“Not Just Givers of Welfare”: The Changing Role of the RCMP in the Baffin Region, 1920–1970
AbstractIn the 1920s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) became Canada’s first permanent official presence in the Baffin Region. Until the 1950s the Mounties travelled by dogsled, boat, and on foot delivering a variety of services as well as collecting information on Inuit, animals, and traders for the federal government. Through their exposure to Inuit on the trails and in the small scattered camps, the Mounties developed an admiration and respect for Inuit and their hunting and trapping lifestyle. The RCMP, indeed, became the self-appointed guardians of the Inuit. As the only permanent representatives of the federal government in the region they undertook the work of absentee government departments. Their reports provided Ottawa with one of the few threads of intelligence on the area. However, the RCMP’s diverse set of duties became more narrowly focused and attuned to community policing operations during the 1950s and 1960s when the northern bureaucracy exploded and Inuit took up residence in centralized settlements. The RCMP’s transformation from “giver(s) of welfare” to police officers was mirrored by a similar change in the force’s relationship with, and attitude towards, Inuit. This article explores the changing role of the RCMP in the Baffin region, which was largely complete by 1970.
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