Holding the Line: Ethnic Boundaries in a Northern Labrador Community


171 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-919666-39-6




Reviewed by James S. Frideres

J.S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie


During the late sixties and early seventies, Memorial University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research implemented a research program entitled “Identity and Modernity in the East Arctic.” One of the first results of this endeavor was the publication of Shmuel Ben-Dor’s book, Makkovik. This pioneering effort was a study of White-Inuit relations in a small coastal Labrador settlement. The original work investigated the adaptation of Inuit to the community of Makkovik who had, in 1959, been relocated from a northern Labrador settlement (Hebron). Now, a mere decade later, the present author returns to the village to replicate the original study. Admittedly the work represents a Ph.D. dissertation, but one still wonders why the project was undertaken by the author and funded by the Institute so soon after a very competent researcher had produced a seminal work on the community.

At the outset, the author claims that he wishes to investigate changes in the community since the original research. The author studies the community in much the same way that his predecessor did and concludes that there have been few changes. The absence of Inuit-White social relations still remains (even though many Inuit have returned to their northern homeland) and White concern about Inuit is only because a further reduction in the community size will affect federal funding.

The author initially cites a number of points which he plans to address. Unfortunately, they are usually ignored, partially addressed, or inadequately dealt with. The only major point claimed by Kennedy (in arguing against Ben-Dor) is that Inuit will not assimilate. However, his prediction seems to have no more basis that Ben-Dor’s, although the increasing use of English by Inuit and the increasing reliance on money seems to weigh more heavily in Ben-Dor’s direction.

The book is primarily descriptive and has very little analytical material for the reader to digest. His theoretical basis is that the encapsulization of the two ethnic groups is an adaptive mechanism that reduces the potential for conflict. Hence, the absence of relations between the two groups is a functional activity. Unfortunately, little direct evidence is brought to bear on this claim.

The inclusion of appropriate maps and photographs allows the reader to better appreciate the area under study. In addition, a brief appendix is included to complement the description of how residents of Makkovik utilize their natural surroundings. The book, if viewed as a continuation of Ben-Dor’s, is a welcome addition and plays a role in chronologizing events in an isolated community. However, it needed to extend its base-line data collection as well as to treat the research as part of a longitudinal (over time) study.


Kennedy, John C., “Holding the Line: Ethnic Boundaries in a Northern Labrador Community,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 4, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38937.