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Historical Event

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August 1, 1949





Short Description:

A 70 year old Eskimo dies of cancer in 1949 but was likely eating a diet of largely flour, sugar, and tea in his latter two decades of life.





Cancer, Journal of the American Cancer Society, Vol. V (1952)

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Important Text:


Some thirteen years after the above-mentioned Canadian government expedition a similar medical research expedition was sent into the Canadian eastern Arctic by Queens University of Kingston, Ontario. Their report, as pertains to cancer, is by Drs. Brown, Cronk, and Boag and refers to Dr. Rabinowitch and his “one suspicious case.” I quote from Cancer, Journal of the American Cancer Society, Vol. V (1952):

“It is commonly stated that cancer does not occur in the Eskimos, and to our knowledge no case has so far been reported. Rabinowitch (1936) mentions the absence of reports of its occurrence and gives details of a suspicious case ... In August, 1949, the opportunity came to the Queens University Arctic Expedition to carry out an autopsy on an elderly Eskimo man who had died of a wasting illness. Histological study of a mass in the neck has shown carcinomatous tissue. The patient was a pure blooded Ivilik of about 70 years.”

This being a positively identified case, although questioned by a pathologist, and as such the first in the region, it is unfortunate that the authors do not say anything about the way of life of the “pure blooded Ivilik of about 70 years” who is our first known local native malignancy victim. However, the usual diet and way of life of the Iviliks are well known, The Indians of Canada (1932) by Dr. Diamond Jenness being the frequently revised authority. In 1949, the discovery date of this first certified malignancy, Dr. Jenness was the chief Eskimo specialist of the Canadian government. Discussing our region, he says, on pages 421-22 of his 1932 edition:

“The Eskimos of eastern Canada ... have been in contact with Europe for more than two hundred years ... partly from a misguided imitation of Europeans, many Eskimos now wear woolen clothing and even the complete European costume, although their earlier garments of loosely fitting caribou were more picturesque and hygienic, and offered greater protection against the cold.

“Very few Eskimos now hunt intensively during the winter months; instead they trap foxes which are useless to them for either food or clothing. In order to maintain their families during the season they buy European food from the fur traders, largely flour, sugar and tea.”

These paragraphs written around 1930, give an approximate picture of how the first known cancer victim of this district must have been living for some decades prior to his death in 1949.

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