“Doctor, let me know three or four days before the Doctor comes so I will bee at home”: Grenfell Mission Medical Services and Southern Inuit Agency, 1892-1981
The Southern Inuit were the first indigenous peoples of Labrador with whom the Grenfell Mission came into contact. They traditionally lived along the Labrador coast south of Groswater Bay and practiced seasonal transhumance, fishing on islands and headlands during the summer and moving inland into sheltered bays and coves during the winter. This settlement pattern ensured that they had ready access to essential resources throughout the year – fish in summer, timber and trap lines in winter. However, it also made it difficult for Grenfell Mission personnel to find Southern Inuit families at certain times of the year. This research explores the logistical difficulties the Grenfell Mission faced trying to provide health services to the Southern Inuit of Labrador and the strategies Southern Inuit developed to meet their own medical needs. Despite the large presence of the Grenfell Mission in northern Newfoundland and Labrador, the nature of Southern Inuit seasonal transhumance meant that the Southern Inuit themselves were often responsible for their medical needs and for finding Grenfell personnel during an emergency. This research is based on archival documents and oral interviews with Southern Inuit, and it highlights an indigenous experience that has not been explored. The Southern Inuit have often been overlooked in historical interpretations of Labrador and in the various histories of the Grenfell Mission. This research also fills an important gap in our knowledge and understanding of the provision of health services in isolated regions of Canada throughout the twentieth-century.