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Historical Event

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January 1, 1928

Short Description:




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An influenza epidemic killed half the Inuit population of Bernard Harbour in 1928 after a supply ship carrying a reverend arrived. Inuit dealt with major illnesses such as tuberculosis over the next 40 years.





The Northern Copper Inuit


Important Text:

As early as 1927 and 1928, an influenza epidemic killed half the Inuit population of Bernard Harbour. The onset of this epidemic coincided with the arrival of the HBC supply ship Baychimo, which also brought the Reverend J. Harold Webster, who converted many of the Inuit of the Holman-Coppermine region to the Anglican faith. Other fatal epidemics occurred throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Tuberculosis, especially, was a chronic health problem from the early 1930s until the 1970s.

From the 1930s, tuberculosis was one of the major illnesses affecting all of the Inuit, throughout the Canadian Arctic. Systematic tuberculosis X-ray surveys, however, did not begin in the Holman-Coppermine region until the spring of 1953. After 1953, these surveys, carried out by plane throughout the Kitikmeot region, were an annual event, taking advantage of the usually good spring traveling conditions and the, by then, deploy ingrained habit of the Inuit to gather for a couple of weeks around the missions and trading posts at Easter (Dr. Otto Shaefer, personal communication). Patients found to have advanced tubercular infections were flown out immediately to TB sanatoria, first in Aklavik, and later to Sir Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton.

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The Inuit lived for as long as 10,000 years in the far north of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland and likely come from Mongolian Bering-Strait travelers. They ate an all-meat diet of seal, whale, caribou, musk ox, fish, birds, and eggs. Their nutritional transition to civilized plant foods spelled their health demise.
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