Eskimos seized control of provincial government offices Wednesday in four northern settlements in Quebec to protest language legislation that they fear will force them to speak French, rather than English, as their second language.
The legislation, which makes French the official language of education, business and government in this huge eastern Canadian province, was adopted by the legislature after four months of debate.
Over the past three days the Eskimos have ordered provincial civil servants and police to leave the region. And have taken down provincial government flags and French signs.
So far, the federal government has resisted demands from Eskimo leaders and federal opposition politicians that it intervene.
Under the Canadian constitution, the federal govrnment has jurisdiction over native Indians and Eskimos.
In November, 1975, the Eskimos and 2,400 Cree Indians signed an agreement with the former provincial government in which they ceded their claim over the northern two-thirds of Quebec, an area of 410,000 square miles.
The Eskimos say the agreement recognized their rights to continue to speak English and that the new government's legislation takes away that right.
No violence has been reported, but local Eskimo leaders were taking no chances. In Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay, about 800 miles north of here, the local Eskimo council has prohibited the sale of beer since Tuesday.
The other settlements affected by the protest are Saglouc on the Hudson Strait and Inoucdjouac and Great Whale River on Hudson Bay.
A 23-man provincial police riot squad equipped with rifles and tear gas arrived in Fort Chimo Wednesday to reinforce the local two-man detachment. A similar riot squad went to Great Whale River.
The Eskimos many of whom are skilled hunters, are also armed, but they were using the water supply, not rifles, against the police.
The local Eskimos council has cut off the water supply to the police station and provincial offices but until today left the police station with only enough water for drinking and sanitation.
While Eskimos with husky dogs stood on guard outside the station, the policemen inside passed the time by playing cards and speculating among themselves as to how long they would have to stay.
The policemen have been eating in the cafeteria of the local hospital, the only provincial government institution to which the water supply was not cut.
Charlie Watt, president of the Northern Quebec Inuit (Eskimo) association, the organization representing the province's 4,000 Eskimos, told police in Fort Chimo yesterday they would be responsible for anything happnes," Watts told reporters. "I've told theem alos that if anything is going to start, it's going to be started by them. I told them to remove themselves as soon as possible."
Watt also directed a warning to Presmier Rene Leveque's provincial government, which is committed to making Quebec a politically sovereign state.
"I have no doubts that if Quebec secedes from Canada, the Inuit will secede from Quebec," he said, using the Eskimos' word for themselves.
At a meeting in Fort Chimo yesterday between Eskimo leaders and a provincial civil servant and a provincial police sergeant, the Eskimos complained about the continued presence of the civil servants and police.
"We asked you to leave and still you are here," said Jimmy Johannes, a member of the Fort Chimo council. "It makes us feel as if we are nothing."
Raoul Saint Julien, provincial government director for the New Quebec region, said the civil servants in Fort Chimo are staying on orders from the government in Quebec.
"You guys come here with guns and ammunition," said counselor George Koneac. "Are you going whale hunting?"
Provincial police Sgt. Tony Fournier replied that the police are in Fort Chimo "to keep Quebec offices open and certainly not to go hunting."
Adami Toomasie of Payne Bay said the Eskimos have postponed going to their summer salmon fishing camps to await word as to whether the government will amend the language legislation.