Home > North meets South > Inuit Recollections on the Military Presence in Iqaluit > The African-American soldiers

The melting of the sea ice near Broughton Island.

Caribou in the Koroc River Valley, Torngat Mountains.

The African-American soldiers

Martha Michael

"We were given the news by the RCMP. We were young girls at that time. We heard that black people would be coming here to build the airstrip. The Inuit who were living in Iqaluit at that time were relocated to an island called Ukaliqtulik; all of the Inuit were moved there."
In Chapter Nine, the elders talk about the arrival of Afro-American soldiers, which made the authorities move the Inuit camp to an island and forbid contact between the two groups. The elders give several reasons for this. According to Elijah Pudlu, the RCMP officers asked the Inuit to move to Ukaliqtulik for the summer, saying that the black soldiers would chase the Inuit women. Kanaju Ipeelie says it was for health reasons; Simonie Michael says that the RCMP thought the black soldiers and the qallunaat would bother the Inuit and adds that in those days the Inuit obeyed the RCMP. Josie Itiitiq says that people may have moved because they were afraid, but she adds that the black soldiers were harmless. Some elders tell that the men who were employed by the Americans went to work by qajaq, and Kanaju Ipeelie says that the soldiers came to get the men who worked on the base. Simonie Michael says there were not many Inuit in Iqaluit in those days. Akisu Joamie tells us that after their stay on the island, the Inuit left for their winter camps. But those whose camps were too far away were not able to get there and had to spend the winter on the trail, because winter had come early. Martha Tikivik tells us that women rarely went to town in those days because they did not work. She adds that she could not approach the Americans because there were only men. Saami Qaumagiaq talks about his family, which was spread out all over the place. His grandfather did not like to live where the qallunaat were, because he preferred to live where there was game. Martha Michael tells us that during that summer, not a single Inuk stayed in Iqaluit. The RCMP had told them that the black soldiers were undisciplined and that the women should be afraid of them. The women were not allowed to go to Iqaluit. According to Martha, this was when the Inuit started to lose their freedom. She tells us about an incident that shook up the community and she blames the accident on the move to the island. Simonie Michael, Saami Qaumagiaq and Bill MacKenzie talk about Lionel Jones, a former Canadian soldier who had come to work on the DEW (Distant Early Warning) network and the Mid-Canada Line, and who ended up staying in Iqaluit.