Linda and I went to the Ottawa Premiere of Martha of the North last night. I met Martha Flaherty on the plane en route to Iqaluit in April. I was struck by her infectious personality, her joie de vivre, and her quick wit. She seemed to have a certain child-like impishness that was utterly charming. She told me she was the subject of an NFB film called Martha of the North.
The film chronicles her childhood experience of being relocated from Inukjuak in northern Québec 2000 km north to Grise Fiord (Aujuittuq, "place that never thaws") on Ellesmere Island in 1953--the most northerly point of human habitation in Canada. In order to claim sovereignty over arctic lands the Federal Government attempted to populate the far North with "Eskimos" that were apparently already used to the extreme and harsh conditions. Inuit families were lured with false promises of a better life, plentiful game for food, and an option to return after two years. They were told that family groups would be kept together. Predictably, none of this was true. Martha, only 5 at the time, and her family were essentially left to starve with little resources to help, living in a canvas tent and enduring inhuman hardships in order to survive. Many didn't. The film weaves footage from Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North and is a beautifully tragic reminiscence that sheds important light on what is arguably one of the worst human rights violations ever perpetrated by the Federal Government. Only after 37 years were families permitted to return home (1990!!). To this day only meagre financial reparations have been made and the Government has yet to apologize.
Below is a pic of the Q&A after the film with Martha, director Marquise Lepage, and Executive Producer Monique Simard. An Inuit woman spoke in tribute to Rynee, Martha's 80-year-old mother who was also in attendance. She spoke only in Inuktitut but despite the language barrier the pain of the trauma and the affirmation of having survived was clearly understood. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.
The film is available for sale at the NFB website here: http://www2.nfb.ca/boutique/XXNFBibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?formatid=57509&lr_ecode=collection&minisite=10000&respid=22372