from Ennadai Lake to Nueltin Lake, but the relocation did not last as hunting was poor, precipitating the band's return to Ennadai Lake.
- May 1957, Ihalmiut were airlifted from Ennadai Lake to Henik Lake, 45 miles from the Padlei trading post, a distance considered reasonable by the Government of Canada. Many Ihalmiut starved. (Damas, 2002)
- Later in 1957, Ihalmiut were moved to Whale Cove where some began carving figurines for income.
- In 1958, 29 Ihalmiut went to Padlei because of its trading post, 39 were at Yathkyed Lake, and the majority were brought to Eskimo Point by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (Damas, 2002)
- In 1959, the Padlei trading post closed, and the remaining Ihalmiut was relocated. (Damas, 2002) Mowat's 1959 revisit to the Ihalmiut inspired the follow-up book "Walking on the Land", a depiction of the effects of the federal government, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Catholic missionaries, and big business upon the people.
A photo of Stephen Angulalik and his wives appeared in Life magazine, in October 1937. An Ennadai Lake family were on the cover of the February 27, 1956 issue of Life magazine, with the caption "Stone Age Survivors", selected by the magazine as representing the most primitive of the Canadian Inuit. (King, 1998).
Decades later, Ihalmiut again gained attention in Ihalmio Elisapee (née Nurrahaq) Karetak's 2000 (English language) and 2002 (Inuktitut language) documentaries about her people's struggle and starvation during their 1950s relocation and the story of her mother Kikkik at Henik Lake.
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- Damas, David. Arctic Migrants/Arctic Villagers The Transformation of Inuit Settlement in the Central Arctic. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7735-2405-3
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- Mowat, Farley. The Desperate People. Little, Brown and Co., 1959. ISBN 0-553-14818-4
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- (21 June 2002) "Remembering Kikkik" Nunatsiaq News
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- 1956 Life Magazine photos King, J. C. H., and Henrietta Lidchi. Imaging the Arctic. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998. ISBN 0-7748-0672-9