Northern researcher digs into history of Inuit special constables

Deborah Kigjugalik Webster is studying the history of Inuit special constables in the North, in an effort to make sure

A researcher from Baker Lake, Nunavut, who is now based in Ottawa, is studying the history of Inuit special constables in the North, in an effort to make sure their stories are not forgotten.

Inuit special constables played a key role in facilitating the RCMP's ability to work in the North beginning in the early 20th century.  

They acted as guides and cultural liaisons between the RCMP and the Inuit: guiding patrols, working as interpreters, hunting for food and helping out at the detachment or outpost.

"All these stories are very important, and they've never been told," said Deborah Kigjugalik Webster.

Fighting for recognition

Webster became interested in the history of Inuit special constables after learning her grandfather, RCMP Special Const. Andrew Ooyoumut, was not properly recognized for the work he did for the RCMP in Baker Lake.

"When I requested my grandfather's service file from the RCMP, I found out that he died in the line of duty and that the RCMP didn't properly recognize him," recalled Webster.

Ooyoumut was hired in 1946 as a special constable. He drowned eight years later, after falling into a nearby river while catching fish to help feed RCMP dogs.

Webster fought for 15 years to have the RCMP nationally recognize her grandfather as they would other fallen Mounties, and in 2011 Ooyoumut's name was finally added to the RCMP Cenotaph, Honour Roll and Memorial Wall plaque.

A proper remembrance

Webster is now focussing on making sure other Inuit special constables are remembered properly.

"Most of the stories we have are by former Mounties who went to the North short term, and then went south and wrote a book about it," she said.

"In these books, we'd find reference to Eskimo guide, or Eskimo interpreter — when they were actually a special constable — and there were no names attached."

Webster spends her days scouring Library and Archives Canada, and is working with the RCMP to file access to information requests for service files.

"I've [also] applied to the Nunavut Research Institute for a research license to interview special constables, to hear their stories in their own words, because it's so important to get that out to people."

Webster currently runs a Facebook page, where she shares photos and stories related to her research, called Inuit RCMP special Constables from Nunavut — but she hopes to ultimately publish her work in a book.

"A lot of families are interested in their history like I am, but don't know how to access archives like I do.

"I'd like to write a biography of each member for families to read."

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