Tester, Frank, Paule McNicoll & Quyan Tran (2012). Structural violence and the 1962-1963 tuberculosis epidemic in Eskimo Point, NWT, Études/Inuit/Studies 36(2): 165-185

Keywords: Arviat (Eskimo Point), Canadian federal government, crowding, shack housing, social housing, tuberculosis

In the winter of 1962-1963, an epidemic of tuberculosis (TB) broke out in Eskimo Point (Arviat). The outbreak was made possible by poor living conditions, which the authors argue to be among the worst documented in the history of Canadian Arctic. In this article, the authors examine how the state’s negligence contributed to the outbreak of TB, which the Indian and Northern Health Service (INHS), the regional health authority, believed was under control.

The first comprehensive Inuit housing policy was created in 1959 to help relocate Inuit into settlement along the Arctic coast from tents, igloos, and land-based camps. As the Chief of the Arctic Division of the Northern Administration and Lands Branch, Bent Sivertz, wanted to instate a policy where the Inuit would “rent-to-own” these homes, to prevent them from being dependent on the state. By 1959, two types of home were available to Inuit, a model known as "512,” which was approximately $10,000 - $20,000 to build, and a 288 square-foot model known as illukallak or matchbox home. These homes occupied as many as eight to ten people. Additional houses supplied every year, insufficient to meet housing needs. Few Inuit could afford a house, given the combination of living costs, and precarious or limited income.

As the TB epidemic started to worsen in the mid-1950s, the INHS was desperate in resettling Inuit, materials left over from the construction of the DEW line. The authors argue that the living conditions in shack housing contributed significantly to the development and spread of TB. These poor housing conditions contributed to the persistence of TB and other diseases among adults and deaths of Inuit children. However, in 1965 the first Inuit social housing program included new and somewhat better designs. Housing was allocated based on need. Nevertheless, Inuit played virtually no role in shaping their housing policies and practices. The authors argue that the TB epidemic is revealing of the social attitudes and the economic logic of the postwar Canadian welfare state.